The Pac-10 had leveled sanctions against the Huskies and Don James had resigned in protest of both the Pac-10 and of UW President William Gerberding's unwillingness to go to bat for the football program.
The three-time defending Pac-10 Champion Huskies were suddenly stripped of any possibility to go to a bowl game for two years. They were banned from TV for one year, and would be losing 20 scholarships over the upcoming '94 and '95 campaigns.
At the suggestion of Don James, UW Athletic Director Barbara Hedges named Jim Lambright as the interim head coach. With only two weeks separating the Dawgs from the 14th-ranked Stanford Cardinal, several players went to Hedges and told her that they would refuse to practice unless the "interim" label was stripped from Lambright's title, making him the permanent head coach... Within a few days, it was announced to the public that Jim Lambright had been signed to a multi-year deal.
It was a whirlwind of thoughts and emotions churning through Lambright's psyche as he stood on the Husky Stadium sideline as a head coach for the first time. He recently recalled to Dawgman.com what that experience was like.
"It was everything that someone would imagine, for a person who had played there, coached there for 24 years… Then within 2 weeks, you're suddenly the head coach, out there on the field… No word is strong enough to describe what that was like… It's an honor and a privilege, and yet you're also just out there doing your job."
Lambright continued. "We had had a lot of work to do, just settling the team down, maintaining confidence without Don James. We were sanctioned not by the NCAA, but by the Pac-10, our own people… And they put us in the deepest dungeon. That was triple hard, whereas conference teams usually look out for each other, rallying around a team (that is experiencing challenges), and being protective of each other."
After a pause, the former UW coach remembered with an ironic chuckle, "That was certainly NOT the case in our situation."
For the Stanford game, the recently retired Don James was to be sitting with his wife Carol up in the press box. Lambright, his captains, and a few other players had an idea to pay proper tribute to the legendary Washington coach.
"We wanted the beginning of the game's focus on Don and what he had meant to the program for so many years. We wanted to send a powerful signal that everyone would know that this is special."
Normally for a home game, the Huskies would explode out of the tunnel and jump excitedly along the sideline. For this game however, Lambright had the entire team walk out of the tunnel in rows of four, with their helmets held high and all eyes directed up at the press box where James was seated. As this all took place, Husky Stadium was a crescendo of emotion, as the fans' accumulated frustrations of the unwarranted sanctions were vented far, wide, and loudly.
Further feeding the collective wrath was the fact that standing on the opposite sideline was Stanford coach Bill Walsh, aka the "Silver Fox", who was on record as referring to the Husky football players as "mercenaries" at a Cardinal Alumni luncheon.
At the mere mention of this, Lambright broke into a laugh at the recollection of it.
"It is always great to put a few quotes up so your players understand what is happening, and who has said what... Anything for an edge or additional motivation."
A tight and hard-fought first half opened up for the Huskies in the second half. Husky QB Damon Huard hit TE Mark Bruener for a 66-yard touchdown pass down the middle of the field, and this seemed to create a psychological chasm between the teams. Later in that same period, Husky TE Ernie Conwell got into the act, hauling in a 26-yard touchdown pass, to extend the lead to 24-7. With 5:07 left in the game, Damon Huard scored on a keeper from two yards out, and the Huskies led 31-7. Stanford tallied a TD in the game's final minute, to close the gap to the final tally of 31-14.
The Husky post-game locker room was a scene of raucous jubilation and appreciation. The Husky players gathered around their new head coach and chanted "Lambo! Lambo! Lambo!"
It was one of the great points of Jim Lambright's life. "It's a moment in time as a coach, but more importantly, it's about a team pulling together (amid the adversity). Trying to build as a team."
Washington had rolled up 500 yards of offense, and had effectively utilized the tight ends, as three touchdowns were actualized that way. Napoleon Kaufman racked up 195 yards on 24 carries. Damon Huard threw for 174 yards and 3 TDs. Defensively, the Cardinal was held to a mere 35 yards rushing.
"We had a winning team," recalled Lambright. "We took a great deal of pride in winning at home."
It would be the first of 44 victories tallied by Lambright in the coming six years. Alongside the "Whammy in Miami", Lambright ranks this victory among the most meaningful in his career.
Derek Johnson can be reached at email@example.com
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