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Originally published Thursday, August 14, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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UW Football | Don James rips UW's nonleague schedule

Legendary coach Don James made his annual August visit to Washington's camp Wednesday, and on a perfectly sunny morning came away with a...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Legendary coach Don James made his annual August visit to Washington's camp Wednesday, and on a perfectly sunny morning came away with a warm feeling about the prospects for the Huskies.

Until, that is, he remembered the team's schedule, which some are calling the toughest in the country.

"I don't like it at all," he said of a schedule that has the Huskies playing Oklahoma, Brigham Young and Notre Dame in nonconference games, all at home. "I'd shoot my athletic director if I had that."

It doesn't get better. UW will host Louisiana State to open in 2009.

"Next year is even worse," James said. "Who on earth would put LSU in there as an opener? We played LSU (in 1983, a 40-14 Husky loss) but it wasn't like they had just won the national championship."

But if the schedule can somehow be managed, James left Husky Stadium on Wednesday thinking UW fans have reasons to be optimistic after four losing seasons.

"They seem like maybe they have better athletes as far as the overall squad," he said. "I think the one area that really shows up is in the secondary. It was so young last year, they only had a half-dozen scholarship players or so, and when [opponents] spread you all over the field, they can take advantage of guys in a hurry."

While noting the youth at receiver and running back could be a concern, James also liked some of the young offensive skill players he saw, including backup QB Ronnie Fouch, who ran the offense with Jake Locker sidelined.

"I thought he threw pretty well, and it looked like he had a lot of confidence and poise," James said of Fouch.

All of which leads to the inevitable question — does James think the Huskies have what it takes to achieve a winning season, which is what many observers think it will take for Tyrone Willingham to keep his job?

James wouldn't make a prediction, but also said he doesn't think that sort of hammer should be hanging over Willingham.

"I don't know if you want to change coaches," said James, who was 153-57-2 at UW from 1975 to 1992, the most victories in school history. "You just set yourself back another three or four years. It's amazing how well we've done in recruiting with all the negative publicity. And we can't just blame you guys [the media]. It's the nature of the beast these days."

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James said he thinks the team is closer to a turnaround.

"I think he's got guys who can coach and I think Tyrone can coach," James said. "He's the president of our organization [the American Football Coaches Association] and he's in it for all the right reasons. I just look at last year, and with that schedule, if they had just played pass defense on the last drive of three games, they win three more games. I would look at that, and I wouldn't blame anybody, but obviously they didn't have any depth back there — they just had a lot of youth. With a guy like Ed Donatell and a little better talent back there, they can do a lot better."

Donatell, the new defensive coordinator, worked for two years as a graduate assistant under James in 1981 and 1982. He returned him to UW this season to replace the fired Kent Baer. James and Donatell recently had breakfast together.

"He's an impressive guy and he has had great experience since the time he left here, really working with some good coaches — Pete Carroll and some of those NFL guys," James said. "They devote hour after hour after hour to football, and you really learn a lot."

But when asked again how good this team could be, James couldn't avoid the schedule.

"They will get severely tested right away," he said of the opener at Oregon. "And you've got to stay healthy."

Add it up, James said, and this shouldn't be viewed as a make-or-break year for Willingham.

"I don't look at things that way," he said. "I just look at the program — is it making progress? They played some really good teams last year really well for a half. I think obviously the talent is going to catch up sometime."

Note

• The Huskies received a welcome addition Wednesday as defensive tackle Senio Kelemete of Evergreen High School in White Center joined the team. Kelemete, said to now be pushing 290 pounds, missed the first eight days of camp while finishing up a class to complete his core-course requirements. Washington coaches have said Kelemete will join the fight for playing time up front.

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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