I never covered the Huskies when Don James was coach, my stint reporting on the team beginning in 1997.
But I kind of feel as if I did after doing so many stories through the years on James and James-era players and games.
And you couldn’t, of course, really understand UW football without understanding the James era, so I sought out the chance to interview him as often as I could.
The first few times I talked to him, I wasn’t sure he really knew who I was other than just some reporter from a newspaper calling. But he was always gracious and patient as could be and over time we built something of a relationship, one that was helped by meeting him personally each August when he would make his annual appearance at a UW practice.
James said he didn’t want to be an ex-coach that hovered around the program much — he also had a really active retirement, spending time with his kids and for years leading tour group expeditions of UW fans all over the world. And in November, he’d head to Palm Springs. But James always wanted to get one up-close look at the team, so each year he would come for a day to watch a practice (or two), spend time with the coaches and talk to the team. Otherwise, he kept his distance.
And as Blaine Newnham wrote today, James never really considered returning to coaching once he left UW — from what I could tell, he was as content and happy in retirement as anybody ever could be.
James, though, still liked to talk football.
In fact, I talked to James for the last time in mid-August, just a few weeks before news broke that he was ill.
I was doing a story on the Seahawks and the challenge presented by having high expectations. I called him at home and he answered and noted that some friends were in town because he and wife Carol were celebrating their 61st anniversary. I apologized and said I’d call back later, etc. But he said no, he had a few minutes, and joked that he could at least get away from the commotion for a little while by slipping into his office and talking.
In his typical fashion, when I asked him if he ever worried about a team having really high expectations, he said his only concern was “being good enough to win something. I didn’t care about where we were picked.”
I ended up not using the quotes only because I ended up keeping the story solely about the Seahawks. But we talked for 10 minutes or so, and as we wrapped it up he said, as he always did, to call anytime.
Sadly, that won’t happen.
But I at least have the stories that remain, and I thought I’d pass along a few of the more notable ones here:
— In 2011 we did a live chat with James from his condo in Kirkland. I typed in the answers as James gave them, and afterward he led a few of us on a lengthy tour of his office, filled with all kinds of UW memorabilia — a rare and much-valued crash course in Husky football history.
— In 2006 I wrote this story on the 1985 Orange Bowl, which as Newnham also mentioned above goes down as one of James’ greatest coaching feats.
— In 2011 I wrote this story on the 1991 national title team, a team against which everything at UW in the future will be measured.
— In 2007 I wrote this story that included some of James’ thoughts on the challenge he faced heading into his third season at UW.
— In 2008, I wrote this story on the honoring of the 1977 team lots of thoughts from James on that season, his breakthrough year at UW.