Don Leahy, Remembered

Photo courtesy
Don Leahy’s signature is placed on the ice at Baxter Arena.
Jack Hoover

There are very few people that have had as big of an impact on both the University of Nebraska-Omaha and the city of Omaha, as Don Leahy has.

In fact, there might not even be anyone who can match him.

During his time, Mr. Leahy was a hugely-successful high school football coach for Omaha Creighton Prep. He served as the athletic director of UNO, not once, but twice. And he even found time to be the athletic director at Creighton University between all of that. What a man for the city.

In looking at all of Mr. Leahy’s life works, one might think that it would take multiple people to accomplish what he did alone. There seems to be no way one person could possibly be that deeply involved in a city’s athletics. Yet, Don Leahy did all of that and then some.

“Even outside of UNO athletics, Don Leahy could be considered a legend at Creighton and at Creighton Prep. Everywhere he went, he impacted not only the athletics programs, but everyone he interacted with,” said Owen Godberson, sophomore at UNO and head of the athletics department for MavRadio.

Perhaps the most noticeable legacy Mr. Leahy left behind was the creation of the UNO hockey program. When the university wanted to create a larger name for itself and form a hockey program, Mr. Leahy was the one tasked with laying the framework.

The decision to form the hockey program came in 1995, during his second stint as athletic director. Having served 11 years prior as UNO’s athletic director, there was no one better suited to bring hockey to UNO than Mr. Leahy.

In 1997, thanks to the work of Mr. Leahy, the UNO hockey team played its first ever game. It was the university’s first sport to compete at the Division I level, and it served as a huge benchmark for the athletics program.

Today, the Omaha hockey program is one of the university’s most well-recognized institutions. The team’s success in Division I helped make the decision to move the rest of UNO athletics to Division I that much easier. Where UNO athletics is today would not have been possible without the work of Mr. Don Leahy.

Of course, UNO hockey was only one of many ways that Mr. Leahy impacted this campus. Certainly the biggest way he influenced this campus was through his commitment to just about everything this school had to offer.

While at UNO, Mr. Leahy found time to serve as the offensive coordinator of the football team while he was working as athletic director. He could be found attending many sporting events even after he had officially retired from the university. He even came back to the university in 2009 as athletic director emeritus, in order to help current athletic director Trev Alberts transition into the role. There was little Mr. Leahy would not do for the school when called upon to do it.

“[Don Leahy] was the Mavericks’ greatest advocate, and he was certainly the Mavericks’ number one fan,” said Rick Jeffries, founder of The Red Army, one of UNO athletics’ most vocal supporters. This is particularly high praise coming from Jeffries, who could be considered one of the biggest, if not the biggest current fan of UNO athletics out there.

The title of “number one fan” would be well deserved for Don Leahy. There really was no one with a more unwavering devotion to UNO than Mr. Leahy.

It went well beyond UNO as well; however, there was no one in this city more dedicated to seeing the growth and success of its sports programs than Don Leahy. It’s safe to say that wherever Mr. Leahy went, growth and success always followed.

I think the movie “The Sandlot” put it best when Babe Ruth said, “heroes get remembered, but legends never die.”