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Old Guys Smoking Cigars: A Roundtable

The Old Guys get back together to debate the greatest coaches in Husky Football history. The question put to them was simple: If you were to construct a Mt. Rushmore of Husky Coaches, who would go on it? The answers, and the Geritol-fueled debate, follow.

Old Guys do Rule ... and they don't like each other.
Old Guys do Rule ... and they don't like each other.
Oklahoma City Sweets

Chris Landon: Hello, again, gentlemen. I'll be moderating this fine panel discussion on all-time great Husky Coaches. John, let's start with you. You've been around since the original Mt Rushmore started construction in 1927 and probably had your own opinions on whether or not Teddy Roosevelt should have been the fourth president included. I think we could all agree that George Washington is clearly the first choice for a four man Mt. Rushmore. In your mind, who is the clear #1 that would go on a UW Mt Rushmore of coaches?

John Berkowitz: If it is coaches only, I have to go with Gil Dobie. He is the father of Washington football and the Husky tradition of winning and toughness. It is too bad he was run off by the administration before the Rose Bowl became an annual event because I am sure he would put up some big numbers in the 20-30's if he had been allowed to stick around.

CL: Gil Dobie makes a lot of sense to the older folks on the blog. But what about the REALLY old guys on the blog? Jim, same question.

Jim Wingard (Husky57): James Merlin Phelan. Phelan won a lot of football games during his 12 years at the UW and had taken the Huskies to a pair of bowls. Of all of Phelan's accomplishments at Washington his mastery of the Trojans is the most curious. Starting in 1934 Washington beat USC five consecutive times. Phelan who hated Howard Jones (Trojan coach) absolutely delighted in doing a number on those guys. Problem with Phelan is he never had any qualms about saying what was on his mind. But he was a great one - and he understood the psychology of the game. One quirk he had was that he often started his sophomores and if they scored, the seniors would go in with a vengeance so as not to be outdone. I believe you young guys call that a mind<<RADIO EDIT>>>

CL: Whoa, easy there Husky57. This is a family values blog site.

JW: Whatever. Let me finish. Phelan played games on the field and on upper campus. Oh my, this brings back memories of Gerberding and Hedges. Jimmy would have had Gerby peeing his pants. Consider this story. Once in his pro career he had Artie Donavan suit up even though Artie had a broken leg. "Don't worry we won't be playing you," he said to Artie. But during the game he ran up to Donovan and told him to go in. Artie told him "I can't move I have a broken leg." "That's okay," Jimmy said, "if they run a play at you just fall down and try to get in their way. Phelan the antithesis of the 'organization man'. Take note Sark this is a real time game played for big stakes. Good guys don't fare well.

JB: Good points, Jim. Phelan is a pretty good choice and you could say the same for Jim Lambright even though he never went to a Rose Bowl. I believe Jim has the highest career winning percentage of any Husky coach with the exception of Dobie.

CL: Brad, it looks like we don't have consensus on a number one. It also looks like Jim went a little crazy with the pomegranate juice. What do you think? Give us two guys who belong on the UW Mt Rushmore.

Brad Johnson (SunDodger): Sports Illustrated put it best once when it listed its top three coaches in college football – 1. Don James 2. Don James 3. Don James

Best winning percentage of any coach not named Dobie. 10-4 record in bowl games, and 5-2 in Rose and Orange Bowls. Two national championships (I’ll never feel the need to qualify 1984, by the way). Finished the season ranked in the top 10 6 times. His teams fielded some of the greatest players in program history. When he was eventually made to fall on his sword in 1993, he had the program poised to take the step from "perennial conference championship contender" to "perennial national championship contender." It’s not at all hard to imagine that, when James retired following the 1996 season after winning the national title in 1994 (lead by Napolean Kaufman’s 2,000 rushing yards and Heisman trophy) and again in 1996 (lead by Corey Dillon’s 2,100 yards and Heisman trophy), that Don James Field at Husky Stadium would’ve been renovated in 1997, and we’d currently be awaiting the opening of the new upper deck around the west end zone that brings capacity up to 90,000 (the 7-year wait for season tickets necessitates it) instead of finally getting the original project done. (How’s that for pomegranate juice?)

From a historical perspective, I’d certainly put Dobie on there for the wins he produced here. I could understand the arguments for Enoch Bagshaw, and Phelan, and even Jim Owens. But those guys – and all of the guys before James and after him, all have a fatal flaw or two that to me, keeps them from having their heads chiseled in stone in Husky lore. My personal Mt. Rushmore of Husky coaches has at least one blank space for some future coach, and maybe even two.

CL: Brad makes a couple of solid points and introduces the notion that we may not even have four deserving candidates yet. What do you think, Kirk, has he finally made an argument that your senile....errr, I mean...that your salient mind can wrap itself around? If so, give me some more.

Kirk DeGrasse (KirkD): There are two no-brainer choices for a Mt. Rushmore of Husky coaches. Don James is obviously one, and the other is Gil Dobie. I know that the quality of competition that the Sundodgers faced back in those days varied greatly (high schools, club teams and navy squads were frequent opponents in addition to other colleges & universities), but 58 wins, 3 ties and no losses speaks for itself. No other program has posted an unbeaten streak longer than the 63 games Washington had from 1907-1917, with all but 2 of those games coached by Dobie. The Washington football program was really put on the map under Dobie's guidance, and it's not hard to imagine that the team would have played in a number of additional Rose Bowls had he stayed here longer. Unfortunately for football fans, his success on the gridiron and the popularity he had because of it didn't go over well with Henry Suzzallo, the school president at the time, and Dobie was forced out (a pattern that has happened too often with Husky football).

