DON James scripted University of Washington football practices down to the minute, then watched them from atop a tower — removed from the scrimmage, meticulously observing, seeking constant improvement.
James’ well-deserved reputation as the patron saint of perfectionists produced an unparalleled run of on-field dominance in Seattle sports history. His Washington teams between 1975 and 1992 were so consistently good that fans came to expect a sunny annual Christmas trip to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.
James, who died Sunday at the age of 80 from pancreatic cancer, was and is the scale by which every other coach is measured.
In person, James could drop the cool persona and be funny and surprisingly humble. In a sport of supersized men, he looked like a schoolteacher.
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He inherited a mediocre program and, with unceasing drive and willingness to adapt, turned it into a franchise. He started an African-American quarterback, Warren Moon, in 1976 when other coaches wouldn’t. He tinkered with his recruiting and on-field strategies until he struck perfection with his early ’90s teams.
For a sample of the dominance, watch the YouTube recap of the Huskies’ 1990 thumping of No. 5 USC. “All I saw was purple,” lamented USC quarterback Todd Marinovich after the 31-0 defeat. The next season ended with the undefeated Huskies as co-national champions.
James’ off-field legacy was less perfect. His last team had a 33 percent graduation rate — compared to the current rate of 74 percent. And he resigned suddenly just before the 1993 season amid serious violations involving outside payments to players and “a lack of institutional control,” tarnishing James’ reputation of total control.
That pall should not cloud James’ astonishing accomplishment. Despite two up-and-down decades, Husky football remains a civic institution because of him. It would be a fitting tribute for a statue of James, a man of diminutive stature, to stand tall outside the new Husky Stadium.
Bow down to the Dawg-father.