Crimson Tales: Walden's book is funny, touching

I'VE COLLABORATED on the easiest writing project in the history of publishing. The primary skills for the job? 1) Turning on the tape recorder. 2) Typing. An editor from Sports Publishing LLC asked me to do a book about Washington State's football program. Their protocol calls for a ``celebrity'' co-author to regurgitate anecdotes that a journalist turns into logical chapters while doctoring grammar, decoding the football-ese, and deflating exaggerated recollections to actual stats and scores.

Here's what the guy wanted to know: Can you think of anybody you could work with who has had a long affiliation with the program, who is well-liked, respected, and has a flair for telling stories?

Jim Walden, coach of the Washington State Cougars, 1978-1986. Walden is the third winningest coach in program football history.

Yes, yes, yes and oh, my, yes. Duh, Jim Walden.

Retired and living in Iowa at the time, the former Cougar coach didn't need much arm-twisting before agreeing to the deal.

Told that he was going to be asked to collaborate on a project that might run 50,000 words, the voluble Walden shot back: ``Well, boy, what are you going to do with the other 250,000 words I'm gonna give ya?''

He wasn't kidding; I could have finished that book in a week. And the biggest challenge was throttling back the word count when the gauge turned 50,000.

Of Jim Walden, former UW coach Don James said before the 1985 Apple Cup; "I'm a 2,000-word underdog."
James was lowballing it.

Fans probably need to know one thing, first, and it's this: Working with Walden was even easier than expected, and he's an even better person, and a more entertaining individual, than his already well-known public image would have you believe. The man is tireless, fearless of controversy or critique, opinionated and conversant on any topic, and is one of the most naturally hilarious story tellers on the planet.

Although I tried, without dipping too far into dialect, it was sadly impossible to capture Walden's grits-and-gravy tone of voice in print. But I'm hopeful that his Sheriff-Andy-Taylor homespun wisdom comes through in his stories.

As expected, he opened up on a number of topics, many of which have never seen print. He talked of how he countered the negative image of the Cougars at the time he arrived, how he was able to recruit talent to a somewhat remote outpost, and his distaste for the coaches who treated Pullman merely as a springboard to other opportunities.

A rare highlight from the 1986 season. The Cougs dominated the No. 9 ranked Trojans of USC, 34-14. It was Jim Walden's last year as coach at Washington State. During his tenure at WSU, Walden beat every team in the
Pacific-10 conference.

Also, as expected, some of the tales flew straight off the wall. He explains how he managed to keep from spitting his Red Man juice on his players, and tells of the time an unstable fan escaped from a state institution and showed up on his doorstep (and Janice Walden invited him in). He followed his experiences as a high school coach (laundry tips on washing the team's uniforms), and recalled getting caught by a newspaper reporter while he was down the street mowing the lawn of former WSU basketball coach George Raveling.

He talked of his vast respect for Washington coach Don James, and his sparring bouts with opposing coaches, most notably Joe Kapp. He took the blame for his own flubs and foul-ups, and revealed the fact that he so frequently spoke his mind without restraint that university president Glenn Terrell had a standard disclaimer printed and ready to go that reminded the public that ``The opinions of Coach Walden are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Washington State University administration.''

Jim Walden and Bob Robertson share a laugh during the pregame show. In 2004, Walden begins his fourth year in the WSU broadcast booth.

He goes into the real reasons he decided to make a somewhat lateral move and take over at Iowa State … a decision he now admits he'd change if he had it to do over.

So many of the background sources I contacted for this project offered similar responses. ``Oh, God, you're doing a book with Walden … that will be hilarious.'' But after going through half a dozen of their funniest Walden stories, nearly all added some poignant memory of Walden's kindnesses to others, his generosity, and how his down-to-earth and compassionate advice had helped them in difficult times.

That, readers, is the real Jim Walden. And I hope some of that seeps out of the pages of this book.

Jim Walden's Tales from the Washington State Sideline can be ordered from Sports Publishing LLC at or via Amazon at

Dave Boling is a columnist with the Tacoma News Tribune. He has been a regular observer of Cougar football for the better part of two decades.

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