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The Immortalization of the Dawgfather, Finally

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The effort to immortalize the great Dawgfather is happening in the only fashion Don James would ever have approved of.

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When a father gives to his son, both laugh.  When a son gives to his father, both cry.

--William Shakespeare

On the surface, it seems obvious. Why shouldn't Husky Stadium be ordained with a tributary offering to the shrine of the Dawgfather? Hasn't the time come to immortalize the great Don James with his own statue? James is, after all, widely viewed as the brightest star in the broad constellation of University of Washington athletics.

Despite this fact, it is the face of James's predecessor, Jim Owens, which faithful Husky fans pass by when they venture out to Husky Stadium to take in a football game. Owens's statue was dedicated all the way back in 2003. Since that time, Washington has seen a parade of school presidents, athletic directors, and head coaches grace the offices of upper campus and the athletic department without any firm proposals to do anything to honor James.

Surely, much of the reason behind this inertia has to do with the Dawgfather himself. Always one to deflect accolades onto others, James reportedly never felt comfortable with the idea of some kind of monument erected in his likeness on campus.

Nevertheless, here we are. Nearly 23 years after the sudden and, to many, unjust separation of Coach James from the University that he loved, nearly three years removed from his untimely passing, something is about to change. A group of former Husky players have decided to take matters into their own hands. As reported by Adam Jude, former Huskies including Jim Rodgers, Mike Ewaliko, Dennis Maher, Scott Fausset, and Jim Simpson have self-organized a fundraising effort with a goal to erect a statue of their former head coach at Husky Stadium.

It would be an understatement the size of Donald Trump's monthly salon bill to say that this is an idea whose time has come. The real question is why the heck did it take so long?

There is simply no denying the greatness of Washington's legendary coach. James took over Washington in 1974 and went on to direct perhaps the greatest era of Husky football. In his 18 seasons, the Huskies competed for national championships - culminating in a crystal trophy in 1991, established the northern counterbalance to USC's southern hegemony, and created a culture of excellence that, to this day, sustains the average Husky fan's expectations for their football program. He won National Coach of the Year honors three times. He won the PAC-12 conference six times. He was its Coach of the Year three times.

But what really defined the legacy of Coach James, and what drives the desire of so many fans to see his memory cemented with this kind of honor, is the way in which he developed the ideals of what it means to be a Washington Husky (which is, not ironically, the name of the Greg Brown book to which he wrote the foreword). There are a thousand sports cliches that go into this definition. "Toughness," "togetherness," "commitment," and "loyalty," among others, are all attributes that come to mind. It wasn't so much the novelty of his approach to program architecture that stood out, but the way in which he lived the principles.  You can see those principles continue to play out in the way that the acolytes off his coaching tree, such as retired Missouri coach Gary Pinkel and Alabama coach Nick Saban, have run their programs.

It is, therefore, only appropriate that the effort to memorialize the great Husky coach come not from an athletic director looking to score some PR points or from a school administrator looking to garner a little publicity. Rather, it is a group of players - stars and reserves alike - who are organizing to solidify the memory of their second father within the halls of the newly remodeled Husky Stadium.

I expect that this is the only way that James, an exceedingly humble and deferential person while he was with us, would accept such an honor. To know that it was the will of his players to define such a tribute, and that the result of their toil would make it happen, would seem to resonate with the man who preached self-accountability and respect above all other things.

I applaud the group that has come together to make this notion a reality and I encourage those of you who are so inclined to support the fundraising. It is only through the efforts of the people whose lives he directly impacted that Don James would have ever permitted such an accolade. In a way, to get this done was always going to be the responsibility of those for whom James quite literally sacrificed his career. That they have now organized to do so speaks volumes about how they feel about their coach.

While it is true that we live in an age of hyper-hyperbolization (is that a word?), it is not exaggeration to describe the great Don James as the greatest of all Huskies. A statue commemorating his impact on our university provides a generation of fans a touchstone upon which to educate the next generation of fans, while serving as an ineliminable reminder to the players and coaches that don the purple and gold just what the history of this program is all about.