Obituaries... Aldo T. "Buff" Donelli, 87

Photograph: Aldo T. Donelli

Aldo T. "Buff" Donelli, who coached Columbia to its only Ivy League football championship, died Aug. 9 at the Florida Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale.

Donelli, who was 87, had suffered for some time from aplastic anemia, a rare disease in which the marrow ceases to produce blood cells, and succumbed to complications from the disease.

Donelli coached the Lions from 1957 through 1967, with a 30-76-4 record. His 1961-63 teams posted a 15-11-1 record, and the 1961 team, 6-3 overall, went 6-1 in the Ivy League to tie Harvard for the league title.

He coached many of Columbia's finest performers, including quarterback Archie Roberts, running backs Russ Warren and Al Butts, and guard/linebacker Bill Campbell, the captain of the Ivy title team who returned to Columbia as head coach in the late 1970s. Columbia's weight and conditioning room, the Aldo T. "Buff" Donelli Intercollegiate Weight Room, was donated by Campbell in honor of his former coach.

Born in Michigan, Donelli was an outstanding halfback and punter at Duquesne in the 1920s. He became head coach there in 1939, and coached there for four seasons, compiling a 29-4-2 record and finishing in the A.P. top ten twice.

He coached at Boston University from 1947 to 1956, with a 46-34-4 record, finishing one year in the A.P. top twenty. He developed the great running back Harry Agganis while at B.U.

He succeeded Lou Little at Columbia upon Little's retirement following the 1956 season. He had been Little's assistant on Morningside Heights during World War II.

Donelli, as Robert McG. Thomas of The New York Times wrote, "nailed down two singular footnotes to sports history: one as the only American to score a goal in the 1934 World Cup and the other as the only man to coach a college and National Football league team at the same time."

An outstanding soccer player, he played two games for the United States in the World Cup and scored the only goal in a 7-1 loss to Italy. He was the last U.S. player to score against Italy for 58 years, until 1992.

In 1941, when Donelli was leading Duquesne to what would be an undefeated season, the Pittsburgh Steelers were coached by part-owner Bert Bell, who later became the NFL commissioner. After the Steelers lost their first two games, Bell stepped down and Art Rooney, another part-owner, asked Donelli to take over, while not leaving Duquesne.

Donelli coached the Steelers in the morning and the Dukes in the afternoon, finishing up at 6:00 P.M. After five games with the Steelers, all losses, he received an ultimatum from NFL commissioner Elmer Layden: choose one job or the other. He chose Duquesne, and Walt Kiesling took over the Steelers, who finished 1-9-1.

Donelli returned to the pros in 1944, coaching the Cleveland Rams to a 4-6 record, and then was inducted into the Navy. After the war, he joined B.U. and then Columbia.

After retiring from Columbia following the 1967 season, Donelli did public relations for the Pleasant Valley Country Club in Sutton, Mass., site of a PGA Tour event. He retired from sports in the late 1970s.

He had divided his time between Florida and Ambridge, Pa., until recently.

Donelli is survived by his wife, Dolores; a son, Richard Donelli, a Westchester County dentist who quarterbacked the Lions and was the 1958 Columbia Most Valuable Player, and a daughter, Melinda Donelli. Also surviving are a brother, Allen Donelli; three sisters, Olympia Matulis, Evalena Shuck and Violet Peacock, and seven grandchildren.

Funeral services were held Aug. 12 at the John Syka Funeral Home in Ambridge, with burial at St. Veronica's Cemetery.


Columbia University Record -- September 9, 1994 -- Vol. 20, No. 1