Owens says events have made him a more compassionate man. He is "more sensitive to black athletes and their problems." He is careful, even in the heat of practice, not to use terms that—no matter how innocent—might be considered inflammatory, like "thata boy," and to avoid suggesting that blacks might be malingering. He now has more black players than ever—14 on the varsity last spring. He takes pains to explain to non-starters why they are not starting. A council of athletes considers the problems of team deportment and spirit.
But Owens lives in a glass house. His every move is catalogued. The university's Student Athletic Committee grills him on student seating and other procedural matters and on the athletic department's requests for funds. Owens is questioned about black athletes, about discrimination, about jobs.
Close friends in coaching begin any discussion of Owens with a sigh and say you don't know the trouble he has seen. As the figure of the compromised coach, however, he has made some people very happy. One Washington player rejoices that "much of the rah-rahness is gone." Grim-faced solemnity has disappeared in the locker room; players now joke, dance. "We have good morale," says Assistant Coach Gayton.
What they no longer have, it would appear, is good football. Since 1963 Washington has struggled to break even. Last year Owens, down off his pedestal, had his worst record in 10 years (3-5-2) and he resigned his post as athletic director to concentrate on upgrading Washington football. It is well within the realm of possibility, therefore, that Jim Owens will soon hear from other critics—the alumni, for example—who might just applaud his compassion even as they hunt for his successor. That, sadly, is a part of the game that never changes.