Kent State coaching icon Don James passed away Sunday, Oct. 20 at age 80. The Massillon, Ohio, native served as the Golden Flashes' head football coach from 1971-74, leading Kent State to the program's only outright Mid-American Conference Championship in 1972. That season, the Flashes made just their second bowl appearance (Tangerine) in school history, while James was named MAC Coach of the Year.
"Coach James revitalized the program," Director of Athletics Joel Nielsen said. "Our thoughts are with his wife, Carol, and his family."
James led Kent State's 1973 team to a 9-2 record and the program's first AP national ranking (No. 19) in November.
"This is a sad day," said Herb Page, who served as the Flashes' kicker during the James era. "Don James was a great coach and a wonderful man. I had the best seat in the house for two years and didn't even know it at the time. He took a lot of young men and turned them into champions. A lot of the lessons he taught us about coaching and life are models I use today. He was a great influence on me. I have nothing but fond memories of him."
The many Kent State players that James influenced included current Alabama coach Nick Saban and current Missouri coach Gary Pinkel. He also mentored a number of Kent State players that went on to have careers in the NFL, including Jack Lambert. Current Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator and former Carolina Panthers head coach Dom Capers was a graduate assistant with the Flashes under James.
In 1975, James departed for the University of Washington, where he went on to lead the Huskies to six Rose Bowls and a national title in 1991. However, he never forgot his head coaching roots, which he always held in high regard. At the age of 79, James jumped at the opportunity to make the cross country flight for a 40th reunion of the 1972 team last August.
"It meant a great deal for us to have the chance to have him back on campus to honor him and his team last year on their 40th anniversary," Nielsen said.
The night before Kent State's 2012 season opener, James made a surprise appearance at a team meeting, telling the current team how proud he was of all the players and coaches during his time in Kent, Ohio and all of the long-lasting relationships he built there. James also provided some motivation by telling the story of the 1972 team.
"He talked about how the '72 team started out as a bunch of misfits and all came together," Defensive Coordinator Brian George said of the speech. "And he told our guys how they were capable of doing the same."
Current Kent State Head Coach Paul Haynes plans a recognition of James by the Golden Flashes at Saturday's game against Buffalo.