After a 12-year run as a successful assistant coach with Florida State, Michigan and Colorado, the last 9 of which he was Defensive Coordinator, Don James was given his first opportunity to become a Head Coach when Mike Lude offered him the job at Kent State. James had applied for the job in 1968 and many on the selection committee that time around were again on the committee in 1970 and had a positive impression of him, and James had subsequently gotten to know Lude when both were in Colorado.
It had been a long time since the Golden Flashes had seen much success - in the previous 10 seasons they had produced just one winning season, and had gone 33-61-3 (.356). They had never been to a bowl game, nor had they won their conference. And when James took over, the campus was still recovering from the tragic shootings that had taken place seven months prior.
Still, this was a chance for James to run his own program and was a homecoming of sorts for both Don & Carol as it was just 35 miles from their hometown of Massillon, OH. And the roster wasn't completely devoid of talent - he inherited DE/LB Jack Lambert, TE Gary Pinkel and DB Nick Saban. James placed a great deal of emphasis on selecting his coaching staff, and he did well in this regard, hiring Denny Fitzgerald as his Defensive Coordinator, Bob Stull as his Offensive Line coach, Skip Hall as his Freshman Team coach (and later Linebacker coach), Ray Dorr as his Quarterbacks coach and Dick Scesniak as Offensive Coordinator. All but Fitzgerald would end up following James to Washington.
His first season in 1971 opened with a surprising win over North Carolina State, but was otherwise unremarkable as they finished just 3-8. But the seeds of future success were sown, and the following season in 1972 Kent State won their first Mid American Conference championship (and still the only outright such championship for the school). That title earned them their first Bowl Game, a trip to the Tangerine Bowl.
Subsequent seasons saw continued success, though they fell just short of winning the MAC again. In 1973 his team would go 9-2, with the loss to an undefeated Miami, OH team, costing them the conference championship. With far fewer bowls in those days, not winning the MAC meant no bowl. In 1974 his team finished 7-4, including a win over Syracuse.
Across the country in Seattle, longtime Husky coach Jim Owens had announced early in the 1974 season that he would be retiring effective at the end of the season. Owens had become a local legend by rebuilding the Husky program and taking them to two consecutive Rose Bowls following the 1959 & 1960 seasons and winning both, snapping a 6-game losing streak by the PCC/AAWU to the Big Ten, and 12 losses in the prior 13 contests. Both teams finished 10-1, and the 1960 team was selected by the Helms Foundation as that year's National Champions after the Huskies defeated #1 Minnesota in the Rose Bowl (the AP and UPI at the time still selected their champions prior to the bowl games). He would lead the Huskies to another Rose Bowl following the 1963 season where they lost to the Dick Butkus-led Illinois Fighting Illini. As the 1960's came to a close though, Owens struggled to adapt as the sport moved away from one-platoon football, and suffered through a racially-charged season in 1969 that saw them finish just 1-9. The program bounced back as Owens switched from a triple-option offense to a passing offense under the guidance of QB Sonny Sixkiller, but the Huskies were unable to get past Stanford and USC and back to the Rose Bowl. After 18 years as head coach (and 10 years as Athletic Director from 1960-1969) Owens was ready to hang them up, and Washington Athletic Director Joe Kearney started his search for the next Husky coach.
James had been recommended to Kearney by MAC Commissioner Fred Jacoby, but the front-runners for the job were Dan Devine and Mike White. Devine had been a very successful coach with Arizona State and Missouri before moving on to the NFL with Green Bay. Things weren't going so well there and he was on his way out. He was reportedly close to accepting the Washington job, but then was offered the Notre Dame job and he accepted. White was the coach with Cal and was coming off his first winning season, but he decided to stick with the Bears. At that point the search was reportedly down to James and Darryl Rogers. Rogers had the advantage of being a West Coast guy and had coached both Fresno State and San Jose State to some success. Ultimately, the offer went to James and he quickly accepted. He was not exactly a household name in Seattle at that time, and as he recalled in his autobiography, the marquee at Husky Stadium announced "Welcome Coach Jones" after he was hired.
