In this age of college football, all anyone ever wants is to hire the next Don James. But, let’s face it, that’s not the way the game works anymore. No one sticks around for 18 years with the same program! To do so, first you have to be successful with that program. That knocks out well over 50% of head coaches right there. You’re lucky to last FIVE years in this What Have You Done For Me Lately world. Then, you have to be secure enough with yourself to not be constantly looking elsewhere for a “better opportunity”.
I’ve never really understood this line of thinking. If you’re a head coach for a major BCS-conference school, then you automatically have a chance at greatness. If your program is worthwhile, the kids will come. You shouldn’t treat a place like Washington or Washington State or any of these other middling BCS schools like they’re stepping stones to better jobs. You don’t HAVE to be a coach in the SEC to have your shot at the national championship! Hell, 20 years ago, who ever would have thought that a school like Oregon would be a perennial Top 5 school in the nation? And yet, here we are.
It doesn’t take a lack of ambition to want to stay in one place for 15+ years. It takes confidence and strength of convictions. You have to believe that YOU are the reason why your teams are winning. Not because your school is located in a hotbed of football greatness, or because your program has this “tradition of winning”. Oregon sure as shit didn’t have a tradition of winning!
It really takes a special type of person. Someone who succeeds within the early window with which he’s given, someone with a secure sense of job satisfaction, someone who gets along with the administration. And, quite frankly, someone who avoids scandal. Certain college coaches are remarkably successful, but never stay long in any one job. Because every time they build a program up, they leave it in tatters 5-10 years later thanks to rampant corruption and cheating. Now, I’m not exactly 100% familiar with what went down at the end of Don James’ run at the University of Washington, but this isn’t really the time or the place for that anyway.
This is the time and place to celebrate a brilliant man. The best head coach and person ever affiliated with the UW football team. He came into a situation in 1975 where things were kind of rough, and he turned this program into a national power. The Pac-10 in those days, as far as football was concerned, consisted of USC and UW. From 1975-1992, he led the greatest sustained success in the modern UW era, punctuated by a national championship 1991 season. There surely would have been more where that came from, but UW was left hung out to dry by the conference. It’s no coincidence that after he left, we saw a slow, but dramatic decline in the program’s quality, bottoming out with a winless 2008.
Ever since he left, we’ve been looking for The Next Don James. It hasn’t been easy. In fact, it’s probably impossible. There can only be one Don James. Only one Dawgfather. We may never return to the type of sustained success we enjoyed during his tenure, but at least we have the memories of what was. Most schools don’t even have the memories! Not every university or college can have a Don James, and when you do, you cherish him for as long as you can.
This is truly a sad time for Husky fans. But, Don James had a great life. Probably the best life. Rest in peace, Dawgfather.