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The latest news and analysis on the Montlake Dawgs.

August 22, 2013 at 11:06 AM

Twenty years later, Don James’ imprint remains on UW program

Longtime Washington coach Don James attended practice at Husky Stadium Wednesday along with his wife, Carol, left.  Second from left is Washington athletic director Scott Woodward.  At right is former quarterback Damon Huard. (Dean Rutz/Seattle Times)

Longtime Washington coach Don James attended practice at Husky Stadium Wednesday along with his wife, Carol, left. Second from left is Washington athletic director Scott Woodward. At right is former quarterback Damon Huard. (Dean Rutz/Seattle Times)

Steve Sarkisian brings in former coach Don James to address the current crop of Huskies at a practice Wednesday. (Dean Rutz/The Seattle Times)

Steve Sarkisian brings in former coach Don James to address the current crop of Huskies at a practice Wednesday. (Dean Rutz/The Seattle Times)

Hard to believe, but it was 20 years ago today that Don James, then 60, stepped down as UW coach. He was, at the time, the most successful coach in Pac-10 history. His departure, less than two years after the Huskies’ perfect season in 1991, rocked campus, the Seattle community and all of college football.

Reaction to his sudden retirement prompted a lot of emotion and mixed reactions:

From Seattle Times columnist Blaine Newnham in a story published Monday, Aug. 23, 1993:

The news of Don James’ retirement spread quickly. Ultimately it hit with a thud on the doorstep of the Pac-10 Council, where it belonged.

“I think we will rue the day we did that to Washington,” said one council member upon hearing the news.

“There were some things politically that Washington could have done. I was surprised how poorly they handled themselves. There is a time to be contrite. They weren’t.

“But Don James retiring, I never thought that would happen.”

Late Saturday afternoon, tiring of Washington’s whining about a two-year ban on television revenue, the Pac-10 Council members, a third of whom represent women’s sports, changed the penalty recommended by its infractions committee.

The council increased the ban on bowl appearances from one year to two and reduced the loss of television revenue to one year.

It was done, of all things, to placate Washington, but also to focus the penalty on the offenders, on football, to protect the innocent, the nonrevenue sports.

Stick Don James, but spare Chris Gobrecht.

“The council was convinced the new penalty was no harsher than the first,” said Dick Dunn, UW faculty athletic director.

And these people are college-educated?

To save men’s golf and women’s basketball, they neuter a football program? Where do they think the money comes from?

A year of television revenue is worth $1.4 million. A football program like Washington’s nets $10 million annually.

To punish a school for a lack of contriteness, they run off perhaps the best coach in league history?

In a time when eight of the league’s 10 schools operate athletics at a deficit, they hand their strongest member a crippling penalty that may take a decade to overcome?

And for what? Loose meal money during recruiting trips? A few soft summer jobs in Southern California?

In essence, UW coaches were convicted without being charged.

Don James did the right thing in retiring. …

Steve Sarkisian brings in former coach Don James to address the current crop of Huskies at a practice Wednesday. (Dean Rutz/The Seattle Times)

Steve Sarkisian brings in former coach Don James to address the current crop of Huskies at a practice Wednesday. (Dean Rutz/The Seattle Times)

And from Times columnist Steve Kelley:

A cyclone hit Seattle yesterday. There is no other way to describe it.

One day. One bloody Sunday has inexorably changed the face of Husky football.

The University of Washington football program unraveled like a ribbon pulled from a spool.

First the football team was sucker-punched by the Pac-10. Given sanctions that virtually assure it will not return to the Rose Bowl in this millennium.

Then Don James, the patron saint of Pac-10 coaches, the Husky coach through the halcyon seasons of the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, resigned, protesting the severity of those sanctions.

“I can no longer coach in a conference that treats its members, its coaches and their players so unfairly,” James wrote in a statement.

The going got tough and Don James quit. In the face of tremendous adversity he left the field, saying he had lost the energy to fight.

On Sunday, bloody Sunday, James, a coach who has fashioned a career preaching the gospel of persistence, and perseverance, quit on his team, his coaches, his players and his program.

What if quarterback Mark Brunell had quit in the fourth quarter of the Rose Bowl? Told James he had lost the energy to mount one more drive against Michigan? Would James have understood? Would he have accepted such resignation?

This wasn’t a samurai who had fought the good battle before falling on his sword. This wasn’t a captain bravely going down with his ship.

This was a well-respected football coach bailing out of a program 12 practice days before the beginning of the regular season. This was the man many regard as the nation’s best college football coach, quitting because he was mad.

This was the coach of a previously tidy program leaving an absolute mess. Leaving the coaches he respects to clean it up. Giving them the unenviable task of recruiting without his assistance, against the barracudas in the conference.

If the Pac-10′s punishment was so severe James had to resign, why did all of his coaches stay? Why didn’t they all retire in a true show of solidarity?

James should have stayed and fought. He should have accepted this biggest challenge of his coaching career. He should have stayed to rebuild the program and repair his reputation.

He owed it to the school, but more important, he owed it to himself.

He should have stayed to send a message to his players. You never quit. You never leave in the face of adversity. …

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