James once again assembled a top-notch staff. He brought coaches Hall, Stull, Dorr & Scesniak with him from his Kent State staff. He called up his old compatriot Mora and lured him away from UCLA to be his Defensive Coordinator - a key hire, as Mora was a strong recruiter, and prying him away from UCLA was a big statement about the respect that James carried in the coaching community already. He also brought on Chick Harris to coach Defensive Backs - Harris would go on to have a lengthy career as an assistant in the NFL (he is currently RB coach with the Houston Texans). From Owen's staff, he retained Jim Lambright, Ray Jackson and Bob Ryan.
The James philosophy was to coach his coaches - they would coach the players, and James would watch from his ubiquitous tower at practices, observing all and providing feedback to his coaches on how he thought they were performing. That's not to say he wasn't involved in gameplanning and developing schemes - he was very much involved in areas he felt strongly about, but he gave latitude to his coaches to bring their own ideas to the table as well. He asked each of his defensive coaches to devise a defensive game plan for the week, and each of his offensive coaches to devise an offensive game plan - he wanted all ideas out there so they could pick the best one.
James instituted a makeover of the jerseys after he arrived, patterning the look in a combination of elements of the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers jerseys and helmets. It was under James that the gold helmets with the familiar block 'W' and triple stripes down the middle were instituted; the jerseys were purple with two white stripes on the sleeves and "collegiate" block numbering; the pants were similar to those used today, with the triple stripe on the helmet used down the side of the legs, with the difference being the "gold" used then was a mustard yellow. While he wasn't much for fiddling with the jerseys, he did listen to player comments and in the late '80's let the team switch to solid color shiny pants with no stripes and introduced the purple pants for the away game sets.
When James was hired, the Pac-8 was dominated by the California schools. USC and UCLA were the class of the conference, Stanford was still pretty good in the wake of recent Rose Bowls at the beginning of the decade and Cal was seemingly on the rise under White. The PNW schools on the other hand were also-rans - both Oregon and Oregon State were bottom-feeders, and WSU was only a half-step above that. The strategy for James was easy to see - dominate the PNW and put a target on the backs of USC & UCLA, both in recruiting and on the field. He told his staff to take a look at the players on those two rosters, and said those are the kinds of players we need to recruit to Washington.
James got off to a good start with recruiting, especially in-state kids. His first class included LB Michael Jackson, DB Nesby Glasgow, OL Jeff Toews, OL Roger Westlund and a JC transfer QB named Warren Moon - all key factors in the rise of the program under James. The program wasn't devoid of talent either - players left from Owens included OL Ray Pinney, RB Robin Earl, OL Blair Bush and DT Dave Browning. And in his first full season on the job, with his second recruiting class he pulled in key players such as top in-state player RB Joe Steele, OL Joe Sanford, DT Doug Martin, DT Stafford Mays and DB Mark Lee.
James' first squad got off to a rough start, losing out of conference games to #8 Texas, #7 Alabama and an undefeated, Frank Kush-led Arizona State team that finished #2 in the country. But things picked up over the course of the season, and fans got a glimpse of what James was capable of as the Huskies knocked off #13 UCLA on the road and #13 USC at home, and posted a 5-2 record in the Pac-8 to finish tied for 3rd place, and 6-5 overall. The year also featured some fan grumbling when local product and 2-year starter Chris Rowland was replaced by Moon, especially when Moon struggled with accuracy (completing just 48 of 122 attempts). James refused to bow to fan pressure that almost certainly carried some racial overtones, and that patience would pay off down the road.
James' second season was not particularly notable - the Huskies slid backwards to 3-4 in the conference and 5-6 overall, and posted no notable upsets, though they kept intact their unbeaten streak against their PNW rivals under James.
