August 22, 1993, 30 years ago today: University of Washington head coach Don James resigns after 18 years at the helm in protest over harsh sanctions imposed on the Husky program by the Pac-10. Despite the fact that the Huskies turned themselves in over preferential treatment of players, the conference placed them on two years’ probation with no bowl games and took away a year’s TV money. James was aghast—and abruptly retired with 98 Pac-10 wins, more than anyone in history at the time. The Huskies would become a middling program—you could argue that they didn’t return to elite status until Chris Petersen was hired from Boise State for the 2014 season.
James was hired at UW in December of 1974 from Kent State in his home state of Ohio. He had a modest 25-19-1 record with the Golden Flashes, and here he was going across the country to one of the premier programs in what was then one of the best conferences in the land. Let’s say he adapted well to the Seattle scene and West Coast recruiting. In 18 seasons, James won six Pac-8/Pac-10 championships, four Rose Bowls, one Orange Bowl and a share of one national championship in 1991. He was a three-time national Coach of the Year and finished with a record of 178-76-3.
Despite the way it ended at Washington, James always got credit for doing things right. He was never cited for breaking any rules; he was just incensed at the penalties. And James didn’t appreciate truly unscrupulous coaches. He especially despised running up the score. A 2019 story in The Athletic talked about the leadup to Washington’s 1982 game against San Diego State. James railed against San Diego State coach Doug Scovil, a man who James believed had run up the score on lesser opponents.
From Jayson Jenks piece: “’Will Rogers was once quoted as saying that he never met a man that he didn’t like,’ James wrote. ‘Well, I’ve never met Coach Scovil and I’m finding him easy to dislike. Now, with my church background, I’m having a difficult time wrestling with this. What I’ve decided to do is make it a competitive hate that I will drop once the game is over.’” The game ended with a 46-25 Huskies victory.
James attended the grand re-opening of Husky Stadium 10 years ago, when it was christened in a 38-6 win over Boise State. He didn’t know it at the time, but he was watching the guy who would become the Huskies’ head coach a little more than three months later, the Broncos’ Petersen. James, in fact, never knew that, as he passed away on October 20, 2013, at the age of 80. There’s now a statue of James outside the sparkling facility on the shores of Lake Washington.
(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra. He also anchors four sports segments each weekday on 95.3 FM KTIK and one on News/Talk KBOI. His Scott Slant column runs every Wednesday.)