It’s no secret that the Washington Huskies coached by Don James were one of my favorite teams and I have no connections to Washington at all. I just loved to watch his teams play.
But, after finishing the 1984 season with a magnificent 11-1 record and a 28-17 victory over a very good Oklahoma team in the Orange Bowl, the Don James coached Huskies had failen on hard times. Don James, one of the better unknown coaches of all time, was suddenly on the hot seat.
The 1985 Huskies finished with a 7-5 record and big embarrassing losses to BYU and Arizona State. 1986 was slightly better with an 8-3-1 finish, but 1987’s 7-4-1 did not make the faithful Husky fans very happy.
The story is very familiar to Woody Hayes and Darrell Royal back in the 1960’s: 1968 sophs
After some successful seasons, the Buckeyes and the Longhorns had fallen on some hard times much like Don James’ Huskies in the 1980’s. Buckeye and Longhorn fans were calling for the heads of their respective coaches. A plane flew over the stadium in Columbus, Ohio pulling a banner that read ‘goodbye Woody’. The fans were angry, but so were the coaches. A lot had been said about previous recruiting classes being weak, or getting fat and lazy on the recruiting trail. Maybe, they had become a little arrogant and set in their ways.
So, what did they do about it? They went out and signed some spectacular recruiting classes. Hayes signed the famous Super Sophomores in 1967 and Royal signed the just as famous Worster Bunch in the same class. Each won national titles and posted spectacular records and their players were
household names in the late 1960’s and in 1970.
The same story had unfolded in Seattle with Don James and the Huskies. The Huskies had lost a lot of great assistant coaches over the previous seasons and their recruiting had become a little soft. Some of their last recruiting classes had not measured up to previous seasons. Like Woody Hayes and Darrell Royal, Don James did something about it.
His 1988 recruiting class formed the nucleus of some great seasons for the Washington Huskies. Some of these guys were highly rated, and some weren’t. But, the coaching staff put in the work and did a great job in finding talent whether the early day recruiting services agreed with them, or not.
The class included:
Mario Bailey – Seattle, Washington WR
Walter Bailey – Portland, Oregon CB
Jay Barry – Northglenn, Colorado RB
Mark Brunell – Santa Maria, California QB
James Clifford – Seattle, Washington LB
Steve Emtman – Cheney, Washington DT
Jaime Fields – Lynwood, California LB
Dave Hoffman – San Jose, California LB
David Ilsley – Napa, California DE
Lincoln Kennedy – San Diego, California OT
Mike Lustyk – Bellevue, Washington DT
Damon Mack – Gardena, California WR
Orlando McKay – Mesa, Arizona WR
Darius Turner – Gardena, California FB
Mario Bailey was a local speedster that still holds some Husky receiving records. In 1989, the speedy Bailey caught 25 passes for 357 yards and 3 touchdowns. For the 10-2 1990 Huskies, Bailey caught 40 passes for 667 yards and 6 touchdowns. During Washington’s national championship season of 1991, Bailey came through with 52 receptions which he carried for 1,037 yards and a very impressive 17 touchdowns. Bailey was only 5-9, 160, but he was super quick with great hands.
Walter Bailey came through big in 1991 with 7 interceptions, 2 of which he returned for touchdowns. Overall, Bailey picked off 11 passes while playing defensive back for the Huskies.
Playing behind running back Beno Bryant, Jay Barry had his best season during the 1991 championship season. Against powerhouse Nebraska, Barry had a sensational 81 yard touchdown run. On the season, he ran for 718 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Quarterback Mark Brunell missed most of the championship season, but he was the starter going in. He injured his knee at the beginning of the year and luckily the Huskies had Billie Joe Tobert to replace him. Brunell was the starter in 1990 and 1992 and a long time player in the NFL.
James Clifford was a great linebacker for the Huskies. He redshirted in 1988 and then played 4
years. Clifford played baseball after his football days were over and was the strength coach for the Mariners minor league teams.
Steve Emtman was a country boy that may have seemed out of place. But, he was the greatest of them all. He was absolutely dominating from his nose guard/defensive tackle position. He was just unblockable. He was about 6-4, 290 and just brought everything he had on any given play. Emtman was a unanimous All American in 1991 and won the Outland and Lombardi Awards. He also finished in 4th place in Heisman Trophy.