After a rough start to his third season - 1-3, with upset losses on the road to Syracuse and Minnesota included - James was feeling the heat from fans and the press. He famously buckled down, put up a cot in his office and got things turned around the next week as they traveled to Eugene and blasted the Ducks 54-0 to turn around the season. They lost one more game that year - to UCLA - but beat #14 USC at home, and when USC then beat UCLA the week after the Apple Cup, it sent the Huskies to the Rose Bowl for the first time in 14 years and gave the 3rd year coach major credibility. When the upstart Huskies the proceeded to upset heavily favored and #4 ranked Michigan in that game 27-20, they grabbed national attention. That season also paid off on the recruiting trail, as players such as QB/WR Anthony Allen, LB Ken Driscoll, S Derek Harvey, CB Ray Horton, DT Fletcher Jenkins, LB/DL Mark Jerue, OT Eric Moran, LB Mark Stewart, WR Aaron Williams signed following that season. They would form the backbone of the next great teams under James.
The Huskies entered the year ranked #11, but dropped a heart-breaker in their opener to #12 UCLA, losing 10-7. It was a year of close-calls, as they also fell just short vs. Bear Bryant and Alabama in Husky Stadium, losing 20-17, as well as a head-scratcher loss to Lee Corso's Indiana. A late-season loss to #5 USC dropped the Huskies into a tie for 2nd place in the Pac-8 at 6-2, with a 7-4 overall mark. It would be another 10 years before a James team would not play in a bowl game.
Washington got off to a hot start to the season, winning their first 5 games to rise to #6 in the rankings before losing a tough game in the desert to new conference mates Arizona State, the last game for Kush after his controversial firing (ironically stemming from an incident the prior year vs. Washington where he allegedly punched his punter in the mouth). That game was soon forfeited due to ASU's use of an ineligible player, but the Huskies lost again the next week vs. #17 Pittsburgh. Still, the Huskies were in the Rose Bowl race, but a late-season loss to #4 USC 24-17 relegated them to 5-2 in the conference and 9-2, but earned them a berth in the Sun Bowl to take on #11 Texas. The Huskies used a ferocious defense and just enough running game to win 14-7 and the Huskies finished #11 on the year. It also helped James land a recruiting class ranked #11 by one service, including standouts such as DT Scott Garnett, WR Danny Greene, DB Jim Rodgers and QB Steve Pelluer.
The year began as expected, with blowout wins over Air Force and Northwestern. Then something unexpected happened - the 13th ranked Huskies lost big to Oregon, in Husky Stadium no less. This was the first loss by a James team to any of the PNW rivals, a streak that had reached 15 games. They rallied to win their next three before another baffling home loss - this time to Navy - but rebounded strongly to win their last 4, including a huge win in the Coliseum over #2 USC, which meant the win the following week in the Apple Cup would clinch James' second Rose Bowl. As before, the Huskies were underdogs to Michigan, but this time they were unable to pull off the upset and finished the season 9-3 and ranked #16. James signed a class ranked as high as #7 overall by Blue Chip magazine, including top players such as LB Fred Small, DL Ron Holmes, TE Tony Wroten, LB Tim Meamber and RB Jacque Robinson.
Despite some uncertainty at QB after the graduation of Tom Flick, the Huskies entered the season ranked #17 and won their first three games before losing badly at home to Arizona State (26-7) and falling out of the rankings. They rebounded to win their next four and climb back up to #16, but then dropped their 2nd conference game of the year to UCLA, getting blanked for the first time under James as they lost 31-0. But they got up off the mat and shocked #3 USC at home 13-3 in a memorably wet and windy day at Husky Stadium, setting up a rarity for an Apple Cup - one that would help decide the Pac-10 champion. The Cougars needed only to win to claim their first Rose Bowl since 1916, while the Huskies needed to win and for USC to knock off UCLA. And that's exactly what happened, sending the Huskies back to the Rose Bowl in back to back years, something they had previously done only once before back in the heyday of Jim Owens. And they were fantastic as they blanked Hayden Fry's Iowa team 28-0 to finish #10 in the final rankings with a 10-2 record, with Fr. RB Jacque Robinson winning the Rose Bowl MVP award.
