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PACIFIC 10 SANCTIONS WASHINGTON : The Strain Was Showing, but Result Came as Shock : James: Huskies' coach, with one of the best records in college football history, had acknowledged impact of investigation.

August 23, 1993|EARL GUSTKEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Don James, the 60-year-old Washington football coach who resigned Sunday, bowed out after achieving one of the great coaching records of modern American football.

His 178 victories was eighth on the list of active coaches, and only Bear Bryant, Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden have won more bowl games.

While it was widely expected that James' program would be penalized by the Pacific 10 Conference, there was good reason for the shocked reaction Sunday in Seattle to James' resignation.

Only last January, Washington extended his contract through 1996. He was at the top of his profession, a coach held in high regard by his peers.

Said Coach LaVell Edwards of Brigham Young: "Playing Don's team is no different than playing a Joe Paterno-coached team or a team coached by Bo Schembechler . . . if they're going to get beat, you have to beat them. They don't make mistakes."

Last January, after announcing that James' contract had been extended, Athletic Director Barbara Hedges said: "I am extremely pleased with the direction Don has provided the football program and his leadership is reflected in the success of the program."

As recently as last Aug. 3, at the Pac-10 media day in Los Angeles, James revealed some of the strain from the conference investigation into his program.

"I've been investigated personally, and I didn't enjoy any of it," he said.

"I've been delighted not one single coaching violation is involved. I can look in the mirror and be proud of the job we did. I don't know of any school that could stand up under the scrutiny we've gone through the last couple of months."

At the time of his contract extension, James was being asked by owner Pat Bowlen of the Denver Broncos to become his coach, after the departure of Dan Reeves.

He was the winningest coach in Pac-10 history with 96. During his 1975-1992 tenure in Seattle, there have been 32 coaching changes at the other nine Pac-10 schools.

But 1992 was easily the most tumultuous of his 18 seasons.

There was the matter of an alleged improper $50,000 loan to his quarterback, Billy Joe Hobert, drug and weapons charges against defensive lineman Danianke Smith and allegations by former players of improper benefits from boosters.

Nevertheless, James coached the Huskies to their third consecutive Rose Bowl appearance. After an 8-0 start, Washington lost its last three games, including the Rose Bowl game against Michigan.

By all accounts, including his wife's, James is a quietly driven, stoic man.

After Washington's 1991 season, when the Huskies went 12-0 and beat Michigan in the Rose Bowl, 34-12, they won a share of the national championship.

At the time, Carol James talked about her husband's quiet determination that season.

"He really wanted this, but he's so stoic, he doesn't show his emotions," she said.

Upon receiving news that Washington had nosed out Miami for the USA Today/CNN title, Carol James said she and her husband "hugged and kissed and cried."

Hours later, the normally taciturn James was still emotional.

"It's so difficult to express the feeling I have for these kids," James said, his voice cracking and tears streaming down his face.

That was January of 1992. From 1985 through 1988, James' teams produced 7-5, 8-3-1, 7-4-1 and 6-5 seasons. One published account had James resigning if fortunes didn't improve.

They improved.

After the 1988 season, he refused a raise. Then he fired an assistant coach, Dan Dorazio, for the first time in his then-18 years as a head coach.

The message: We're going to win again. Be ready for big changes.

His predictable two-back running game was scrapped and replaced with a more variable offensive set featuring multiple receivers.

Result: Washington was 7-4 in 1989, but since then the Huskies have gone 9-2, 11-0, 9-2 in regular-season games and been in three consecutive Rose Bowls.

Hobert, his quarterback in 1991, once talked about the respect Husky players held for their coach.

"He's like the god of football. We're all afraid of him," Hobert once told Sports Illustrated.

James' great seasons from 1977 to 1984, when his teams were 70-18, made him a high profile coach, targeted by NFL teams--the Seattle Seahawks, for one--and other universities. To keep him, Washington boosters increased his salary.

James made $309,000 in outside income in 1992, in addition to his Washington salary of $161,000.

Part of his outside income was from a group of Husky boosters.

The NCAA requires coaches receiving such income to perform work for any such pay. When the subject arose last January, Washington vice president James Collier said James provided "personal services" for the boosters, such as making speeches, meeting with employees and attending functions.

At the time, Collier said James made $100,000 from the boosters, $60,000 from KOMO/Fisher Broadcasting, Inc., $25,000 from a shoe company, $98,000 from KCPQ-TV, $8,250 from a cap company, $8,000 from an office supply firm, and $10,000 from speeches.

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