Jim Lambright is one of the greatest Huskies ever. That's not because he is my lifelong friend, it's because he is a lifelong Husky. Nobody, and I mean nobody, has put 35 years into the Husky Football program besides Jim Lambright. He is probably the only Dawg who played for the Huskies and then spent his lifetime coaching for his school. He was well respected throughout the country for his innovative defensive systems and has already been elected to the State Hall of Fame, the Everett Hall of Fame, and the Hedges Hall of Shame. It totally baffles me why he was never named to the Hall of Fame of his own school before now.
He is, without a doubt, one of the all-time Huskies. He epitomized the concept of Husky toughness. He was as responsible as Don James for Washington's only National Championship as the architect of UW's signature pressure defense, and had a 44-25-1 record as Washington's Head Coach from 1993-1998. That's a .664 winning percentage! He was an assistant coach and defensive coordinator under two legendary Husky coaches, Jim Owens, who he also played for, and Don James, the Dawgfather and arguably one of the greatest coaches ever in the history of modern Husky football. Jim Lambright is the all-time greatest assistant coach in the history of the school. Nobody gave more of himself or herself than did Coach Lambright to Husky Football. When he was fired after 35 years of service he received a 5-minute phone call and told to clean out his office.
Finally someone has gotten it right.
Jim Lambright made the Huskies tough. He gave fiery speeches, attacked with his defenses, and challenged his players to be tough, hit hard, and physically beat up their opponents. He left an incredible legacy for the whole program. Washington has not been the same since he was unceremoniously discharged by Barbara Hedges following the 1998 season and bowl game.
Ironically, Lambright had been given a vote of confidence by Hedges one month to the day before he was canned. Nobody gave him a buy out and when he asked for one he was ridiculed and scorned for being greedy. He received less than Andy Russo, Lynn Nance, or Bob Bender and was at Washington longer than all of them put together.
He was not dismissed. He was disgraced.
Now at least he will be honored. He will take his place among all the other great Huskies, a place he deserves and has earned by dedicating his life to his college. As a player, he was the inspirational award winner elected by his teammates and although only 5-9 and 185, was a starting outside linebacker for the Huskies when Jim Owens turned Washington into a national powerhouse.
He had been through the "death marches" that Owens brought with him from Texas A&M and vowed to never allow players to be treated like that again. Oh, he was never easy on the players, but there are few today that don't appreciate all the lessons taught them by Jim Lambright.
You see, Jim Lambright was a sports-educator besides being a football coach. The game taught life lessons and Lambright felt those were as important as the games. You never quit. You never complained. You were loyal to a fault. You were tough mentally, spiritually, and physically. You were a warrior or you didn't play defense for Lambo. Jim Lambright was a no-nonsense coach. You'd better be serious about playing the game or don't play at all.
Sure, Jim Lambright made some mistakes along the way and was only made the head coach because circumstances determined it. He had originally been hired as an interim coach to replace a suddenly-retired Don James. He was not his boss' choice. He was the players' choice. The captains had actually gone in and gotten into a shouting match with the AD over the interim label. They demanded that after not defending the program, the administration should at least bestow the honor of 'head coach' on Lambo on a permanent basis. It was a time of tremendous pressure on the kids, the coaches, and the program in general.
A firestorm of media attacks had descended on the team and all they wanted to do was play games. Once Lambo was installed as their permanent coach, the team went out and literally destroyed a Bill Walsh-coached Stanford team 31-14 by putting up 500 yards of offense while holding the Cardinal to 274 and only 35 yards rushing.
His six years as the head coach ended with a loss in the Oahu Bowl against the best Air Force team in the history of their school, a fact that was totally lost when the 12-1 Falcons 'upset' the 6-5 Huskies. Jim Lambright wasn't fired because he couldn't win football games, and losing to the best team ever at Air Force was certainly not the reason. Whatever the reasons, he left under the same kind of cloud that he came in on.
Lambright never had a solid working relationship with Hedges, his boss. He never had the support that Don James did with boss, Mike Lude. He never had a chance to coach the kids he had bought in to overcome the self-imposed sanctions that had crippled the program.
Years later, when his kids had won a Rose Bowl and almost another National Championship, they all invited Lambright to their graduation. He was still their coach.
Fans of the Huskies know the role that Coach Lambright played in the traditions of Husky Football. They remember how exciting it was whenever the defense took the field. Nobody in the country cheered for their defense the way Husky fans did under Lambright's coordination.
It was so loud on the sidelines that you couldn't even hear the person next to you who was screaming. Hand signals were required whenever the Huskies were on defense. The crowd caused many delay of game penalties, offsides, and offensive procedure penalties. It was exhilarating to the players and coaches. The hair on the back of your neck stood up. You had tingles. It was all part of the attacking defense, a defense innovated by Jim Lambright.
That is what makes Lambo so special. Few coaches in the game can make a radical impact on the game. Lambright did with the "attacking defense". He forced offenses to react to him rather than the other way around. Jim Lambright hit them where they weren't. If you wanted to throw the football then you'd better protect your quarterback. Because it wasn't a matter of if he was going to get hit, but when. In one year alone, eight opposing quarterbacks did not finish the game against Washington. Lambright's defenses were not only among the tops in the conference but also among the tops in the nation.
After a decade of neglect, Husky Football is finally being brought into a new era of facilities and emphasis. Too bad Jim Lambright isn't the coach to appreciate this renewed effort. Still, he is and always will be a great supporter of the program. He committed his adult life to the cause of Husky Football. Jim Lambright is way overdue to join the Husky Hall of Fame and will always be remembered as one of the greatest Huskies of all-time.
Who will ever forget the opposing team breaking the huddle and coming to the line of scrimmage against a Lambright defense with nine men...all standing at the line? Every gap was filled and nobody knew who was rushing. Then, because of the noise, they couldn't even hear their own snap count, much less know who to block.
It was all Lambo - who the kids called Rambo - who made the Washington Huskies the most feared defense in the nation. At least now he will be honored correctly and rightfully so.
I stood in the scout box right behind Jim Lambright for 10 years. I saw him call defenses against Oklahoma, Nebraska, Michigan and all the other great football programs we played against. I was with him for the 'Whammy in Miami', arguably his greatest game as head coach, and the demolishing of a Nick Saban-coached Michigan State team in the Aloha bowl. I was proud to have coached defense with such an outstanding coach.
I will always admire and respect the man as one of the greatest coaches ever in the history of the state of Washington. Finally his own school recognizes his achievements and will honor him accordingly by inducting him in the Husky Hall of Fame. I promise you he will get a standing ovation when he is announced this coming fall.
Because true Huskies know one when they see one.
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