Tour the Office that Belonged to a Washington Football Coaching Legend

The football coach has been gone for seven years now, but his illustrious career is on display at the family residence.
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Carol James welcomes her visitor — me — into her second-story residence that offers a sweeping view of Lake Washington, though Husky Stadium stubbornly remains hidden from view because of the way the opposing shoreline juts out. But it's over there.

We don't go more than a few steps when we encounter the office of legendary University of Washington football coach Don James. 

It makes you stare. Cooperstown and Canton have nothing on this impressive display of memorabilia and artifacts that tells the story of the greatest era of Husky football and acts as a mini museum. Everything is neatly arranged.

"I couldn't take it down," said Carol James, now 88. "I guess I'm saving it all for the kids."

Not quite seven years have passed since the death of Don James sent a pall over Seattle and the entire UW football program and its dedicated following. Pancreatic cancer was responsible. He was 80.

The coach's final moments came here in this Eastside condominium, propped up in a hospice bed in the living room where he could look out on the lake, knowing that his health was rapidly failing him. After a brief hospitalization, he asked to come home.

"When we found out how critical it was, he only had a few weeks," Carol James said of the grim diagnosis. "He handled it like you would expect him to; he had his family around him. We were all here when he took his last breath."

They say behind every successful coach is a strong woman, and Carol James is all of that. Her husband used to joke that she inevitably would say something some day that would get him fired. Players used to seek her out as a mother figure. They still call her every day, as does former UW athletic director Mike Lude. 

Carol James remembers when they came to Seattle in 1975 and were greeted by a stadium marquee that said, "Welcome Don Jones."

"They got to know him," she said with a smile.

James held the job for 18 seasons, coaching the Huskies to a 153-57-2 record, 15 bowl games, a national championship and six conference titles. His teams captured four out of six Rose Bowls and an Orange Bowl, and he had a 10-5 bowl record. He was named national coach of the year in 1977, 1984 and 1991.

In 1993, James abruptly resigned following three consecutive Rose Bowl appearances after some of his players were found to have received improper benefits, though no coaches were implicated in any wrongdoing. The head man stepped down because he felt the university didn't properly defend his program.

His coaching reputation remained unbesmirched but the Husky program ebbed and flowed under a succession of coaches that followed him. James didn't live  long enough to see Chris Petersen take over as the UW coach, with the hiring coming five weeks following his death.

In the accompanying video, Carol James leads us on a tour of the office of the man they called the Dawgfather. In this room are trophies, rings, watches, photos, paintings, jerseys, footballs, news clippings and other keepsakes.

James' spouse of 61 years — she was a Miami-Florida cheerleader when he was the Hurricanes quarterback — cheerfully points to a photo of Don James as a 6-year-old boy holding up a pair of six-shooters, and another image of James' father Tom dressed in a Depression-era football uniform.

She closes with a Bear Bryant airport story that left Don James more than a little surprised. Take a look at the office footage and the memories.

In the coming days, she will speak in separate videos about her husband's hiring of Alabama coach Nick Saban as a Kent State graduate assistant, how Don was tempted to take the Ohio State job and how they met as teenagers. 

In the coming weeks, Carol James will be part of Husky Maven's recreation of the 1991 national championship run, done with video interviews and stories that involve a host of characters. If there can't be a 2020 schedule, we'll replay Don James' greatest season. 

Follow Dan Raley of Husky Maven on Twitter: @DanRaley1 and @HuskyMaven

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