Former UW Football Coach Passes Away

June 7, 2009

BIGFORK, Mont. - Former University of Washington head football coach and athletic director James Donald Owens of Bigfork, Montana, passed away on June 6, 2009 at his home on the shores of Flathead Lake at the age of 82.

Jim was born on March 6, 1927, in Ada, Oklahoma to James Evan and Aurora Eloise Owens. He was an Eagle Scout and an All-American high school football player. When Jim was 15 years old, he met the love of his life, Martha Jane Wood, of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. They were married in 1947 and remained deeply in love for 62 years.

Jim completed two years in the United States Navy as a bombardier/navigator during the final months of World War II. He returned to Norman, Oklahoma, where he became an All-American receiver for the University of Oklahoma Sooner football team. During his final season at Oklahoma, the Sooners went 11-0, winning the Sugar Bowl and the 1949 national championship.

One of the highlights of that experience for Jim was traveling to New York with his Oklahoma teammates, where they were treated to front-row seats for the premier run of Rodgers & Hammerstein's Oklahoma on Broadway. Jim was a lifelong lover of music and theatre and was a voracious reader. He was enshrined in the National College Football foundation Hall of Fame, as a player, in 1982.

Following graduation, Jim played professional football for the Baltimore Colts and Pittsburgh Steelers before suffering a career ending injury. After his playing days, Jim entered the University of Oklahoma law school. After 2 ½ years of study, his plans for practicing law were put on hold when Paul 'Bear' Bryant invited Jim to join his coaching staff at the University of Kentucky in 1951. He flourished as an assistant coach with Bryant for two years at Kentucky and three years at Texas A&M.

In 1957 at the age of 29, Jim Owens became the youngest head football coach in the history of the University of Washington. He coached the Huskies for 18 seasons, winning three conference championships and earning trips to the Rose Bowl in 1960, 1961 and 1964, and a national championship in 1960. He was honored as a member of the inaugural class of inductees into the Husky Hall of Fame in 1979.

Jim retired from coaching in 1974 at the age of 47, and the hundreds of fans, friends and loved ones who attended his retirement party at the Olympic Hotel in downtown Seattle will never forget that wonderful night. Jim was flanked at the head table by a who's who of college football legends that included Paul 'Bear' Bryant, John McKay, Darrell Royal and his own college coach, Bud Wilkinson.

Jim continued his professional career as a Vice President of Rowan Drilling (Houston, Texas). His work in the oil business allowed him to travel the globe. He collected great memories of trips to Alaska's North Slope and Saudi Arabia, and helicopter landings on oil rigs in the North Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. He retired in 1992, when he and Martha moved to their home on Flathead Lake in Bigfork, MT.

Jim was in heaven on any golf course and on any dance floor. His favorite partner for both activities was, of course, his wife, Martha Jane. He also enjoyed bonfires by the lake at night and long conversations on just about anything.

Jim Owens leaves behind a large and loving family, including his wife Martha Jane, his daughters, Kathy Bygren of Seattle, WA; Leslie Hinkle and her husband Lon Hinkle, of Bigfork, MT; Martha Sue Mills of Seattle, WA; and son Steve and his wife Robin of Walla Walla, WA. Jim had six grandchildren, Tyler Bygren and Casey Bygren of Bigfork, MT; Drew Cable of Missoula, MT; Kelley Bygren of Seattle, WA, and Carly Owens and Lacey Owens of Walla Walla, WA. His two great-grandchildren are Chloe Bygren and Carter Bygren of Bigfork, MT. He is also survived by his sister, Eloise 'Mick' Calkins.

Jim was a man of deep loyalty, flawless character and soaring intelligence. He was surrounded at the time of his death by his family and his friends Paisley, Riley and Buck, the family golden retrievers, and Tucker, an old cowdog who wanted to sleep at the foot of his bed during Jim's final nights.

In lieu of flowers, Jim and his family ask that donations be made to the Jim Owens scholarship endowment fund at the University of Washington: Husky Athletics Tyee Club, Box 354070, Seattle, WA 98195.

Now on Pac-12 Network
11:00 PM PT

Airing on:

  • Pac-12 Network
Get Pac-12 Networks
Pac-12 Networks Channel Finder