The big question is how to fill out the remaining two spots. There are a number of reasonable candidates, but in my view the third guy to pick would be Enoch Bagshaw. John, what say you?

JB: Bagshaw would be my pick. He also was forced out (a UW tradition among administrators) after leading the team to two epic Rose Bowl's and a 63-22-6 record in nine years at Washington. He took a job with the state of Washington and passed away after a heart attack in 1930 at age 56 soon after leaving UW. The scribes of the day claimed that Baggy died of a broken heart after being betrayed at his alma mater. His 1925 team was led by George Wilson and was headed to a national championship until Alabama upset them 20-19 in the Rose Bowl. That game which is actually still on film has been described as one of the greatest of the millennia. It is also the game that gave the South something to finally be proud of and cheer about after years of reconstruction after the Civil War.

JW: Hey there, whipper-snapper. Don't be asking Berkowitz when I'm sitting right here. My first swag at a top 4 had Bagshaw/Phelan in a tie. But I'll go with the guy who played QB for Knute Rockne, Phelan.

JB: Well Jim, if it is tie, I have to go with the guy who literally died of a broken heart because of the way he was treated. You know a thing or two about heart failure, don't ya?

CL: Brad, it is getting sentimental in this group. Is that Barry Manilow playing in the background? Round out your Mt Rushmore for us. Don't be shy.

BJ: If this is actually "Mt. Rushmore," and these are the four guys that are going to be the faces of UW football coaches in perpetuity, then I’m sticking with Dobie and James for sure. If I had to pick two more, they’d be Bagshaw and Phelan. But I don’t think both belong up there. I’m sticking with my original thought – I’ll add Bagshaw, but the last space is for a coach that will do great things here (hopefully) in the (very near) future.

JB: Seriously? Some kind of SunDodger you are. How can you not pick Jim Owens? Three Rose Bowls, a piece of a national championship, and most importantly the guy who put West Coast football back on the map.

CL: Boom, Brad. Respect your elders! Kirk, be the voice of reason in this Viagra fueled debate. Bring us home. Which coaches round out our Mt Rushmore?

KD: I think John is right - Jim Owens has to be part of the four that make up our Mt. Rushmore. I get where Brad is coming from - after a strong run early in his career, Owens settled in to a pattern of mediocrity with a lot of 5-5 and 6-4 type years. The good years later in his career with Sonny Sixkiller at QB are balanced by tough years like 2-9 in 1973 and the racially charged 1-9 season in 1969.

But the heights he reached in 1959-1960 are as good as any two year stretch in Husky history, and he re-established the UW as a football power, and the Rose Bowl wins for those two teams re-established the West Coast as the equal, if not the better of the rest of the country.

My Mt. Rushmore is Don James, Gil Dobie, Enoch Bagshaw and Jim Owens, with honorable mentions for Jimmy Phelan and Jim Lambright. And here's to hoping that in 3-4 years we'll be having a debate about Sark replacing Owens on our Rushmore.

BJ: Owens had some great years early. But he had a .545 winning percentage, and nearly half of his seasons at Washington were .500 or below. Racism is one thing, but putting yourself at a competitive disadvantage because of it is doubling down on stupidity. This is Mt. Rushmore, not a hall of fame that has room for an unlimited number of additions. As high as Owens’ highs were, his lows were almost their equal, and because of that, I’ll honor him as a great Husky, but I’m not willing to immortalize him.

JB: Jim Owens wasn't completely to blame for that even though he ended up being held ultimately responsible for it. He was actually doing exactly what the boosters and upper campus administration wanted him to do. For example the practice of stacking to prevent blacks from getting too much playing time was an accepted practice in the conference and across the country during that time period. Owens could have folded and quit, after the 69 season. He could have moved on, but he chose to stay, and help bring needed change to not only the football program, but to the entire University.

JW: Besides the racism, Owens wasn't that great. He folded like a wet blanket when players did not have to play O and D, both ways. Coaching could not adapt. And, after further edification Owens, was also a victim of circumstances in a very troubling time. His problems were as much meddling Alumni and the Admin as his own and he had to go. I think Phelan had it right "<<RADIO EDIT>> those bastards."

CL: Who folds wet blankets, Jim? Welcome to the modern era. We have laundry machines and dryers now. Anyhoo, great debate, gents. Final decision time, give me your Mt. Rushmores.

JB: Dobie, Bagshaw, Owens, and James

BJ: Bagshaw, Dobie, James and OPEN

KD: James, Dobie, Bagshaw and Owens

JW: Phelan, Bagshaw, James and Dobie

CL: Thank you, gentlemen. Go back to your naps and your tiddlywinks. I'll take it from here.

I hope you all enjoyed our latest Old Guys Roundtable. The voting booth is now open. Pick your #1 choice for a Mt. Rushmore of Husky Coaches and let's see who the top four end up being.