The initial jolt of the big statue reveal that took place outside Husky Stadium is that sculptor Lou Cella managed to perfectly capture former coach Don James’ signature look of stern reproof.
Lou Cella, the sculptor who produced the Don James statue that was unveiled to great fanfare on Friday, said there had been one common reaction that greatly pleases him.
“People look at it and just kind of start laughing,’’ he said. “Because they’re surprised at how it’s coming across. I really take that as a positive.”
The initial jolt of the big reveal that took place outside Husky Stadium in the dusk is that Cella managed to perfectly capture James’ signature look of stern reproof — arms crossed as he intently regarded the practice, or the game, in front of him.
Don James, The Dawgfather
Watch: Don James statue ceremony
Stone | Big man on campus: Don James will forever stand tall at UW
By the numbers
150 Wins at UW, most in school history
97 Conference victories, second-most in Pac-12 history
6 Conference championships
8-foot-6, 500 pounds The size of his statue outside Husky Stadium, dwarfing the real-life James' 5-foot-9 frame
From the archivesObit: Legendary Washington football coach Don James dies at 80
1985: Don James, above it all, keeps his distance and UW keeps winning
1991: Calm exterior belies James' national title obsession
2013: Several thousand honor James at memorial service
2013: The Dawgfather for the Northwest | Bud Withers
2016: The secret to Nick Saban's success? It's Don James
2017: Do the Huskies have their next James in Chris Petersen?
Rewind: The best wins of Don James' reign at UW »
I watched wave after wave of former players, coaches and colleagues on hand for the ceremony, as well as members of the James family led by his widow, Carol, examine the 8-foot-6, 500-pound piece of art that will stand in perpetuity in the Northwest Plaza outside of Husky Stadium.
Yes, there were laughs, but also some genuine quaking by those who had been on the receiving end of that famous James stare and were startled to see it again, in larger-than-life realism.
“It makes you scared again just looking at it,’’ said Spider Gaines, a wide receiver on James’ first four Washington teams, 1975-78, with a laugh.
Longtime James assistant coach Dick Baird remembered once when James came down from his famous practice tower to scold him for not having a stopwatch in hand to time a punter.
“He gave me that look, right there,’’ Baird said, gesturing toward the statue.
Another longtime UW assistant, Randy Hart, corroborated the accuracy of the pose.
“Oh, that’s the look, I guarantee you,’’ he said. “Usually, he’d get that look and say, ‘You call that good defensive-line play?’ I couldn’t talk. He had a way of putting it where you knew it had better get fixed.”
Mind you, these remembrances were uttered with unwavering respect and affection. To a man, they felt James’ intense devotion to a job done right made them better players, coaches and men, with an influence that lasted long after they left the university.
“I’ve seen that look many times when he was in the tower, looking down at us, making sure we were paying attention to detail, that we were being accountable, that we were working hard,’’ said Greg Lewis, a running back under James from 1987 to 1990.
“That was the look that guided all of those characteristics. That’s what he was conveying when he was standing there. I attend all the home games, and it will be exciting to come here, be able to walk by and have a piece of Don James still here with us.”
The last time the vast sphere of people influenced by James gathered, en masse, in Seattle was for his memorial service in October 2013, following his death at age 80 of pancreatic cancer. As longtime Huskies announcer Bob Rondeau said Friday, this was a much more celebratory affair, and it was heartwarming to watch the genuine emotion with which they regarded the statue.
It was James’ former players who had led the fundraising drive that raised the $150,000 needed for the statue, forged by Cella at the Timeless Creations and Fine Arts Studio near Chicago. James had always nixed the idea of a statue while living, but after his death the movement to honor him in such a fashion took hold.
“I know he’s shaking his head right now and he’s not happy,’’ Washington athletic director Jennifer Cohen said while addressing the crowd. “But you know what? That’s too bad — it was time, and we knew that.”
Mike Lude, the athletic director who hired James at Kent State and later joined him at Washington for a long association, agreed.
“Don James and I worked together for 20 years and never had a fight,” said Lude, in attendance on Friday. “Not only was I his boss, he was my best friend. This (statue) is so good. I was one of the first contributors. It’s appropriate, it’s a good thing to do, and it’s going to be a monument here forever. He left a lot here and we ought to honor it.”
Referencing the recent vandalism to another of Cella’s Seattle artworks, the Ken Griffey Jr. statue outside Safeco Field that had its bat snapped off, Rondeau said, “I can guarantee you if some idiot tries to mess with coach James, this statue is going to come to life and make that moron very, very sorry indeed.”
Rondeau called the James statue “an affirmation, a tangible reminder, a monument to someone who was and always will be monumental.”
Two of the speakers, Gary Pinkel representing the coaches James worked with, and Warren Moon representing the players, tried to explain what made him so special. Clearly, it went beyond the mere scope of his football achievements, which included 153-57-2 career UW record, four Rose Bowl victories and the 1991 national championship.
“The bond you have as a Washington Husky when you play here and you win here and you’re successful here, you’re a Washington Husky forever,’’ said Pinkel, who played under James at Kent State, coached under him at Washington, and then went to have a successful head-coaching career of his own.
“This bond is something you can’t get in any other way, and he had almost everything to do with that.”
Moon recalled when he was a junior-college quarterback, other schools wanted him to change positions or run the option.
“Coach James saw something in me a lot of other coaches didn’t see,’’ he said.
Moon noted how his mother wanted him to stay close to his home in Southern California — until James came to Los Angeles to recruit him.
“After coach James left our living room, he got back in his car, and my mother told me as soon as I left, that’s where you’re going to school, son, whether you want to go there or not,’’ Moon recalled. “She was definitely convinced by what he had to say. When you sat down and talked to coach James, it was like talking to God. You believed any and everything he had to tell you.”
And now James will have an almost divine presence on the Washington campus.
“When Carol first saw the clay sculpture back in June, she came in and just lit up and hugged me,’’ said Cella. “I took that as a good sign. I felt I got that personality. She kept telling me, ‘I don’t want to offend you, but I never expected this. This is amazing.’
“Then she said, ‘You know what? He always wanted to be tall.’ ”