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Settling a Score
Austin Murphy
September 13, 1993
Hit by harsh sanctions, Washington took out its anger on Stanford
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September 13, 1993

Settling A Score

Hit by harsh sanctions, Washington took out its anger on Stanford

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Their tears turned to righteous anger on Saturday when Walsh jogged onto the field. The boos echoed off Mount Rainier. The Cardinal coach's sin? He had spoken his mind at a Stanford booster-club meeting in May. Lamenting the mere lip service paid to academics in big-time college athletics, Walsh singled out Washington, using the word "mercenaries" to describe some Husky players. "When they use up their eligibility...they have none of the skills you are supposed to gain in college," said Walsh. The remarks rapidly found their way onto the Huskies' bulletin board.

Walsh was summarily reprimanded by the Pac-10 for his lack of "civility" and "collegiality" toward a sister school. Informed that he had broken an unwritten rule against sniping at other programs in his own conference, Walsh apologized to James, then to Hedges. He sent James a case of wine, which James distributed to his staff. "They raked us," James told Lambright. "We might as well enjoy it."

Ignored amid Walsh's acts of contrition was the fact that his remarks had been dead-on. According to an NCAA study released in May, only 35% of Washington's players graduated during the six-year period ending in 1992.

There were also unsavory acts by Washington athletes that the Pac-10 chose not to pursue. An investigation into cellular-phone fraud in the Seattle area had led federal agents to several Husky football players suspected of having bought electronically altered phones and used them to make "free" calls in mid-1991. And in November 1992, Husky reserve defensive end Danianke Smith had been arrested by Seattle police officers on four counts of cocaine distribution, charges that were dismissed six months later by King County Superior Court Judge Joan DuBuque because of "the State's mismanagement of the case."

It had seemed out of character for Walsh to supply an opponent with bulletin-board material. Some observers suspected instead that Walsh had outraged the Huskies in order to focus attention on himself—and away from his young team. Such a strategy might also explain his decision the day before the game to disembark from the team plane and conduct TV interviews in Groucho glasses.

Apologies, wine, funny disguises—none of these placated Lambright, who is convinced that Walsh's statements helped persuade the Pac-10 to toughen its sanctions against Washington. Lambright is a youthful-looking 51-year-old with a push-broom mustache and a piercing gaze. On the subject of Walsh, his judgment is clouded by his loyalty to James, whom he served as defensive coordinator for the past 15 seasons. A former Husky defensive end, Lambright graduated in 1965 and then coached various sports at Shoreline Community College in Seattle. He was teaching a figure skating class at Highland Ice Arena when a message came over the public-address system: " Jim Lambright, you have a phone call from Jim Owens."

Lambright had taught his last toe loop. Owens was Washington's head coach, and he needed a linebacker coach. When James replaced Owens after the '74 season, Lambright was one of three assistants he retained. Lambright went on to make his reputation as a top defensive coordinator. After Arizona State ruined the Huskies' homecoming in 1989—Sun Devil quarterback Paul Justin threw for 339 yards and three touchdowns in a 34-32 upset—Lambright huddled with James. "We said, 'We need to get more out of the athletes we have,' " Lambright recalls.

They did. Borrowing heavily from the Chicago Bears' old 46 defense, Lambright installed a defensive package of stunting, blitzing, eight-man fronts and lots of man-to-man coverage. Since that Arizona State game, Washington has gone 35-5. Number 35 was the Huskies' 10th straight win over Stanford.

As thousands of still-irate fans booed, Lambright and Walsh engaged in a warm postgame handshake at midfield. Afterward, Walsh pooh-poohed the crowd's hostility. "I've been in much tougher situations," he said. Unbidden, Walsh then addressed the furor he had spawned last spring: "I'm hopeful that the [controversy] will generate an atmosphere here where young guys will take their academic work more seriously and work to graduate. That would be a most positive thing."

A most collegial sentiment, most civilly spoken.

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