Emtman left after his junior season and was the very first pick in the 1992 NFL Draft by the Indianapolis Colts. In the NFL, he did not live up to his draft status because of injuries. When he had the chance, he was a great player at that level, too. Coming out of high school, Emtman was not even very heavily recruited.
Jaime Fields was originally from Compton, California but played his high school football at Lynwood High School in nearby Lynwood. Fields was a hard hitting linebacker and another player that gave his all. Fields was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs in the 1993 and played there for a few years. Fields was killed in an automobile accident back in California at the age of 29.
Maybe the heart and soul of that ferocious Husky defense was linebacker Dave Hoffman, the Husky Hitman. A preacher’s kid from San Jose, California, Hoffman breathed fire and was an absolute killer from his linebacker position. He was a 2 time All Pac 10 and a 1st team All American and a Butkus finalist. The Husky Hitman was a lot of fun to watch and after he was through with college ball he played briefly in the NFL. Hoffman is now in the Secret Service and it wouldn’t be wise to fool with him still.
David Ilsey was All Everything in high school as a tight end and a defensive end, but he was a back up offensive lineman at Washington. After college Ilsey went into the wine business and manages Ilsey Vineyards.
From San Diego, the Huskies landed one of the greats. Lincoln Kennedy was like those USC offensive linemen, way ahead of his time. He was around 6-6, 335 and a dominating left tackle for the Dogs. He was a first team All American and the leader of an outstanding offensive line which
sparked a really good offense in 1990-1992.
Kennedy was picked with the 9th selection of the 1st round by the Atlanta Falcons. He was traded to Oakland where he finished up his NFL career. In all, he played 11 seasons in the NFL.
One of the Parade All Americans that the Huskies signed was Mike Lustyk. He was big, strong and fast and was recruited by everybody, only Steve Emtman got in his way. Lustyk did work his way into the lineup eventually.
Damon Mack was a back up in 1991 and then one of the team’s leading receivers in 1992. Mack only caught 18 passes during his time playing for the Huskies.
One of the fastest players on the team was wide receiver Orlando McKay from Mesa, Arizona. McKay was a 3 year starter with his best season coming in the 1991 national championship season when he caught 47 passes for 627 yards and 6 touchdowns. McKay was drafted in the 5th round by the Green Bay Packers where he lasted a season and then the Philadelphia Eagles and a couple of seasons in the Canadian Football League.
Darius Turner was the team’s fullback. He was used in short yardage situations and ran for 566 yards and 9 touchdowns as well as blocked.
As true freshmen, the Washington Huskies didn’t get much better with a 6-5 record in 1988. The following season, most of the 1988 recruiting class were redshirt freshmen. The Huskies started off 2-3, but 4 out of 5 of their first opponents were ranked in the top 25. But, things changed for the Huskies and they finished strong winning 6 out of their last 7 games to finish 8-4.
In 1990, they started off slowly, beating a couple of what should have been lessor teams by only 3 points each. But, then, they absolutely destroyed 5th ranked USC, 31-0.
Thinking they were on their way, the Huskies took a big step backwards when they lost to 20th
ranked Colorado. What we did not know at the time was that the Buffaloes would go on to beat Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl and win the national championship.
The Huskies went on a 5 game winning streak to place themselves back in the national title picture only to be upset by an unranked UCLA.
Washington rebounded by crushing big rival Washington State, 55-10, and won the conference championship. The Rose Bowl was another win for the Huskies as they beat Iowa 46-34.
The 10-2 record set up the 1991 season and it would be a great one.
The only negative to the 1991 season was losing quarterback Mark Brunell. But, Billy Joe Hobert filled in beautifully.
The Huskers had to come from behind in Lincoln, Nebraska. But, they stepped up late and beat Nebraska, 36-21. The 7th ranked Cal Golden Bears also gave them a bit of trouble in Berkeley, but Washington prevailed, 24-17. The only other problem for the Huskies was unranked USC in Los Angeles, but Washington won that one, too, 14-3.
They completely and absolutely dominated everyone else on their schedule including 4th ranked Michigan in the Rose Bowl.
They split the national championship with Miami in 1991. Miami vs Wash
The Don James coached 1990-1992 Washington Huskies were some fun teams to watch and some of their games are available on Youtube if interested.