Nov. 3, 2011
By Gregg Bell - UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE -From "Stub" to "Sark," from Washington Field to Husky Stadium, from 1920 to this week's farewell game against Oregon, the coaches that have walked the home sidelines for the Huskies have enjoyed a uniquely Northwestern advantage.
Whether it was the dirt and rocks UW played on in the dedication game of what became known as Husky Stadium in 1920, the rain-soaked AstroTurf coach Don James used to wet down anyway before practices -- to prevent knee injuries -- or the current, far-more forgiving Field Turf, Washington's home field has been a haven for coaches over nearly a century.
Fourteen Huskies coaches -- from Leonard "Stub" Allison's lone game in the new stadium before he left the program, through Hall of Famers Jim Owens and James, to current first-time head coach Steve Sarkisian-- have compiled a home record of 357-167-20 at Husky Stadium over its 92 seasons. That's a cool winning percentage of 65.6 percent.
"Part of the reason I took this job was really because of Husky Stadium," Sarkisian said days before Washington (6-2, 4-1 Pac-12) hosts sixth-ranked Oregon (7-1, 5-0) Saturday night in the final game in the stadium as we know it, before renovations begin on Monday.
"My experience coming here as a player and just getting my brains beat in from BYU. Coming here as a coach in my experience with SC and coaching in Husky Stadium. Just the intimidation factor it brought, the crowd noise, the experience of the fans," Sarkisian said. "I've always admired the stadium."
Allison was 0-1 in the stadium, having led the team then known as the Washington Sun Dodgers through the dedication game Nov. 27, 1920, to Dartmouth 28-7. It was then known as Washington Field, the name chosen by a public contest over finalists "Crater" and "Cascadium."
A crowd of 24,500 bought tickets that cost $1 each and packed the new, lower bowl for that first game. That was 8,500 more than the previous record attendance for a UW football game, from the 1919 season against California at Denny Field, which was across the campus. Cars flooded the areas around Montlake Boulevard from all over Seattle, creating traffic jams exacerbated by the fact the Montlake Bridge was still five years from being built.
Former UW football captain Enoch Bagshaw replaced Allison for the 1921 season – when Washington changed its nickname from Sun Dodgers to Huskies. Bagshaw stayed through 1929 and was 48-10-3 in the new stadium. That span included Washington’s first capacity crowd at Washington Field – 30,075 against Cal in 1922. It also included UW’s first Rose Bowl, a 14-14 tie with Navy on Jan. 1, 1924, and a 26-game unbeaten streak at home from the end of the 1922 season until Washington State beat Bagshaw’s Huskies in Seattle 9-6 on Oct. 23, 1926, in front of 24,486 fans. Washington Field was known as Washington Stadium by then.
Bagshaw's team attracted about half as many fans - down to an average of 15,000 per game - and dipped to 10th in the Pacific Coast Conference in 1929. So former Notre Dame quarterback and Army lieutenant James Phelantook over the Huskies beginning in 1930. That year, season tickets for seven home games cost $10.
Phelan, who arrived after coaching Missouri, stayed 12 seasons at UW and went 46-18-4 at home. Washington Stadium became known as Husky Stadium during his tenure, which included a record crowd of 43,000 for the 1941 opener against Minnesota.
Phelan led the Huskies to the 1937 Rose Bowl and the 1938 Pineapple Bowl. He left Washington in 1941 for St. Mary's (Calif.). He later became the first Husky head coach to coach in the professional football league when he later took over the New York Titans, New York Yankees, Baltimore Colts, and Texas Rangers. He eventually served three terms as county commissioner in Sacramento County, Calif., where he became a personal friend of then-governor Ronald Reagan.
Phelan died Nov. 14, 1979 at the age of 81. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1973 and into the Husky Hall of Fame in 1986.
Ralph Welch, who had the best nickname of any football coach in UW history - "Pest" - coached the Huskies from 1942-47. It wasn't an easy time to be "Pest," Phelan's former assistant. Players entered and exited the program because of military commitments, attendance dropped and seasons were reduced from nine games to as few as five during World War II. Hosting opponents such as Spokane Air Command, Navy Pre-Flight and 2nd Air Force, Welch was 18-8-3 at Husky Stadium in his six seasons. He led the Huskies to the 1944 Rose Bowl against USC before resigning before the 1948 season.
Former University of Pittsburgh running back and Yale head man Howard Odell coached two of the greatest Huskies while Washington’s coach from 1948 through 1952: running back Hugh McElhenny and quarterback Don Heinrich. Yet Odell’s record inside Husky Stadium was just 13-14. The only season McElhenny and Heinrich were healthy enough to play together in the backfield was Odell’s best one at UW: 8-2 in 1950, with the only losses to Cal and Illinois, that season’s Rose Bowl teams.
Husky Stadium got a new, south upper deck and two-level press box under a cantilevered steel roof in 1950, plus two silo-shaped walking ramps to access it. That increased capacity by 15,000, to 55,000. The $1.7 million project was dubbed "Cassill's Castle" after the man who planned it, then-Washington athletic director Harvey Cassill.
Few initially wanted to test "Cassill's Castle." Only 30,245 - more than 5,000 fewer than for the previous season's Apple Cup - attended the Sept. 23, 1950, opener in the newly expanded stadium. When fans saw the upper deck stayed up, a record crowd of 49,704 came the following week to watch UW upset 18th-ranked Minnesota.
