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Don James, legendary Huskies football coach, dies

don james

Don James, who led Washington to four Rose Bowl wins in his 18 years as its head football coach, died Sunday. (AP)

By Brent Stecker

Don James, the legendary University of Washington coach who led the Huskies to a share of the 1991 football national championship, died Sunday morning. He was 80.

James died at his home from the effects of pancreatic cancer, the university said.

Known as the “Dawgfather,” James coached the Huskies from 1975 through 1992, leading them to six conference titles and the 1991 national championship, which they shared with his alma mater, the University of Miami (Florida). He was named the Pac-10 Coach of the Year three times, won the AFCA Coach of the Year in 1977, and took home four separate coach-of-the-year honors in 1991. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1997.

James led the Huskies to 15 bowl appearances in his tenure, including a 4-2 showing in Rose Bowls, and he compiled a 153-58-2 record in his 18 seasons with the program. His 10 total bowl victories ranked fourth all-time behind only Paul “Bear” Bryant, Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden at the time of his retirement in 1993.

The Tyee Center, which was Husky Stadium’s only premium seating area at the time, was renamed the Don James Center at the time of his retirement. It carries the name to this day.

“My family and I are extremely saddened to hear of Coach James’ passing,” current Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said in a release from the university. “His accomplishments as a football coach stand alone, but what made him truly special is the quality of man he was away from the game. The guidance and leadership he instilled into this program and community are still felt today, and will continue to be felt here for a long, long time.”

Before coaching the Huskies, James spent four seasons at the helm of the Kent State program, leading it to a 25-19-1 record, one MAC championship, and a Tangerine Bowl appearance. Prior to that stint, James was an assistant coach with Florida State, Michigan and Colorado.

As a college quarterback from 1951 to 1953, James set school records at Miami for completions, attempts, yards and completion percentage in a season, and career completions and yards. He also was a defensive back for the Hurricanes.

He is survived by his wife of 61 years, Carol; three children: Jeff, Jill and Jeni; and 10 grandchildren.