Sept. 23, 1999
PULLMAN, Wash. -- Jim Walden once said he would drive backwards from Spokane to see the Cougar football team play a game at Martin Stadium.
The Cougar faithful who make the drive every Saturday during the football season know this drive can be hard and long enough going forward, so what was Walden thinking?
Well, there is a slight twist on the story, but for the most part, Walden is just crazy about the Cougars.
Thirteen football seasons have passed since Walden patrolled the sidelines at Washington State as the head football coach. In 1978, he became the fourth coach in four years replacing Jim Sweeney (1975), Jackie Sherrill (1976) and Warren Powers (1977). He entered a program that lacked respect in the college football realm, and hadn't been to a bowl game since the 1931 Rose Bowl.
"When I came here I was the fourth coach in the last four years, and I took over a program that was one of the laughing stocks of my profession," Walden said. "I made a commitment that season to turn things around and I took on an attitude where no one was going to deny WSU the opportunity to succeed."
With a football background that included MVP honors of the Skyline Conference with the University of Wyoming in 1959, and a career that spanned four seasons in the Canadian Football League, success was something Walden always had to work for. Taking over the reigns at WSU was no exception, and succeed was exactly what Walden did.
He may not have taken a team to the Rose Bowl, although he came within one win of playing in Pasadena, and he never took the Cougars to the top of the Pac-10. What Walden did do was lay the groundwork for the Cougar football team you see on the field every Saturday.
"What a lot of Cougar football fans don't remember is that the big Pac-10 schools like UCLA, USC, and Washington would never come to Pullman because our stadium was too small. We always had to play up in Spokane (Joe Albi Stadium), and I just didn't like playing in Spokane," Walden said. "Playing on Saturday's in Martin Stadium creates a wonderful atmosphere and a great home-field advantage. I wanted to run through the tunnel at Martin Stadium and see our fans on our campus, rooting for our team."
With that thought in mind, Walden became one of the driving forces, along with University President Glenn Terrell and Athletic Director Sam Jankovich, to begin the process of renovating Martin Stadium. The renovation expanded Martin Stadium's seating from 27,600 to 40,000, and in grand fashion the Cougs christened the enlarged stadium by welcoming UCLA back to the Palouse on Homecoming weekend in 1979, and beat the Bruins 17-13.
"If I am not remembered for anything else I did during my nine years as the head coach at WSU, I am proud that I had something to do with bringing people back to the Pullman campus to enjoy college football on Saturday's," Walden said.
In his tenure at WSU, Walden has a lot of great football memories, but none stick out more than beating USC in Pullman 34-14 in 1986, and the 1982 Apple Cup in which the Cougs inched by the Huskies 24-20 in front of a packed crowd at Martin Stadium.
"When we beat USC at home, that was something that hadn't been done in a while," Walden said of the defeat over the No. 9 Trojans, who had won 16 straight against the Cougars dating back to 1957.
Perhaps the biggest accomplishment the Cougars endured under Walden was snapping the 50-year drought from a bowl game when they played in the Holiday Bowl against BYU in 1981. The Cougs finished the season 8-3-1 after losing to the Blue Cougars 36-38, and came within a 17-17 tie to UCLA of going to the Rose Bowl.
"In 1981 we started a tradition at WSU by going to a bowl game, and that is what a football team strives for year in and year out," Walden said. "When WSU went to the Rose Bowl in the 1997 season, I felt I was very much a part of that team. The trail that we set from 1978 to 1986, and the battles we fought to get to a bowl game in 1981 really got things moving in the right direction for Cougar football."
When it was all said and done, in nine years at Washington State, Walden posted a 44-52-4 record, and graduated players like Jack Thompson, Scott Pelluer, Pat Beach, Keith Millard, Rueben Mayes, and Mark Rypien to the NFL.
"I had 10 great years in Pullman and for that me and my family are very grateful," Walden said. "I don't know if I truly believe in the saying 'once a Cougar, always a Cougar,' but I do know that crimson and gray runs strongly through our family. We not only are Cougars, but we chose to be Cougars, and most of all we enjoy being a Cougar family."
After a 3-7-1 record in 1986, Walden left to take over the head coaching position at Iowa State. In his eight years at the helm of the Cyclones, Walden was 28-57-3.
"I coached at Iowa State for eight seasons, was employed there, and really enjoyed my work," Walden said, who was never short on words during his nine years at WSU. "I can truly tell you though that in no way do I consider myself a Cyclone. Iowa State had no lasting effect on me in the way that being a Washington State Cougar did. WSU was a place of labor and love, Iowa State was just a job."
Now far-removed from the coaching business, Walden has spent the past four years hosting a 30-minute sports television show in Des Moines, Iowa, on Sunday mornings. He also hosts two weekly sports radio talk shows.
"It was pretty easy to move from the sidelines to the media aspect of the game," Walden said of his new profession. "They don't boo me as much, and it's pretty easy to guess what's going to happen when it's already done. I've also found myself to be a much greater fan of the game since I left coaching."
In the coming months he will join the front office of the Arena Football League's Iowa Barnstormers where he will head up the color commentator duties in the broadcast booth, in addition to working with the team's business development department.
Away from his duties in the television business, Walden enjoys spending summers with his wife Janice at their summer cabin on Lake Coeur d'Alene and visiting his three kids and grandchildren.
"We love being up there around Lake Coeur d'Alene and hope to retire there," said Walden who currently lives in Ames, Iowa. "When we travel now we go places to see our three children and our grandkids. I am a very proud grandfather."
While Walden has not returned to Pullman to see the Cougars play at Martin Stadium since leaving in 1986, he has traveled to watch WSU play at Illinois and Nebraska in past years, and his family attended the 1992 Copper Bowl and the 1998 Rose Bowl. He assures though he will be back soon enough to watch a game in the stadium he helped build, and whether he drives forward or backward to get there will be another story all together.
By Jeff R. Evans
WSU Sports Information