Sept. 18, 2009
By Donny Turnbaugh
Assignment and effort.
These are the characteristics that helped define Jim Walden's nine-year tenure as Head Football Coach at Washington State University. These are the characteristics that went far beyond the football field. And these are also the characteristics that have earned Walden a spot in the WSU Athletics Hall of Fame.
"There were two things that we graded everybody on all the time and I think you get graded off the field and the rest of your life on these two factors," said Walden, who stays in part connected with WSU by being a member of the radio broadcast team with Bob Robertson and Bud Nameck. "Number one: Know what you're doing. Number two: Do it to the very best of your ability. We use to call it effort. Assignment and effort."
What Jim Walden brought to the table stretches beyond wins and losses, even though his 44 victories rank third on the Cougars all-time list. He wanted to change the culture around the Palouse while having as much fun as possible.
When Walden came to WSU in 1978 the team was in rough shape. Even though the year before they had a winning record, there had not been much stability surrounding the team as Walden was the fourth head coach in as many years. Walden said the biggest problem he faced with turning the team around was getting past the labels.
According the Walden, WSU was labeled a West Coast school that lacked the ability to succeed.
"Labels are for people who want you to be where you were," said Walden, who was intent on his arrival to not have WSU be where they were any longer.
Writers said they were going to finish last in the newly formed Pacific-10. People outside of Pullman said they were no good. And the so called "experts" said they couldn't make a bowl game. Walden didn't want to hear any of that so he refused to listen and refused to be labeled.
And how did Walden change these labels?
"We did it by believing in our assignments and doing it to the best of our ability," he said.
His first few years were spent rebuilding. Through his first four seasons he moved the Cougars up the conference rankings and led the program to its first bowl berth in over a half century with the 1981 Holiday Bowl. That season the Cougars compiled an 8-3-1 record and played Brigham Young University. Though the WSU lost a hard-fought game, 38-36, Walden had brought Cougar Football back to prominence.
During his time in Pullman, Walden was able to compete at a high level and managed to defeat every member of the Pac-10. He earned the first of his two conference coach of the year awards for his efforts during the 1981 season. His biggest accomplishment may have been his performances in the Apple Cup against cross state rival Washington. Walden beat the Huskies three times in four seasons from 1982-85, something that has only been accomplished two other times in the history of the rivalry.
The success of the first-time head coach can be attributed to his years spent as an assistant coach for the University of Nebraska under Coach Bob Devaney. Walden said that Devaney was able to teach him that it was a necessity to have fun on the field and to love your job. Walden loved his job and was able to instill these principles not only onto his players and coaches, but to the community.
One thing that Walden wanted to do was to stop playing games in Spokane, which occurred during his first two years as head coach. Part of changing the culture around the area was to make sure the people of the town could watch their team compete.
Walden's counterpart on the Cougar radio broadcast team and good friend, Robertson, will attest that things were changing in Pullman.
"He was very feisty," Robertson said. "Not with me but with the fact that we were at that time playing a lot of our home games up in Spokane. He didn't think that was right so he fought a real battle to get home games moved back to the campus in Pullman. He is principally the reason we don't play all of our home games up in Spokane anymore."
Walden was always regarded as a player's coach for the way he was able to interact with everybody on the team. All of the student-athletes loved the man for reasons that went beyond football. The same goes the other way also; Walden wanted his players to be good men on and off the field.
"I believed so strongly that you have to have character to win on Saturdays," Walden said. "But you need characters during the week."
Building good character all came back to making sure the players knew that the two most valuable things anyone can know in life is knowing what you are supposed to do and doing it to the best of your abilities.
Walden wanted everyone to know that it was not all about winning. Building team unity and bringing a culture that people can get excited about to a community is what is important.
"We all want to win, but along the way we got to enjoy the journey," Walden explained. "That's what I tried to do and I think that's what people saw in how hard I worked and how dedicated I was to making Washington State University the very best football program it could possibly be. The fact they are putting me in the Hall of Fame tells me they believe I got that done."
And there are two things that Walden brought to the program that helped make Cougar Football the best it could be and placed him into the Hall of Fame: assignment and effort.