With much of their 1981 Rose Bowl team returning, this edition of the Huskies was probably the most talented squad James had yet fielded and entered the season with a ton of hype, ranked #2 in the pre-season polls, and they quickly ascended to #1 by their 2nd game, and they won their first 7 games. A close shave against Texas Tech however had dropped them back to #2, and then a loss in Palo Alto to John Elway and Stanford dropped the Huskies from the unbeaten ranks. It didn't help that James had to contend with intense speculation that he might replace the recently fired Jack Patera to coach the Seahawks - it was a distraction he would have preferred to not deal with. They rallied with wins the following weeks at home vs. #9 UCLA and then on the road at #3 ASU to put themselves back in the driver's seat for a 3rd consecutive conference title and Rose Bowl berth, but instead the unthinkable happened - in the first Apple Cup played in Pullman in 28 years, Chuck Nelson missed for the first time all season on a FG attempt that would have given the Huskies the lead, and they would end up losing 24-20 as the Cougars got their revenge for the prior year, sending Washington instead to the inaugural Aloha Bowl where they'd win in a shootout vs. the Boomer Esiason led Maryland Terrapins 21-20 to finish #7 at 10-2. And it would lead to another stellar recruiting class including QB Chris Chandler, FB Rick Fenney, OL Kevin Gogan, DT Brian Habib and WR Lonzell Hill.
A rebuilding year for James as he lost 34 seniors, including 18 starters. Still, things started well including a thrilling 25-24 win over Michigan in Husky Stadium as they rode the arm of Sr. QB Steve Pelluer, but they were whupped the next week in Death Valley, falling to LSU 40-14 in one of the most lopsided defeats of his Husky career. They rebounded to win their next 4 before falling to UCLA, and despite two more conference wins, the Bruins clinched a Rose Bowl berth during a bye week for Washington; perhaps that let-down contributed to another Apple Cup loss, this time at home. That sent the Huskies back to the Aloha Bowl, where they fell 13-10 to Penn State and Joe Paterno (the only time James & Paterno would face each other). The Huskies finished 8-4 and out of the rankings, but they did pull in another highly regarded recruiting class that ranked in the top-10 in most polls. Notable signees included RB Aaron Jenkins, OL Brett Wiese, LB David Rill, WR Brian Slater, RB Vince Weathersby and OL Mike Zandofsky.
Expectations were cautiously optimistic heading into the season as the Huskies ranked #18 in the pre-season polls. A salty and experienced defense led by DT Ron Holmes, S Jim Rodgers and LB Tim Meamber proved to be his finest yet as they feasted on turnovers, posting a remarkable 51 total on the season. With a strong kicking game, a steady run game and just enough passing, the Huskies marched through the season racking up wins, including an early statement game by beating #3 Michigan in the Big House 20-11. By their 7th game they had ascended to #1 in the polls where they stayed until a game 10 loss to #14 USC in the Coliseum. While that loss ended up knocking the Huskies out of the Rose Bowl, a win the following week in the Apple Cup left the Huskies 10-1 and ranked #4 which was good enough to earn them an invitation to the Orange Bowl to face #2 Oklahoma. James worked his bowl game magic, coming up with a trap blocking scheme on offense to spring the ground game to 192 yards against the nation's leading run defense, and devising a 2-5 personnel package on defense to deal with the Sooners' triple-option running attack as they won 28-17 to lay their claim to the National Championship, but instead the voters rewarded a 13-0 BYU team that had played a weak schedule "highlighted" by a 24-17 Holiday Bowl win over a 6-5 Michigan team that the Huskies had taken down earlier in the season. Sr. RB Jacque Robinson made history by becoming the first (and only) player to win the Rose Bowl and Orange Bowl MVP awards. It was a banner New Year's day for the Pac-10 as UCLA won the Fiesta Bowl, USC won the Rose Bowl and Washington capped it off that night with their Orange Bowl victory.
