Following a legendary coach can be challenging, but Aldo T. “Buff” Donelli was always up for a challenge. Named Columbia’s head football coach in 1957 after the retirement of Lou Little, Buff Donelli arrived at Columbia with an already impressive resume.
Donelli was an accomplished soccer player, who represented the United States in the 1934 FIFA World Cup, scoring a goal against Italy. He was also the first man to coach both an NFL and college team at the same time, helming the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Duquesne Dukes simultaneously in 1941, after the resignation of Steelers coach Bert Bell.
But it was as a college football head coach where Buff was often at his best. A tremendous leader of young men, Donelli led Boston University into the nation’s top ten before coming to Columbia.
Once in New York, he set out on a course to build a winner. And his first true recruiting class, the Class of 1962, would be one of Columbia’s very best.
After three rebuilding seasons, Donelli’s Lions began to turn the corner in 1960, winning three Ivy League contests for the first time since the official start of Ivy League play. And in his fifth season on Morningside Heights, Donelli guided the Lions to a season for the ages – winning the Ivy League Championship in 1961.
His strength was his belief in his players, and his understanding of the value of hard work to achieve one’s goals. Over the course of his ten years at Columbia, he recruited and coached some of the most famous names in Columbia football history.
From Archie Roberts and Marty Domres, to Russ Warren and Bill Campbell. His legacy is much more than Columbia’s Ivy League football championship in 1961.