Odell opened a used car lot after he left coaching. In 1957 he was elected King County Commissioner and served until 1962 when he retired and moved to Southern California.
Seattle native John Cherberg, who ran in the backfields coached by Phelan at UW, got a promotion from Odell's staff and took over the Huskies from 1953-55. His Husky Stadium record was 7-9-2.
Cherberg then ran for Washington's Lieutenant Governor in 1957 and won, the first of eight consecutive victories. Cherberg served as Lt. Governor for 32 years, spanning five governors. He retired in January 1989. He died on April 8, 1992 at the age of 80. He was inducted into the Husky Hall of Fame in 1981.
Darryl Royal, a native Oklahoman, arrived from Mississippi State to coach Washington in 1956 - and stayed just one season before leaving to build a national powerhouse closer to home at Texas. Royal went 5-5 in his lone season leading the Huskies, including 3-3 at Husky Stadium.
Owens, another Oklahoman, took over in 1957 at the age of 29 as the youngest head coach in UW history. The former Navy bombardier and navigator in World War II helped lead a college football renaissance on the West Coast.
He coached the Huskies for 18 seasons and won three conference championships, earning trips to the Rose Bowl in 1960, `61 and '64. He won Washington's first national championship in 1960. He stayed on through program-rocking racial unrest during the 1969 season, when African-American players protested he was treating them unfairly. Owens was 63-37-6 at Husky Stadium from 1957 through '74 - including a perfect 6-0 at home in 1972.
During his Owens' tenure, Husky Stadium became the first college home field to install AstroTurf, in 1968. That original, hard turf was replaced in 1972, '77, '87 and 1995. And the stadium's capacity rose to 59,000 with the addition of 4,000 seats on the north side and in portable bleachers beyond the east, lakeside end zone.
Owens was honored as a member of the inaugural class of inductees into the Husky Hall of Fame in 1979. He died June 6, 2009, at the age of 82.
James, a native of football rich Massillon, Ohio, former record-setting passer at Miami, Fla., and a second lieutenant in the Army, arrived at Washington from Kent State before the 1975 season. You wouldn't know it by the Dawgfather's masterful 18 seasons during which he turned Husky Stadium into THE place to be during the fall in Seattle, but he was 1-2 at home to begin each of his first four seasons at UW.
By 1977, fans were grumbling whether the Ohioan was the right man for the job.
That turned out OK, eh? James' Huskies were 86-24-1 at Husky Stadium during his Hall of Fame coaching career.
The stadium's symmetry of upper decks arrived when the north-side stands and roof were added in 1987. The $17.7 million project increased Husky Stadium's capacity to 72,500 - the one it will have Saturday for its final game before renovations start.
The west stands were replaced and modernized in 1989. James would lead the Huskies to the third Rose Bowl of his tenure the following season - and to the shared national championship with Miami, the team for which he played, in 1991.
James left two weeks before the 1993 season began in protest over Pac-10 sanctions against his program - and was instantly inducted into the Husky Hall of Fame that same year. He was 60 years old and had won more Pac-10 games than any coach in league history when he resigned. He went into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1997.
His top assistant, Jim Lambright, took over as Huskies coach in 1993 and went 5-1 at home that transition season, and won 20 of his first 24 games in Husky Stadium. He finished 27-8-1 at home, before Washington hired former UCLA quarterback Rick Neuheiselaway from Colorado for the 1999 season.
Neuheisel lost his Huskies home debut to Air Force - then won 19 of his next 20 games at Husky Stadium. He was a perfect 6-0 at home in the Rose Bowl season of 2000, and again in 2001. Neuheisel, now the coach at UCLA, was 21-4 at Husky Stadium before he left UW in controversy in 2003 surrounding allegations of gambling in an NCAA basketball tournament pool.
Keith Gilbertson's tenure began weeks before the 2003 season - and began a transitional era for Huskies football that lasted until Sarkisian arrived in January 2009. Gilbertson, a longtime UW assistant and native of Everett, Wash., went 5-2 at home in his first season leading the Huskies, including the sixth consecutive Apple Cup win over Washington State. He finished with a Husky Stadium record of 6-7 in his two seasons as coach, and is now a senior assistant with the NFL's Cleveland Browns.
Washington hired former Stanford and Notre Dame coach Tyrone Willinghamafter the 2004 season. Willingham went 6-20 at Husky Stadium through the winless season of 2008 - a year that got Sarkisian his first head coaching job here at UW.
The 37-year-old Sarkisian is 13-5 so far at Husky Stadium. He loves everything about it: The weather, the fans, the noise - and the renovation.
"Now having the opportunity to have coached in it for three years and have some really cool, special moments that I will never forget and will be with me for a lifetime, as I view it, the stadium means so much to this football program," Sarkisian said. "But I can't even imagine in 18 months from now when the new Husky Stadium (is completed) how much more it's really going to mean to this program and university. I'm excited for the sledge hammer to come, for the process to start. Eighteen months can't come fast enough.
"It will be tremendous for recruiting," Sarkisian said. "But I'm just sitting back thinking, `I can't believe come Monday, Husky Stadium is coming down.'"