Washington had built up considerable national credibility by this point, and despite significant losses to graduation, entered the season ranked #12. But they dropped their first two games, to #16 Oklahoma State (featuring RB Thurman Thomas) and then a showdown of sorts with Brigham Young. They rebounded to win their next 4, including a big win over #13 UCLA, but then suffered one of the biggest upsets in college football history (in terms of betting lines at least) when they fell to Oregon State 21-20, the only time James would drop a game against the Beavers. Losses to Arizona State and WSU would leave the Huskies 4th in the conference, the first time since 1976 they had finished below a tie for 2nd place. Their 6-5 record however was just good enough to earn an invite to the 2nd ever Freedom Bowl where they beat Colorado. James signed another impressive recruiting class that ranked in the top-10, including guys like DT Dennis Brown, QB Cary Conklin, OL/DL Dean Kirkland and LB/DE Travis Richardson.
This was another big, physical, talented team with a lot of experience, and they entered the season ranked #16. They had as impressive a start to a season as any Husky team, blowing out #10 Ohio State 40-7 and whipping #11 Brigham Young 52-21. But a 20-10 loss the following week to USC brought them back to earth. They reeled off 4 more wins in a row to climb to #6 in the polls, but were run over by the strong ground game of Arizona State 34-21 to fall out of Rose Bowl contention and then settled for a tie with #19 UCLA before whipping WSU in the Apple Cup to earn a date with #13 Alabama in the Sun Bowl. There, the Crimson Tide and OLB Cornelius Bennett overwhelmed the big Huskies with tremendous speed throughout their lineup and notched a decisive 28-6 win and the Huskies finished a disappointing 8-3-1. This was to be a turning point for James, as he realized he needed to revamp his recruiting strategy - too many of his players were not as fast as he had been led to believe, and he instituted a new emphasis on speed and athleticism; big was good, but fast was better.
The year began with the first serious Heisman Trophy campaign by the program as they promoted Sr. QB Chris Chandler as a candidate. Things started off reasonably well with wins over Stanford & Purdue, but a decisive loss at Texas A&M showed vulnerability in the team, and two weeks later James suffered only his 2nd loss to Oregon. The Huskies rallied the next week to take down #13 ASU in Husky Stadium, but they fell to USC the following week to kill their Rose Bowl hopes. A tie with Arizona and a blowout loss to the Troy Aikman-led Bruins left the Huskies just 4-3-1 in conference. They earned an invite to the Independence Bowl where they beat Tulane 24-12 to finish 7-4-1 and unranked. While the season was not up to recent standards, this was the first of a series of recruiting classes that would lead to the pinnacle of James' tenure at Washington, as they signed guys like WR Mario Bailey, CB Walter Bailey, QB Mark Brunell, OL Lincoln Kennedy, LB Dave Hoffman, WR Orlando McKay, LB James Clifford, and some guy out of Cheney, WA named Steve Emtman.
It was a tough year for the Dawgs as they went 6-5 and saw their 9-year bowl streak ended. There was a lot of grumbling from boosters and criticism in the media as folks noted the win trend going in the wrong direction, from 11-7-8-7-6. Some folks wondered if the game was passing James by and if he could halt the slide in the program. But a closer look reveals a season of near misses - they fell 24-17 to the #2 Aikman Bruins, 28-27 to the #3 Trojans, had 3-point losses to Oregon and Arizona and a 1 point loss in Pullman (this was to the be 2nd and last time James would lose 2 games in a season to his 3 PNW rivals). It did lead to a significant staff change as OL coach Dan Dorazio was pushed aside and Idaho Head Coach Keith Gilberston was brought on board to coach the OL and introduce the Dennis Erickson-derived 1-back offense to the Huskies to replace the I-formation offense James had long favored. They also continued to infuse the roster with talent that would pay off down the road, signing stars such as RB Beno Bryant, DT D'Marco Farr, QB Billy Joe Hobert, LB Andy Mason, DB Shane Pahukoa and DB Tommie Smith.
