Campus Corner

Don James, Gary Pinkel’s coaching mentor, dies at 80

Updated: 2013-10-21T01:37:08Z

By TOD PALMER

The Kansas City Star

Missouri coach Gary Pinkel’s college coach at Kent State and his professional mentor, legendary Washington coach Don James, died Sunday.

The Huskies athletic department announced his death Sunday afternoon.

James, 80, a College Football Hall of Fame coach who led Washington to a share of the 1991 national championship, had been battling pancreatic cancer.

Known as “The Dawgfather,” James went 153-58-2 in 18 seasons at Washington from 1975-1992.

“The James family would like to thank the thousands of friends, former players and fellow coaches, and fans who prayed and expressed their love and support for Don these past few weeks,” the release from Washington’s athletic department read.

Pinkel also released a statement about James’ passing Sunday night:

“It’s hard to put into words how much it hurts to lose a man like Don James. He was my coach, my mentor, my friend, and he had such an amazing influence on my life, both personally and professionally. The program we built at Toledo and here at Missouri is Don James’ program, it’s a tribute to how he developed men and built football teams. This is a tough, tough day, and I’m so sorry for his wife, Carol, and the James family, as well as the entire Washington Huskies family. Coach James was a legend, and if I’m remembered for anything, I hope that it might be that I helped carry his legacy forward.”

James was the American Football Coaches Association’s coach of the year in 1977 after leading the Huskies to the Rose Bowl for the first time.

When James retired, his 10 bowl victories were the fourth-most in college football history behind only Alabama legend Paul “Bear” Bryant, Penn State’s Joe Paterno and Florida State’s Bobby Bowden.

A native of Massillon, Ohio, James played quarterback at Miami (Fla.) in the early 1950s. He later earned a master’s degree in education at Kansas, where he was a graduate assistant for the football team and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army.

He went on to serve as an assistant coach Florida State, Michigan and Colorado before taking the reins at Kent State in 1971.

He went 25-19-1 and led the Golden Flashes to a Mid-American Conference championship and the program’s first bowl appearance in 1972.

Pinkel was a tight end at Kent State under James and later joined James’ staff at Washington as the tight ends coach in 1976.

Pinkel spent the next two years at Bowling Green as a wide receivers coach before returning to James’ staff from 1979-90 as the Huskies’ wide receivers coach for five seasons and offensive coordinator for seven.

James, who went 176-78-3 overall in his coaching career, won five Pac-10 championships at Washington (1980-81, 1990-92).

It was James who warned Pinkel after Missouri knocked off Oklahoma in 2010 that the next game would be the toughest of his career.

Pinkel may not have heeded that advice the way he should have three years ago, but he learned his lesson — just one more lesson imparted by James — in leading the Tigers to consecutive wins against ranked teams for the first time in 40 years Saturday.

To reach Tod Palmer, call 816-234-4389 or send email to tpalmer@kcstar.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/todpalmer.

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