by Mason Kelley
The measure of a college coach is more than just wins and losses. It is the way they manage young players, molding them from high school students into men.
Today, Washington honors one of the finest field generals the school has ever known, coach Jim Owens.
Owens will be recognized not only for his impact on the field, but for the influence he had on the lives of his players. Owens will be immortalized with a statue of his likeness, a way for his players to give back a little of what he gave to them.
"He is a big quality guy," says former Husky linebacker Rick Redman. "He stressed fundamentals and wouldn't accept anything but an all-out effort. He taught us lots of great life lessons."
Owens learned the coaching trade under college football legend Paul "Bear" Bryant, first at Kentucky and later at Texas A&M. After inheriting a struggling program in 1957, Owens needed just three seasons to get the Huskies rolling again, leading Washington to back-to-back 10-1 seasons in 1959 and 1960, each of which ended in Pasdena.
During his 17-year career at Washington, Owens coached the Huskies to 99 wins, including a 2-1 record in Rose Bowls.
"He started in '57 and ... totally turned the program around," Redman says. "His coaching style and two Rose Bowl victories put Washington back on the football scene. He totally changed the West Coast football expectations of excellence."
Don McKeta, who played for Owens in Washington's first-ever Rose Bowl victory, in 1960, agrees: "His leadership qualities, his passion for the players, his never-quit attitude - there are just tremendous qualities about the man that needed to be recognized for what he has done."
Thus, nearly 30 years after Owens coached his last game at Washington, in 1974, the question became, "How to honor a coach that meant so much to a program?"
It wasn't easy, but a group comprised of Redman, McKeta, Duane Locknane, Joann Nichols, Edean Ihlanfeldt and Joanne Meyers worked on an idea that would leave an impression at least as significant as Jim Owens' impact on the UW program.
"This has been going on for about five years," McKeta said. "We have tried to find the right combination."
The group tried everything, but they kept coming up empty.
Jim Owens Field at Husky Stadium? No. The Jim Owens Tunnel? Not enough. Turn Montlake Boulevard into Jim Owens Boulevard? No. Then McKeta thought of a statue.
"The statue was the most appropriate way to honor a great man," he says.
Coming up with the right idea had been difficult, but the hard part was just beginning.
"People had talked about it but no one had done anything," says Nichols, wife of former Husky basketball player Jack Nichols. "I thought, 'Well, let's just get it going.' I always like to do something before somebody dies. I am the one that finally called Duane and said, 'Let's do it.'"
The group spent a year raising money for the statue, and the Jim Owens Scholarship Fund that will go along with it. As a result of their efforts, the statue will stand for all-time on a two-foot pedestal among the red bricks of the stadium's Northwest Plaza, a lasting reminder of Jim Owens' impact on Husky football. The committee chose this afternoon's game against USC for the unveiling, in part because many of Owens' former players would be on hand for the homecoming festivities.
"I think it is a nice way to honor the athletes, because homecoming is special," McKeta says.
The statue complete, the committee is now focusing its efforts on raising money for the scholarship fund, which they consider the most important aspect of the project.
"It would mean a lot to Jim," Nichols says of the reason for the scholarship.
From rebuilding the legend of Washington football, to leading the program back to the Rose Bowl, Owens' impact on the field of play is immeasurable. However, his relationship with his players was more important than any victory.
With the statue and the scholarship fund, not only are his former players giving back to Owens, but so, too, will Owens be forever giving back to the program he helped build.