Huskies' coach - draft bait?
The 1982 Rose Bowl game, a 28-0 shutout for Washington over Iowa, may have posed more questions than it answered, at least in regard to the future of the Huskies' head coach, Don James.
Major schools in other parts of the country with losing football programs are undoubtedly taking a hard look at James, his staff, his philosophy, and his availability.
Don is now 82-43-1 in 11 years as a head coach at Kent State and Washington, with three Rose Bowl appearances in his last five seasons, plus a 1979 win over Texas in the Sun Bowl. More important, his teams always play consistently well on defense and he is the only Pacific-10 coach with a winning record against Southern California.
James is also an excellent recruiter, who has never gotten the credit he deserved for landing many blue-chip West Coast athletes, who were just as hotly pursued by schools like USC and UCLA. He has a reputation for being fair with everyone and for never promising things he can't deliver. He is also interested in making sure that his athletes graduate and that they have their personal priorities straight before leaving Washington.
For example, during the Huskies' September training period each year, Don sets aside about 30 minutes every evening to discuss a variety of subjects with his squad, including relations with other people. In fact, a member of the FBI and a local police chief speak each year on the problems of drug abuse and gambling.
But because James himself is not a cutie, with clever words and catchy phrases, the main thing that comes across about him in press conferences is his sincerity. He isn't out to impress anyone, sell tickets with his oratory, or develop individual stars for the National Football League.
This is a man who organizes well, understands the concept of the word team in relation to an overall program, and is constantly proving the importance of fundamentals. His teams are so well drilled that they rarely get themselves into trouble with turnovers.
The way James coaches you're never going to see a Washington running back who carries the ball 30 times a game, a quarterback who lives strictly by his throwing arm, or a pass receiver who figures in every other offensive play.
Yet Don is flexible enough to recognize the importance of sometimes doing the unexpected, especially if the opposing defense is in tight. He has also been known for going against the book by running on what would ordinarily be considered a passing situation, and vice versa.
When he had Washington go for broke against Iowa in the Rose Bowl on a fourth-down-and-inches situation near midfield intead of kicking, several Eastern writers who weren't familiar with James were totally surprised. By the way, the Huskies turned that gamble into a first down.
In the press conference after Washington's one-sided Rose Bowl victory against Iowa, James told reporters:
''I didn't expect us to win 28-0. In fact I expected a very close game. Our defense got some breaks against their offense and we took advantage of them. But basically we stayed with the same game plan we used all year. Actually we did quite a few things this year that other people didn't think we could do.''
What Don was probably referring to was Washington's 13-3 victory against Southern California, plus its 23.4 scoring average against 11 opponents during the regular season. Overall the Huskies won nine games in 1981, losing only to Arizona State and UCLA.
Asked where he would rate Washington in the nation's final wire service football polls, James was more impressive for his humility than his accuracy.
''I don't think we're one of the top five teams in the country, if that's what you mean,'' he replied. ''In fact, I think I would have trouble deciding who are the five best. My feeling is that maybe Washington belongs somewhere in the top 10.'' In fact, the Huskies were rated seventh by United Press International and 10th by the Associated Press. Most college football coaches would have claimed at least equal superiority for Washington with Clemson, Penn State, Pittsburgh, Texas, and Alabama.
The fact is, James ruined the Rose Bowl as a network television spectacular this year with his barbed-wire defense. He did this by having his linemen put pressure on Iowa quarterback Gordy Bohannon, by turning the Hawkeyes' outside running game inside, and by letting his defensive backs play up tight against Coach Hayden Fry's pass receivers.
The result was that Iowa never got into its game plan, was never able to sustain an offensive drive, and created some interception problems for itself by throwing to receivers who had no chance to catch the ball.
As for next season, Washington loses only five starters from this year's Rose Bowl squad - three off its offensive team and two off its defensive unit. What it has to be concerned with most is that it doesn't someday lose James!