The grumbling in Seattle intensified early in the season as James suffered his first 3-game losing streak since the 1976 season, dropping his Huskies to 2-3 for the first time ever. The 3rd of those losses - 24-16 to USC - had led James to begin rethinking his defensive strategies. While the Huskies recovered to win 3 straight to get to 5-3, they then dropped their 4th game of the year as they couldn't stop ASU, surrendering 493 yards that day as they lost 34-32 and wasting a big day from the Husky offense. That was the last straw for James, and he gave the green light to Jim Lambright to switch the defense that week to a variation on the Buddy Ryan '46' defense that had propelled the 1985 Bears to a 15-1 season and a dominating Super Bowl victory. It was an attacking, aggressive defense that left the corners in man coverage with a single safety deep to bring 8 defenders in the box to control the run game and to fire off a variety of blitzes to overwhelm opposing QB's. It was an immediate success as the Huskies crushed Oregon State that week 51-14, then held a potent WSU offense to 9 points in a 20-9 win. The 7-4 Huskies were selected to play Florida, featuring RB Emmitt Smith in the Freedom Bowl, and the new attacking Husky defense dominated, holding Smith to just 17 yards on 7 carries as the Huskies romped, 34-7.
With new approaches on both offense and defense and a roster beginning to see the benefits of the revised recruiting strategy following the 1986 season, the Huskies entered 1990 with momentum, ranked #20. Close wins over San Jose State and Purdue to start the season tempered expectations, but then things clicked in the 3rd game when the #5 ranked Trojans came to town. The new defense overwhelmed USC, leading QB Todd Marinovich to mutter after the game "All I saw was purple, no jerseys, no numbers — just purple." But the following week the Huskies dropped a tough game to a terrific Colorado team which had whipped the Huskies the previous year in the emotional aftermath of the death of popular QB Sal Aunese to cancer. The Buffs would go on to claim a share of the National Championship in 1990. The Huskies then righted themselves, reeling off 5 straight wins capped with a 54-10 demolition of #23 Arizona that clinched the program's first Rose Bowl in 9 years. It also propelled them to #2 in the polls, and the possibility of a National Championship seemed very real, but a stunning home loss to UCLA dashed those hopes. The Huskies rebounded to blow out WSU 55-10 and headed to Pasadena, where they rolled over Iowa 46-34 to finish 10-2 and ranked #5 in the country. Sr. RB Greg Lewis won the inaugural Doak Walker award given to the nation's finest running back, and a dominating defense had emerged led by So. DT Steve Emtman. The big year paid off on the recruiting trail as the Huskies signed their highest ranked recruiting class under James, including stars such as TE Mark Bruener, DT Steve Hoffman, QB Damon Huard, RB Napoleon Kaufman and DB Reggie Reser. The class also featured stalwarts like TE Ernie Conwell and FB Richard Thomas.
