Woodinville assistant football coach Mike Monan was at home when he heard the sad news. While watching football on TV, he received a text message from a friend.
"It said that Don James had passed away," Monan said. "Everything kind of slowed down and stopped from the impact of losing coach James. You take a step back. It’s like all of us former Huskies have always looked up to him and now he’s no longer here."
Cancer had claimed the life of the former Washington Huskies coach at age 80. A Pacific Northwest icon, Don James coached at UW from 1975-1992, winning 153 games. In that time, he took Washington to six Rose Bowls and captured the 1991 national championship.
After seeing the text message, Monan sat back and reflected on his own Husky career. He’d been a walk-on from 1985-89 and never got into a game. But those days of practicing on the scout team for his famously stern and organized coach made an impact on him. This was particularly true when it came to being on time.
"One year I blew out my knee," Monan said. "One day I was late getting to therapy. I was riding my motorcycle and speeding down Lake City Way. I had my Husky garb on because I had to get down there for treatment. An officer pulled me over. He asked me why I was speeding and I told him. We spent a few minutes talking Husky football. Then he turned me loose because he knew that the punishment coach James would give me was worse than the ticket."
Another favorite memory came from when the Huskies were preparing to play the Washington State Cougars.
"It was Apple Cup, I forget which year — too many hits to the head," Monan said with a chuckle. "Coach James brought in a cassette tape. It was one of those old cassette players that your dad had, that looked like a book. And you’d hit the play button.
"He set it down on a table and hit play. Some Cougars who had somehow gotten his home number, it was 15 minutes of them saying how they were going to kick our butts. When it was over, coach James said `I hope we’re going to fix this. Let’s go to work.’
"It set the tone for where we needed to be for Apple Cup."
Over the past decade Monan saw his former coach from time to time in social settings.
"I had a chance to attend a dinner with Don James and (former UW athletic director) Mike Lude," Monan said. "It was still humorous to sit there and have coach James sitting across the table. We were sitting there like kids and not knowing what to do. And then he and Mike Lude began telling jokes and side stories on Husky athletics that we had never heard.
"It was a side of coach James that I had never seen before," he said. "A great dry sense of humor. There were four of us former players there. We were able to rotate around to take turns sitting next to him and talk. Two hours with a seven course meal with coach James and Mike Lude was a phenomenal experience."
These days, as an offensive line coach for the Woodinville Falcons, Monan still feels the impact.
"There’s a lot of his influence in terms of me trying to set a firm example for the kids when I’m out there coaching," Monan said. "I’m on the bottom rung compared to the way that man led and coached. But there’s always a little bit of coach James in me when I’m out there trying to make football fun for the kids the same way it was for me in my days as a Husky."