Towns Has a Stake in National Championship

I got a holiday phone visit with one of my ex-players, Lester Towns. Lester is in coaching now and he's getting ready to help Alabama beat Texas in the Rose Bowl for the national championship. Wow! Lester has been working with the Crimson Tide for the last two years under their fine coach, Nick Saban.

This all followed a five-year professional career with the Carolina Panthers that was highlighted with a Super Bowl appearance and ended on special teams with the Arizona Cardinals and Miami Dolphins.

Lester was one of the key transitional players for Rick Neuheisel when he took over from Jim Lambright. He finished as a two year captain but he missed playing in the Rose Bowl by one year. Considering he is from Pasadena, that had always been one of his goals to play there, but like many of us will have to settle for coaching there.

I took over as point man in the recruitment of Les when Chris Tormey left our staff to become the head coach at Idaho in the mid-90's. Considering he was a linebacker I had a vested interest in making sure this man-child chose the Huskies. I made a number of visits to his home and school and know now that one of the reasons we got him is that we had played in three-straight Rose Bowls. Lester had always wanted to return home and play there in the big game. Unfortunately, he narrowly missed doing so his senior year after a late season loss to UCLA (in the Rose Bowl, of course).

During his physical for us he measured the biggest hands we had ever recorded. Of course he also had the biggest butt, but it all allowed him to become a big hitter and sure tackler. Lester was a beast the minute he put on a Husky uniform. He swallowed up ball carriers tackle to tackle and was a leader on and off the field. He finished his degree on time and led his team to three-straight bowls.

He was clearly the defensive leader at Washington under two different systems. In 1998, he shared the honor of being captain with Brock Huard, Nigel Burton and Reggie Davis. Brock, of course, is in football broadcasting after a short NFL career and Burton just got named the head coach at Portland State, while Davis is the running back coach at Oregon State. And now Lester Towns is coaching in the national championship. There are reasons we won in those days and certainly having quality leadership was one of them.

Working under Nick Saban indirectly keeps him in the Husky family because coach Saban is actually part of the Dan James coaching tree, going back to James' Kent State days. Ironically, Lester actually intercepted a pass against a Nick Saban-coached Michigan State team in the Aloha Bowl and returned it 66 yards for a touchdown.

In that game, we simply throttled Saban's Spartans 51-23 and held them to 47 yards rushing. Lester was clearly a dominant player in that game and the game was probably one of the best of the Jim Lambright era. That and the "Whammy in Miami", of course.

Lester finished his collegiate career with an appearance in the East-West Shrine game and ended up as a 7th-round draft choice.

At Alabama, he is actually an assistant weight and strength coach for defensive players, which is similar to the same position his old teammate and another fellow Husky captain, Marques Tuiasosopo, currently holds at Washington. These are support level coaching positions and allow them to be involved with the players during off seasons and summer conditioning and position drills. The job is similar to that of a graduate assistant, only they are more involved with the physical development and condition of the players as opposed to the actual coaching activities.

These positions allow young coaches to get involved in the profession once they finish their playing days. It is a particularly effective way to increase minority opportunities. They still get to sit in on staff meetings, and I know both Lester and Marques have grown considerably because of it. Lester is learning the other side of college football from one of the best coaches in America. He knows it is a great chance for him to springboard into the profession and says this year has really been an unbelievable learning experience.

Lester had to move his whole family to Tuscaloosa, Ala., but his wife and three kids all get to go to Disneyland and Los Angeles and also get a chance to see his parents, who still live there. Bowl trips are one of the family perks of coaching, even though I'm sure he'll be working 10-12 hours per day while he is there. Alabama won't be leaving until after the first of the year so they will only be there six days. I told him to take it all in and appreciate everything, because to coach in a game of this magnitude is the ultimate, and his future as a coach may never get him there again.

I asked him about the Heisman Trophy winner, Alabama running back Mark Ingram, and Les said he was simply one of the best kids on the team; humble, respectful, and deserving were the words he used. That speaks well for the sophomore back who beat out some really good senior football players to win the award.

To see ex-players move into the coaching field is one of the most gratifying aspects of being in coaching. When you see them give back to the game no matter what the level they are at, you realize the big picture of the sport sank in with them.

Lester thinks Texas is loaded on the offensive side of the ball and it's obvious their quarterback, Colt McCoy, really understands their system. Alabama's offense will have to keep the offense of Texas on the sidelines. To Lester, just being there and being lucky enough to be part of it so early in his career is really a gift. He is ready to see the Tide roll.

Hopefully so will the career of Lester Towns III, a lifelong Husky and aspiring college football coach. Top Stories