Coach Don James, who died Sunday, took his University of Washington Huskies to the Rose Bowl six times, but he will always be remembered in Kent for his glory days at the helm of the Golden Flashes four decades ago.
As Kent State's head football coach, James presided over a golden era of football, an exciting time for fans of the Flashes who watched him transform a struggling team into a gridiron powerhouse whose crowning achievement was a trip to the Tangerine Bowl in 1972 after winning the Mid-American Conference championship.
"The James Gang" thrilled Kent State fans with a lineup that included future NFL Hall of Famer Jack Lambert as well as other standouts. Two other players coached by James have gone on to outstanding careers as coaches, Nick Saban, who now leads No. 1 ranked Alabama, and Gary Pinkel, whose University of Missouri Tigers are No. 5.
Following the 1974 season at Kent, James signed a five-year contract with the University of Washington, where he became a legendary coach, leading the Huskies to six appearances in the Rose Bowl, including a crowning victory against Ohio State in 1991.
Don James was more than a great football coach. He was a force for decency and guidance for his players, caring for them off the field as well as on it. He set high standards and earned their respect and devotion through leading by example. He was a class act.
He lived to see Kent State return to glory last year with the thrilling 2012 season that earned the Flashes their first post-season bowl appearance since the Tangerine Bowl. He returned to Kent for a weekend celebration honoring the 1972 players, a memory now cherished by all who took part in that gathering.
Don James was a winner in every sense of the word.