The 1978 Rose Bowl team.
Two days before Christmas 1974, Don James seized the reins of a University of Washington football program in disarray. He immediately set a goal of going to the Rose Bowl. This objective catalyzed the Huskies to reach the 1978 Rose Bowl, in James’ third season, and beat the heavily favored Michigan Wolverines. Had it not been for this team, James said, everything he subsequently achieved at Washington might never have happened as he was in the third year of a four-year contract.
The 1978 Rose Bowl changed everything for James and the Huskies — guaranteeing him and his staff the time to develop what would become one of the most successful college football programs in the nation.
Most Successful Footbal Coach in UW, Pac-12 History
In his 18 years at Washington, James compiled a 153-57-2 record en route to becoming the most successful football coach in Washington history. His 99 Pacific-10 victories are the most in league history. James took his teams to 15 bowl games (10-5) including nine straight from 1979-87. He guided the Huskies to six Rose Bowls and is one of only four coaches to win four Rose Bowl games. His 1991 team finished the season 12-0, beat Michigan in the Rose Bowl, and was named National Champion by USA Today/CNN, UPI, the Football Writers, Sports Illustrated and several computer rankings.
Coach James with the National Championship trophy.
President of the American Football Coaches Association in 1989, James was National College Coach of the Year twice. Inducted into the Husky Hall of Fame in 1993, James entered the College Football Hall of Fame in 1997. As but one measure of his coaching skill, Sports Illustrated once named the three best colleges football coaches in the country: No. 1, Don James; No. 2, Don James; No. 3, Don James.
As a player in James’ second recruiting class at Washington, I was fortunate to have been part of what James would later describe as “the cornerstone” of his program. In summer training camp before my freshman season, Coach James told us we were there to fulfill our destiny, to become Rose Bowl champions. We believed him, worked very hard, and it came to pass.
Under James’ leadership, our teams beat Michigan in the 1978 Rose Bowl, Texas in the 1979 Sun Bowl and helped establish Washington as a perennial powerhouse for nearly two decades. With James as our coach, we knew we had a chance to beat any team, any day.
James’ Legacy, Wisdom Live On
Although Coach James died of pancreatic cancer on Oct. 20, 2013 at age 80, his legacy and wisdom live on through the countless lives he touched and changed.
He lived his life based on strong values, faith and an unmatched work ethic he learned as a child growing up in Massillon, Ohio during the Great Depression – one of four sons of Florence and Thomas James. Don’s father held two jobs to ensure the James boys could go to college. For his part, Don began carrying bricks for pay at age 9 – in the summer for his uncle’s construction company – and became determined to go to college. Education, he knew, was one key to his future; the other was hard work.
He played quarterback and defensive back for two state championship teams at Massillon High, idolized his coaches, and decided then and there to become a football coach. He went on to play quarterback at the University of Miami where he set five school passing records and married the love of his life, Carol Hoobler.
At Washington, Coach James used words and stories to motivate the Huskies to slay the football giants of his day. My 6-by-9-inch paperback book, “THE THURSDAY SPEECHES: Lessons in Life, Leadership, and Football from Coach Don James,” is now available. The book, also available as a Kindle version, will put you in the seat of the Huskies — an insider’s view of the exact words James used to inspire the Huskies to the pinnacle of American college football.
“THE THURSDAY SPEECHES” contains valuable advice for everyone living in our competitive world, especially coaches, athletes, and leaders in all fields of endeavor.