I was always a big admirer of Washington Huskies coach Don James and he was the reason why I pulled for the Huskies a lot back in his time.
1991 was the peak of his coaching success when his Washington Huskies shared the national title with the Miami Hurricanes. Wash vs Miami
Considering where Don James came from, it’s no wonder he was successful. The list of football greats coming out of Massillon, Ohio is about as long as Ted Bundy’s rap sheet.
Chris Spielman, Earle Bruce, Dennis Franklin, Ed Molinski, George Whitfield Jr, Justin Zwick and Devin Smith to name a few.
Don James’ older brother, Tommy, went on to play for the Cleveland Browns. Don went South and
played for the Miami Hurricanes and he set numerous passing records. The NFL was not in his future and Don James got into coaching.
He coached high school football for one season, but then broke into college football as an assistant at Florida State, Michigan and Colorado.
Kent State hired James in 1971 as their head coach. Things weren’t all just peachy for James immediately at Kent State and that first season was a rough one with the Golden Flashes and they finished 3-8.
They improved to 6-5-1 during his second season in 1972. But, then he really got Kent State rolling and they finished 9-2 in 1973 and 7-4 in 1974. At Kent State, James coached Pro Football Hall of Fame member Jack Lambert and future college coaches Nick Saban and Gary Pinkel.
It didn’t take the big boys long to discover Don James and the big boys came calling after the 1974 season.
Jim Owens had been the coach for the Huskies for a long time and he had a few good seasons, but they had fallen on hard times in 1973 and 1974.
But, that his one and only losing season in Seattle.
As the 1977 season got started, it began to look like there were more losing records laying in wait for the Husky faithful. They lost their season opener to ranked Mississippi State, and after winning their second game, they went down twice more while starting with a very depressing 1-3 record.
But, the Huskies had the great Warren Moon at Quarterback and they showed great resilience and came back to win 7 out of their last 8 including a surprising win over the 4th ranked Michigan Wolverines.
The Huskies returned to the Rose Bowl again after the 1980 and the 1981 seasons, but after the 1984 season, they earned a berth in the Orange Bowl were they shocked the 2nd ranked Oklahoma Sooners with a 28-17 win.
The Huskies finished with an 11-1 record and ranked 2nd in the country.
Washington seemed to have peaked in the 1984 season and they had a few very mediocre seasons like 8-3-1, 8-4, and 7-5. But, their worst season came in 1988 when the barely kept their heads above water with a very average 6-5 record. Washington Husky fans must have been furious with Don James and thinking that the game had passed him by.
In 1989, things started to change back in the Huskies’ favor with an 8-4 record. That wasn’t so good in itself, but they followed that one with a 10-2 record and a Pac 10 championship.
That set up the Huskies for the greatest season in Washington Husky history with an undefeated
record in 1991 at 12-0 and a share of the national title with the Miami Hurricanes.
Washington won the Conference title again in 1992, but lost the Rose Bowl game to finish up their season at 9-3.
Allegations against the Washington Huskies arose during the 1992 season and the NCAA got involved. Don James resigned in protest and according to everyone including the NCAA he had nothing to do with any violations and no knowledge of any wrongdoings.
At Washington, James posted an impressive 153 -57-2 record and an overall mark of 178-76-3 counting his days at Kent State.
James passed away in 2013 at the age of 80 from the effects of Pancreatic Cancer.
That 1991 Washington team will always be one of my favorite football memories. Crushing Nose Tackle Steve Emtman just controlled the line of scrimmage.
Linebackers like the Husky Hitman Dave Hoffman and fellow Linebackers Chico Fraley, Brett Collins and Donald Jones were tough to run on.
Billy Joe Hobert was like a Linebacker playing Quarterback. This team traveled to Lincoln, Nebraska and beat the always tough Cornhuskers 36-21. Beating Nebraska is one thing, but to beat them at their place is impressive.
The Don James era at the University of Washington is one that I truly miss.