SEATTLE -- Former Washington football coach Don James, the winningest football coach in University of Washington history, died Sunday from the effects of pancreatic cancer. He was 80.
The UW said James died at home with his family. The UW said the James family expressed thanks to the thousands of friends, former players and fellow coaches, and fans who prayed and expressed their love and support.
The "Dawgfather" served as the UW football team's head coach from 1975 through 1992.
Nesby Glasgow got a call from a friend this morning. "Coach James passed away, and I was like wow. It's a great loss, he did so much to prepare his players for life." Glasgow played for James in the 1970's before embarking on a 14-year NFL career, including a stop with the Seattle Seahawks.
"He loved us like his own," says Glasgow. "He wanted us to be successful in life, and I'll always be grateful for the opportunity he gave me."
"He was a mentor, friend, father figure, someone I could go talk to about anything with," says Glasgow who says he visited James a couple of months ago at his home.
During his 18 seasons at the helm, he led Washington to six conference titles and the 1991 national championship. James was named the AFCA National Coach of the Year in 1977, when he led the Huskies to the Rose Bowl for his first time. In 1991, he won four different national coach of the year awards. At the time of his retirement in 1993, his 10 bowl-game victories were fourth-most in college history, behind only Paul "Bear" Bryant, Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden.
Born Dec. 31, 1932, in Massillon, Ohio, James graduated from Massillon Washington High in 1950. He played quarterback at the University of Miami (Florida), graduating in 1954 with a degree in education.
James went on to earn a master's degree in education from the University of Kansas, where he served as a graduate assistant coach, and was also commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army.
After stints as an assistant coach at Florida State, Michigan and Colorado, James was named head coach at Kent State in 1971, compiling a 25-19-1 record over his four seasons. He was named the Mid-American Conference Coach of the Year in 1972, when he led the Golden Flashes to a conference title and their first-ever bowl game appearance.
Prior to the 1975 season, he was hired as Washington's coach. In his third season, he led the Dawgs to an 8-4 record and a 27-20 win over Michigan in the Rose Bowl, the first of 15 bowl appearances his teams made at the UW.
James won Pac-10 championships in 1980, 1981, 1990, 1991 and 1992. His 1991 team, which finished 12-0 and beat Michigan in the Rose Bowl, is regarded as the greatest team in Washington history. That team was named the national champion by USA Today/CNN, UPI, the Football Writers, Sports Illustrated and a number of computer rankings.
James was 60 years old when he resigned less than two weeks before the 1993 season began. He was replaced by longtime assistant Jim Lambright.
He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1997.
His former on-field adversary was taken back by the news on Sunday.
"I have an empty sad feeling, it's like I lost a good friend," says former WSU Coach Jim Walden. "The state of Washington and the world of coaching has lost an unbelievly good man, good coach, good father, great husband, and good friend."
Walden coached at WSU from 1978-1986 and added passion to the cross state rivalry. But he says people didn't know the two were friends.
"Don and I went on these coaches clinics together every year," says Walden. "I loved competing with him, because he brought out the best in me."
"Behind the scenes Carol James and Don James were Jim and Janice's good friends. We knew what it was like when the season started all of that went away and you gotta compete and fight your tail off," Walden says. "The University of Washington, the State of Washington, and all of us should be extremely proud we had Don James in our midst."
James' image was displayed on the video board outside the entrance to Husky Stadium on Sunday afternoon. The school had a moment of silence in James' honor before the UW's volleyball game at Hec Ed. Thoughts poured over social media from former players, fellow coaches and fans who watched the Huskies program rise under James' leadership.
"My family and I are extremely saddened to hear of Coach James' passing," current UW coach Steve Sarkisian said. "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."
"Don James was a larger than life figure for generations of Husky fans, and all of us at the university are saddened by his death. Our hearts go out to his wife Carol and his family as we mourn his passing," University of Washington President Michael K. Young said in a statement.
"He was a special kind of leader who generated immense loyalty and affection among his players and colleagues in the coaching community. He was a mentor and teacher par excellence, a great ambassador for the University of Washington, and a man of the highest integrity. This university will miss him. He left an indelible impact on everything Husky."
“Through old fashioned grit and an unwavering focus on the fundamentals, Coach James took a Husky program mired in mediocrity and made us National Champions," King County Executive Dow Constantine said in a statement.
"I was there for every game he coached at Husky Stadium, and I think the only fitting tribute to "The Dawgfather" will come when Washington follows in his footsteps and climbs back to the top."
James is survived by his wife of 61 years, Carol, their three children and 10 grandchildren. The school said details on a public memorial service would be released at a later date.