New Hampshire football will begin the 2019 season without the person who has been synonymous with the program for the past 20 years: head coach Sean McDonnell.
McDonnell, 62, has taken an indefinite leave of absence from the team for health-related reasons, UNH athletic director Marty Scarano announced Monday night.
Associate head coach Ricky Santos, who starred as a quarterback under McDonnell, was named the interim head coach. The Wildcats, who finished 4-7 last year, kick off the season Sept. 7 at Holy Cross.
"Our entire department is aligned in doing everything to support Sean with the intent of getting him back to coaching his program," Scarano said. "This will be the ultimate team effort; the administration, coaching staff and most of all the student-athletes will give everything we have to support [Sean's wife] Jenny and Sean during this challenge."
McDonnell has a 154-95 career record, including 98 CAA wins, ranking third all time in the conference. He guided the Wildcats to the FCS playoffs in 14 straight seasons from 2004 to '17, winning an outright CAA title in 2014 and four other divisional titles. He's one of three two-time recipients of the STATS FCS Eddie Robinson Award, which honors the FCS coach of the year.
McDonnell played defensive back at UNH from 1975 to '78 and later assisted under his college coach, Bill Bowes. When Bowes retired in the spring of 1999, McDonnell succeeded him.
Santos was a Columbia assistant coach the past three seasons before he joined McDonnell's staff in March for the second time. He ranks seventh in FCS history in passing yards (13,212) and third in touchdown passes (123), and earned the 2006 STATS FCS Walter Payton Award as national offensive player of the year.
"UNH football is in great hands with Ricky Santos as its interim head coach," Scarano said. "Ricky will carry on the principles that Coach Mac has instilled in our nationally recognized program to ensure the team maintains its standard of achievement both on and off the field."