The Huskies headed into the off-season with big dreams - after flirting with a possible National Championship the year before and then losing to UCLA to dash those hopes, team leaders used that as motivation to bring their best effort at all times. With most of that 1990 team returning, hopes were running high in Montlake. But then Jr. QB Mark Brunell went down in Spring Practice with a major knee injury, and those hopes appeared in jeopardy, though they still entered the season ranked #4. But the defense picked up where they left off in 1990, and Gilbertson's 1-back offense fully gelled in the hands of a dominant OL, great receivers, dynamic running backs and a cocky gun-slinger of a QB in So. Billy Joe Hobert. The Huskies rolled over Stanford 42-7 in their opener, then traveled to Lincoln, NE for a key showdown with the mighty Cornhuskers, ranked #9. When they fell behind 21-9 late in the 3rd quarter, things looked bleak, but the Huskies then took over the game, scoring on their next 4 possessions to win going away, 36-21 and in the process rolled up 335 rushing yards and 618 total yards on the vaunted Blackshirt defense. That win cemented the belief within the team that they could go undefeated and they rolled through their next 3 opponents 158-3. They faced their next major challenge in Berkeley, CA where they took on the undefeated and #7 ranked Bears, and it was a see-saw battle that saw the Huskies finally emerge with a tough, 24-17 win in what would be the closest game of the season. The Huskies had another close call in Los Angeles, emerging 14-3 over USC before whipping Oregon State and WSU to end the regular season. The Huskies had only managed to climb to #2 in the rankings as Florida State and Miami had claimed the top two spots all year before the Hurricanes beat the Seminoles to knock them out of the Title race. The Huskies dominated #4 Michigan in the Rose Bowl 34-14 and then watched as Miami shut out Nebraska later that night in the Orange Bowl 22-0. In the closest vote yet up to that point, the Huskies fell just short of Miami in the AP poll, 32 votes to 28, while in the USA Today/CNN Coaches Poll the Huskies prevailed 33.5 to 25.5 to claim a share of the Title that year. Steve Emtman would win both the Outland and Lombardi Awards and finish 4th in the Heisman Trophy voting (the highest finish of any Husky), and after declaring for the NFL draft as RS-Jr, he would be selected #1 overall by the Indianapolis Colts, the only Husky ever selected 1st overall in the NFL draft.
Despite significant losses to graduation and the NFL draft and offensive coordinator Keith Gilbertson to Cal to become head coach, the 1992 Huskies returned enough talent to enter the season ranked #2. They hosted #12 Nebraska in their 3rd game in what was the first night game in Husky Stadium history and the defense dominated as the Huskies rolled 29-14. The win propelled the Huskies to the top spot in the polls and they held off challenges from #20 USC (17-10), #24 Cal (35-16) and #15 Stanford (41-7). But scandal hit as the Seattle Times published a series of stories documenting loans to QB Billy Joe Hobert that appeared to render him ineligible, and they fell to #12 Arizona in the desert to end a 22-game winning streak (the 2nd longest in Husky history) and damage Washington's hopes to repeat as National Champions. They rallied to beat Oregon State and clinch their 3rd straight Rose Bowl, but fell again in Pullman in the infamous "Snow Bowl" to Drew Bledsoe and the Cougars. In a rematch with Michigan, the Huskies couldn't contain RB Tyrone Wheatley and failed in their bid to become the first team to win 3 straight Rose Bowls. The Huskies finished 10-2 and ranked #11 in the country, but a storm was brewing as further investigative reports by the Seattle Times and L.A. Times revealed allegations of improper summer jobs programs and prompted an investigation by the Pac-10 Conference.
That investigation led to severe sanctions against the program, as chronicled in this excellent summary by Richard Linde, aka 'Malamute'; the most severe of which was the limit in scholarships to 15 per year for the 1994 and 1995 recruiting classes. In addition, the Conference weighed two options for additional significant penalties: a 1-year bowl ban and 2-year TV ban, or a 2-year bowl ban and 1-year TV ban. James was upset at the severity of the penalties suggested, but was willing to live with the 1-year bowl ban and 2-year TV ban (the Athletic Department had built up a significant financial surplus at that point). AD Barbara Hedges assured James that the school would lobby for that option, and James warned her that a 2-year bowl ban would result in his resignation. But instead of fighting for James and the players, the school's representatives in fact argued in favor of a 2-year bowl ban, and James - feeling betrayed - followed through on his promise and resigned the next day.
This was a dark day in Husky football history. Some believed at the time (and continued to believe) that James was a "quitter" and decried his decision; most others saw it for what it was, a principled stand by a principled man. Remember, James himself and his coaching staff were absolved of any wrongdoing by the investigation. What few knew at the time was the extent to which James was actively betrayed by school President William Gerberding. For the entire sordid story, see this excellent summary at the Husky Haul. By resigning when he did - less than two weeks before the start of the 1993 season - James assured that his Assistant Head Coach, longtime Defensive Coordinator and lifelong Husky Jim Lambright would take over.
In Part Three, we'll further examine the impact James had at Washington and his legacy here.