Reaction to the death of former Washington football coach Don James
Former players, opposing coaches and others reacted Sunday to the passing of Don James.
“Don James was a larger-than-life figure for generations of Husky fans, and all of us at the university are saddened by his death. Our hearts go out to his wife Carol and his family as we mourn his passing. He was a special kind of leader who generated immense loyalty and affection among his players and colleagues in the coaching community. He was a mentor and teacher par excellence, a great ambassador for the University of Washington, and a man of the highest integrity. This university will miss him. He left an indelible impact on everything Husky.”
UW president Michael K. Young
“It’s a very sad day. He kind of kicked my butt most of the time. He had it rockin’ and rollin’ up there, and we were usually playing catch-up.
“There’s no doubt he was tremendously respected nationally. There was a period of dominance for them in the conference. They were special.”
Rich Brooks, former Oregon coach, 1977-94
“When he was coach at Washington and I was coach at Washington State, it was hard to be friends. But when I came down here (Texas-El Paso), and hired Jeff Woodruff (James’ son-in-law), he would come down to watch his grandkids’ games, and he and Carol would come to our games, and he was real supportive. I got to know him in a different light.”
Mike Price, former Washington State coach
“We went to Scotland and Bangkok, Thailand and spent anywhere from 10 days to two weeks together. I saw him as a father and a wonderful husband ... I’ve been asked, what makes Don James, Bear Bryant, Bo Schembechler, Hayden Fry where they get to the point where they were so loved and appreciated? I’ve had several former Bear Bryant players say about 40 percent of why you tried so hard for him was, you were afraid of him. And 60 percent, you were afraid you were going to let him down.”
Jim Walden, former Washington State coach, recalling international clinics staged by former Michigan State coach Duffy Daugherty that his and James’ families attended.
“I just loved the guy. The day he stepped down. I’ll never forget that, in our team meeting, a week before my first college start. That was a sad day. A difficult day, and one now, as I’m older and more involved in this whole college football thing again; at the time you’re a 19-year-old kid, you don’t understand. Now you do. He really stood for what he believed in. I’m totally with him 100 percent in that decision. He was treated wrong. And for a guy who was so on top of things and was by no means out there helping anyone cheat. He was stickler for the rules. For the Pac-10 to come down on us the way they did, a two-year bowl ban, which was essentially a death, it wasn’t right. And he knew that. I will stand by him in that decision forever. It was unjust, it was wrong. It was completely wrong.”
Damon Huard, UW quarterback from 1991-95 and current chief administrative officer of the UW football program
“He was a special man and meant the world to me. There aren’t enough words to describe not only the great coach he was, but how much he cared for people and the positive impact he made in the lives of everyone he came in contact with. Coach James was my mentor and probably did more than anybody to influence me in this profession.”
Alabama coach Nick Saban
“Those tremendous Thursday before-every-game speeches that he would have, by the time you were done with a lot of those speeches you were jumping out of your chair and out on the field. He lived his whole life at that time to drive towards being successful.”
The speeches were sometimes “prepared in July for a game against UCLA in October. He was very organized and a program put together. He had a different style — he wasn’t the warmest, he wasn’t really that close to a lot of the players on a day-to-day basis. But it was great to see him later in life and he was very warm and very friendly and would joke around. It was great to know him in your adult life. The sad part is that he wasn’t able to carry that on for another 10, 15 years and influence some of the players that came in after he left. It was a special time and a special place and he was really a special person.”
Joe Steele, running back from 1976-79 and a team captain in 1979
“I played (in the NFL) for Jimmy Johnson, Don Shula, Bill Parcells and Mike Shanahan and those guys have won a lot of Super Bowl rings, and I’ve never been around a coach who had the command of Coach James. And he was extremely disciplined. He was never, ever, at least in the eyes of the players, out of command. So that discipline and regimen, there was always a certain tension because of his presence and I think that that tension prepared the players to play in pressure situations because there was always a certain tension and pressure with his presence so you felt that if you could function in his highly structured system then you could survive the pressures of Saturday. There was an attention to detail that I think was of the highest order.”
Hugh Millen, UW quarterback 1983-85 and a team captain in 1985
“Through old-fashioned grit and an unwavering focus on the fundamentals, Coach James took a Husky program mired in mediocrity and made us national champions.
“I was there for every game he coached at Husky Stadium, and I think the only fitting tribute to ‘The Dawgfather’ will come when Washington follows in his footsteps and climbs back to the top.
“My thoughts are with the James family, and every player and coach who called him a mentor.
“Farewell, coach. You will be missed.”
King County Executive Dow Constantine
“A very humble man. Whether you were on the first team or last team, like me, everyone was treated with dignity and respect. The best players played, but everyone followed the rules. That is all he asked.”
Dave Matthews, a walk-on receiver in the early-1980s
“He was a dear friend. I met with him when I came up here (from Kansas State in 2001), and he told me this (coaching at Washington) is a top-five job.
“Everybody told me, he’s not going to meet with you. He met with me. I ate lunch with him, then he took me to his house and we spent another two hours. He always came by practice. I got to play golf with him. He taught me some things about how to be a person as a coach away from the game that I’ll never forget. When we took some boosters out, he had me stay there. He told stories and stayed with some people for a long time. People think of him as this great coach, but he was just a great man.”
UW volleyball coach Jim McLaughlin
“It’s hard to put into words how much it hurts to lose a man like Don James. He was my coach, my mentor, my friend, and he had such an amazing influence on my life, both personally and professionally. The program we built at Toledo and here at Missouri is Don James’ program, it’s a tribute to how he developed men and built football teams. This is a tough, tough day, and I’m so sorry for his wife, Carol, and the James family, as well as the entire Washington Huskies family. Coach James was a legend, and if I’m remembered for anything, I hope that it might be that I helped carry his legacy forward.”
Missouri football coach Gary Pinkel, who played for James at Kent State and was an assistant coach on his UW staff