The University of Washington announced that former football coach Don James died Sunday.
James, 80, had been battling pancreatic cancer.
Don’t know that I’ve ever met a more respected coach, or a better coach for that matter. His attention to detail is what set him apart during his tenure (1976-1992) at Washington, where he went from a little-known coach from Kent State to one of the most respected coaches in college history. Every single minute of every practice was accounted for.
His assistants did the hands on coaching and teaching. James used to stand on a tower, observing it all from above. The assistants didn’t want to disappoint the head man, and it became a trickle down effect. The players didn’t want to disappoint the assistants, who didn’t want to be called into James’ office. He didn’t demand respect, but he commanded it and earned it with the way he went about his business.
Like a lot of coaches, James was careful with what he said before and after games when he was surrounded by a large throng of reporters. You’d never get any bulletin board material from James. The answers were often short and to the point. If you didn’t know it, you’d think James didn’t have much of a personality. But that was so off the mark. He was funny with a self-deprevating sense of humor.
If you waited until the mob of reporters disappeared, he’d step away from the podium and take questions in a more relaxed setting and more often than not this serious-minded man who break everybody up with a quip of some sort.
During his coaching years at Washington he spent a lot of time with his wife, Carol, at a cabin in the Allyn area during his down times, and you could find him playing golf at LakeLand Village or other courses in the region. He was always approachable, even when Sports Illustrated and other news outlets were naming him the No. 1 college football coach in America.
Respect is the one word that comes to mind when I think about James. Some took him to task for stepping down at Washington in 1993 after the school was with recruiting violations. He felt the Pac-10 and his own administrator did not go to bat for him, so he resigned. At the time nobody seemed to understand why he would do it. But for James, it was a matter of principle. It was matter of right and wrong. He stood up for what he believed, and I respected him for that.
Here’s some links about James.
This one, from the SI.com vault, details the changes James that led to Washington’s national championship season in 1991.
Here’s a column from Terry Mosher at sportspaper.org. Mosher covered the Huskies for The Sun during the James era.
If you have access, check out the Seattle Times’ online site for a number of stories about James. They’ve already rolled out six stories about the Dawgfather.