While he knew that legendary University of Washington football coach Don James was struggling with cancer, former Husky and NFL player Warren Moon says it was still a shock to hear that his college coach had passed.
“I knew it was just a matter of time, that it was probably going to happen, but it’s still a shock to you when you finally hear the news that somebody who played such an influential part of your life is gone now,” Moon tells KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson.
Moon played starting quarterback for coach James for three years in the 1970s. A black player at the quarterback position wasn’t as common in those days, and Moon says not everyone was happy with James’ decision.
“He called me in his office one day and told me a lot of different things that were happening behind the scenes with different people who didn’t want me to be the starting quarterback anymore. But he told me that I was his guy, that I was the best player he had at that position, and he was going to continue to stay with me and he just wanted to make sure that I knew that.”
Moon says James didn’t directly talked about race, but he picked up on what was going on.
“He didn’t bring it up in those terms, but I could read the fine print, what he was talking about, that there were a lot of fractions out there that didn’t want me to play for a lot of different reasons.”
But James made his decisions about who played based on who performed in practice, says Moon.
“We were graded everyday in practice on how we did. You knew exactly where you stood from number 1 through 150 on our depth chart. If you were in the top 22, you’re supposed to be playing on the field somewhere. It didn’t matter what color you were. It didn’t matter your size. It didn’t matter your speed. It didn’t matter your strength, if you graded out the way you were supposed to, you were supposed to be playing,” says Moon.
“That’s why every player at that university always felt like they had a chance to compete and to play.”
That true competitive spirit also led to the success the school’s football program found under James, Moon believes.
“We competed every day at practice and that’s why we got better and better and better as a program,” says Moon. “They allowed him to build a program and great things happened in our third year, winning the Pac-8 championship, and winning a Rose Bowl, and the rest is history as they went on and became one of the top football programs in the country over the 17 years that he was here.”
Moon says James’ legacy wasn’t just in football but in making a major impact on lots of people’s lives.
“When you leave this earth, I think the most important thing is you can’t take money with you, you can’t take awards and different things, but you can make a difference while you’re here in people’s lives, and there’s no question Don James made a big positive difference in a lot of people’s lives.”