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Farewell, Dawgfather: UW Football Legend Dies at 80

AP Photo/Wally Fong

They called him the Dawgfather.

Don James, the beloved, longtime University of Washington football coach died on Sunday. He was 80. The university said James died at home of complications with pancreatic cancer.

James coached the Huskies for 18 years – from 1975 to 1992 – often trouncing their rivals, the University of Oregon Ducks, and leading their team to a share of the national championship in 1991.

Bob Condotta, reporter for the Seattle Times, explained to The Record's Marcie Sillman that James came in as coach during a time of racial unrest and started very early in creating a legendary legacy.

When James came in, in some ways you could look at it as really the birth of the modern era of UW football. One of the first things he did was make Warren Moon his quarterback – the first fulltime, African-American starting quarterback at the University of Washington. In some ways it sent a signal, but also James picked him because he was the best guy for the job. And that was one of those things you always heard: H was always going to do what was best for the program.

Last month, James talked with KUOWabout the night he found out about that national title.

“I was up all night, because there are two ballots and the one that was most important to us still hadn't come in,” James said. “I knew we'd get that beautiful football, and we'd have it in our trophy case forever.”

At 4 a.m. or 5 a.m., James and others were at the Marriott hotel at the Rose Bowl when the news arrived. The press were out in the hallways, waiting for James’ response.

“It finally came in and we were nominated number 1,” James said. “I was beside myself with joy. I don't know if I've felt anything better.”

James led the Huskies to six conference titles.

In 1992, the Huskies’ winning streak started to dry up, and the Pacific-10 conference leveled sanctions against the Huskies for a series of recruiting violations.

James was incensed. He was especially angry about what he saw as a lack of support from his university administration.

We went down there and appealed, we didn't want to lose the money. It would hurt women's sports, it would hurt everything. That was enough for me; after all I've done for this university and this league. I said take this job and shove it. That was my last job.

Despite James tumultuous exit, Condotta said that when looking at the history of Seattle sports coaches he's right at the top of the stack.

Produced by Andy Hurst.