The passing of Don James made a lot of us check our hole cards. He was indeed the Dawgfather and probably one of the greatest sports figures in the history of the Pacific Northwest. The thousands of players, coaches, and fans who knew and respected him were all impacted by his role in their lives and equally sorrowed by his passing at the age of 80. He was a giant in a small package.
I had the privilege of working directly with him for about a decade and then enjoyed another two decades of just being his friend. He was my mentor, my role model, and a spiritual guide for me and my whole family. That’s because he took my family into his family as soon as I went to work with him. We were all members of the James Gang.
That’s what the James era was all about. It was about family and there was never any doubt who the patriarch was. His presence could be felt whenever he entered a room and his quiet humble personality could immediately turn into a no-nonsense, “you better sit up, shut up, and pay attention”. Needless to say, he was a man who was firmly in command and garnered your attention as soon as he started talking.
Grieving is such a weird emotional rollercoaster. One minute you have control and the next it has control of you. It’s all so sad but it’s all so real. For me, his passing took the identical route as when my own father passed. He had that kind of impact on me. I knew it was coming but somehow he just seemed bigger than life and was going to beat it. A deeply religious man, Coach James is now with his Lord and Savior. He leaves us with all the lessons and guidance from just being in his organization.
You can start with being on time, being loyal to each other, and having your priorities in order; God, your family, your education, and your team. Faith, Family, and Football were how he lived his life and you could throw in Golf just to keep his interest. His attention to detail was over whelming. His messages were subtle in delivery but you always got his intent.
He was a stoic in that he acted the same no matter what was happening. Win or lose, he was always under control. Oh he might have been mad on the inside but he was always so direct that you’d better not make him repeat himself. He was distant but he was right inside you. He made everyone who worked for him know they had a part and he expected you to give it your best effort.
There was never any talk on the bus on the way to the game. There were no head-sets playing music, there was no unnecessary laughter and it you weren’t on time when the bus left, it left without you. In fact, being on time meant being 5-minutes early. For team or staff meeting, everyone was in their seat well before the meeting was scheduled to begin. That was called “DJ Time”. To this day all the clocks in our house are set 5 minutes fast.
Don James will always be part of Husky Football. He was the greatest modern day coach ever and firmly put the Huskies on the national stage of college football. His legacy will live on forever. He was a giant in a small package. He was the Dawgfather and he was my friend. God bless him, may he rest in peace.