Q & A with Blaine Newnham

For more than two decades, thousands of Husky fans engaged in a Sunday morning ritual in the fall. Coming off a win or a loss, they would turn to the Seattle Times to read Blaine Newnham's take. Newnham wasn't brilliantly cantankerous like the P-I's Art Thiel.

Nor was he buzzing in the ear like a mosquito, in the manner of the Go-2-Guy, Jim Moore. And he didn't wet his finger and hold it aloft before unleashing a tirade, a la Steve Kelley of The Seattle Times. Newnham's writing style was easy-going and familiar, like a hot cup of coffee and comfortable pair of slippers.

He was objective, but you got the feeling that underneath he was rooting for Washington too. This enabled readers to readily relate. Newnham's career at The Times officially came to an end this past December.

He recently spoke with Dawgman.com about his career and aspects of Husky football.

ON FIRST ARRIVING AT THE SEATTLE TIMES: I came up in 1982 (from the Bay Area by way of Eugene) and the Huskies were ranked #1 in the nation for most of the year. I wasn't covering them yet, so I went to some of the games as a spectator. I took the bus out to Husky Stadium. I remember Don James saying there wasn't any quarterback controversy, when a lot of people including me wanted Tim Cowan to play more (over Steve Pelluer).

I remember watching the Apple Cup that year on TV at home. That was obviously a historic game for both the Huskies and the Cougars. We were having dinner, and I got a call from my Cal buddies, and they were screaming and screeching. It was obvious they had been drinking quite a bit. They went on and on talking about all the laterals and how they had beaten Stanford. I had no idea what had taken place. Of course, what had taken place was one of the most exciting finishes in the history of college football.

ON COVERING HIS FIRST HUSKY GAME: My Husky first game I covered for The Seattle Times was when Washington traveled back to Ann Arbor in 1984 and beat Michigan. That was when (Hugh) Millen threw the long pass to (Mark) Pattison for the touchdown. So that was great stuff, great material to write with.

WHICH HUSKIES WERE YOUR FAVORITE TO INTERVIEW? AND MOST DIFFICULT? I had two favorites. Dana Hall and Isaiah Stanback. I wrote a story about Dana one time and he sent me a thank you note. And I wrote an article about Isaiah and he left me a phone message. It's not just because they responded that way, but that I got to know both those guys and really liked them.

I've met a lot of good people over the years, but in those cases it was like their mothers had taught them what to do and they did it. That actually reminds me of a funny story.

I was covering a golf tournament in Portland, the Women's US Open. I was driving home and stopped in Centralia at a Mexican restaurant. It was getting dark. I was walking through the parking lot, and I see these two big African-Americans coming at me quickly. I was a little concerned about what was going on. One of them says, "Hey Blaine!" Well, it was Dana Hall and Chico Fraley. They had met down there to play golf. What a couple of great guys.

That '91 team had so many great guys. Steve Emtman was very hard to interview. Mark Brunell was worse. I could never get past the standard stuff. Mark wasn't surly, he just never wanted to talk about himself. That's opposed to Billy Joe Hobert, who was an open book and just wonderful to interview. The Huards, Damon and Brock, were interesting guys. And Marques Tuiasosopo was terrific, of course.

DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE DON JAMES STORY? The best interview I ever had with Don was the night right after they beat Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl (January 1, 1985). The Seattle Times was a PM newspaper then, so we didn't have deadline pressure. I just hung out and waited for him to be by himself. I asked him, "I'm trying to figure out how you did this?"

He explained in detail how they changed all the line blocking and everything else. With Don James, if you asked him the right questions, you would get the good answers. If you didn't, you would come up dry. It never struck me that he had any agenda with the press (as some believed).

Although I remember in 1990, the first game of the year at Purdue. They played a really poor game. It wasn't on TV, so I felt a responsibility to tell people how it actually was. After the game, Don decided that he was going to be upbeat and that everything was going just fine. Everybody always believed everything he ever said. I walked away from that thinking, "That game was awful! If you're going to let him talk you out of that, you're not doing your job." But those occasions didn't arise very often.

He has been delightful to deal with in his retirement. I call him every once in awhile and chat with him. He's great.

SO HOW DO YOU COMPARE THAT TO UW'S CURRENT COACH, TYRONE WILLINGHAM? I really like him, I think, as a person. The first time I went to meet with him when he first got here, I tried to ask him a bunch of questions. I got the usual (dry material). But we also talked about a lot of stuff besides football, and that was interesting.

When it was over, he asked if he could walk me to my car. I thought, "I've never had a coach ask me that, so this is pleasant enough." So we went down to the parking lot to my little Honda. I told him, "I want to say two things to you. First, I am NOT looking forward to covering your team, because I can see that you're not going to give me any help to do my job. Secondly, I would like you to recruit my son." He said "Excellent," and marched away like he does.

You really get the feeling that this is a good man, and that you would really like him to look after your son. But, he just won't help himself. Normally, the media is trying to use the coach to get stories, and the coach is trying to use the media. But he won't enter into that, either way. He just withdraws from it to the point that it's (stagnant and empty).

You know, I think there's a reason to be excited about the team right now. They're beginning to show some improvement. He did some impressive recruiting in the state last year. I kind of like the idea of building things up slowly over time so that it can sustain itself for the long haul. But Tyrone has to help people with that story, and he doesn't. I don't know, maybe he just can't. He obviously has a presence about him, but he just needs to let people in a little bit.

IN YOUR FINAL COLUMN IN DECEMBER 2007, YOU SEEMED BITTER. WERE YOU? Well, I retired in May 2005. I made the decision based on several factors, but there was an attractive buy-out. I was 63 and my health was good and I like to play golf and travel. It seemed like a good time, and financially it made good sense. The Times was gracious enough to offer me a chance to continue writing a Sunday column. It was just about perfect. I was writing for a couple of golf publications and my Sunday column for The Times. I wasn't covering any games, but just sitting back as a pundit and as someone who cared about what was going on.

However, I got a call in December 2007 saying that they decided to end the column at the end of the month. It was because they couldn't afford it, although I wasn't getting paid that much. But no, I wasn't ready to stop. So that might have been the bitterness you sensed. Would I have preferred to continue? Yes, but I don't have any hard feelings about it. The Times was wonderful to me, and I had a great time there. You can't go on forever.
Derek Johnson can be reached at derekjohnsonbooks@comcast.net

His website is www.derekjohnsonbooks.com

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