What a great compilation of stories from such a coaching icon. I was actually a student at the UW when Don James was hired as the Husky Head Football coach. Over the years, it was very obvious that Coach James was excellent at football X and O's, attention to detail and motivation. Although I lived with many of the players mentioned in the book, including Pete Tormey, the author, I never heard or realized how Coach James was so successful in the motivation arena. "The Thursday Speeches" takes you back and explains how Coach James utilized his teaching, philosophy, history and leadership skills to motivate his players and coaches. The book is an excellent read. It took me back to my fondest memories of my college years. My University of Washington student and Husky Football experience started with the firing of Jim Owens, the hiring of Don James and ended with a trip and a win in the Rose Bowl my Senior year. Not much else you could ask for being a Husky student and fan.
Excellent read for every sports enthusiast who wants to get inside the mind of one of the best college football coaches ever. Learn how he built, motivated and drove an obscure football program to national success. There are so many takeaways from this book on how to inspire others, yourself and embrace the challenges and opportunities of everyday life.
Peter Tormey's book is an excellent read; for people who love football, and specifically husky football for sure. But also for all who desire to understand and appreciate a man that made an impact far beyond college football. His character, his words, his life and of course his leadership influenced a generation of athletes, coaches, community leaders, and the families surrounding these men and woman. He is still making an impact today. The Thursday Speeches gets at the heart of what made him a great servant leader and will inspire anyone willing listen. If you desire to move forward with renewed passion for life, it is worth a look back.
A page-turner from the first sentence. Mr. Tormey's work is a testament for all of us baby boomers who gained thrill, lessons and lifelong memories from sport. Mr. Tormey had the athletic gifts and privilege to play for one of the greatest college coaches of all time. Mr. Tormey's account is a blueprint for building a national championship team from just one in the crowd. The genius of James success is revealed in his organizational and leadership methodology. "The Thursday Speeches" is the tip of spear. Great job!
Former University of Washington coach Don James (1975-92) created a College Football Hall of Fame career in part because of his ability to recruit outstanding student-athletes and in part because of his extraordinary grasp of Xs and Os. But James' true genius was his ability to inspire, teach and lead the hundreds of young men entrusted to his care. In "The Thursday Speeches," author Pete Tormey, a former James student, offers a rare and illuminating glimpse into how the iconic James so successfully motivated his players and brought more out of them than even they ever imagined possible. Mr. Tormey received exclusive access to the exact words James used to mold nearly two generations of young men and build a dynastic college football program in the process. This is a must read for anyone interested in the art of leadership, character building and the nature of success. Don James was a genius. Thanks to Mr. Tormey, here's a chance to learn from a master.
A new book by former Washington football player Peter Tormey examines the Thursday speeches made to his players by legendary coach Don James.
The 1978 Rose Bowl victory created fertile ground for the Washington program to flourish. While winning the Rose Bowl was the most visible sign of success, a more significant change had occurred within the organization’s culture, its DNA. In three seasons, Don James brought the Huskies from obscurity to Rose Bowl champions. To establish a great program, players and coaches had to work even harder — but the path was clear. James’ remarkable organizational system and legendary attention to detail became even more focused and refined.
For James, the success added more evidence to his belief in the power of the Thursday speeches and the effectiveness of his approach to the final 48 hours before kickoff. As a result, these elements became more prominent as James sought new narratives to inspire the Huskies. Unlike many leaders who deliver essentially the same core messages — perhaps in slightly different ways — over and over throughout their careers, James was keenly sensitive to not repeat messages. It was one of the things he worried about most when he became a head coach.
The one message he very intentionally repeated — albeit in different ways — was the importance of players using the final 48 hours to rest and focus on their mental visualization work.
James’ reading frequently constituted a mining exploration for inspiration. He read in much the same way an archaeologist digs for important clues — believing a discovery to help the team might turn up at any time. Stories, he found, were the most powerful motivational tools available. The best stories, he discovered, not only often lifted the Huskies to victory but caused players to pause and reflect deeply. The best of his Thursday speeches offered lessons players would carry with them throughout their lives.
With a master’s degree in education and experience teaching high school before he became a college coach, James knew a lot about teaching, and applied every bit of it to coaching. For James, the Thursday speeches constituted far more than pep talks thrown together at the last minute. They were major tactical tools to sharpen the Huskies’ performance and inspire victory. As a result, they had to be compelling, well told, and memorable.
Believing the speeches could provide the difference between winning and losing, he worked increasingly hard on them — focusing on the rhythm, the sound of the words, and other rhetorical aspects to best penetrate the consciousness of the young men who carried out his grand plans. He allocated several hours of his precious preparation time each game week to writing and editing the Thursday speeches, not settling until he found the right combination and order of words to strike the maximum impact.
So convinced was James of the power of the Thursday speeches that he continued to refine them throughout his Washington career. His success in leading the Huskies to the 1978 Rose Bowl victory changed his goals, and to an extent altered the content and purpose of his Thursday speeches.
After this first Rose Bowl, James was no longer just encouraging and inspiring a team to play with confidence and believe in itself. Now, he aimed to lift the Huskies to the next and highest level: the national championship. As a result, he tried to motivate the Huskies in new ways with more compelling stories. And like a concerned and caring parent, he offered more fatherly wisdom, teaching players valuable lessons to help us throughout our lives.
UCLA speech: Oct. 25, 1979
I feel incredibly fortunate to have witnessed the following Thursday speech before we traveled to play UCLA. I love this talk for its rhyme, meter, and clarity in conveying the truth that we choose, through our thoughts and attitude, whether to live positively or negatively.
After breezing through his general comments and itinerary, an inspired and clearly irritated James gets to the point:
Generally speaking, people (and football teams included) fit into three groups: Those that make things happen! Those who watch things happen! Those that wonder what happened! If you’re on the travel list, make sure you’re in the first group — those that make things happen.
James then makes it clear that the Husky players from the Los Angeles area would be allowed to see their family and friends — after the game, not before; no exceptions.
Twenty-three of you are from California. Donahue has commented on at least two occasions, publicly, “We are not losing California recruits to Washington. The ones they are getting, we did not want. Besides, I, Terry Donahue, have not ever lost to Washington.” He’s right, for three straight years! He enjoys bragging about it.
James reminds us that players exert either positive or negative leadership, and that he would not tolerate the latter. At this point, he introduces his story about the importance of attitude.
There is very little difference in people. But that little difference makes a big difference. The little difference is attitude. The Big Difference is whether it is positive or negative.
Nowhere is that point better illustrated than in this story about a young bride from the East Coast after World War II, who had followed her husband to an Army camp on the edge of a California desert. The living conditions were primitive. Her husband had advised her not to come along, but she wanted to be with him. Housing was a rundown shack. Heat — 115 degrees. Wind — sand — days were long and boring.
She wrote her mother, told her she was coming home. She received a short reply:
“Two men looked out from prison bars
One saw mud, the other saw stars.”
She read the lines over and over and became ashamed. She didn’t want to leave — she picked stars.
She began to study the desert and it then changed from a forbidding place to a thing of beauty. She learned about the cactus and Joshua trees. She later became such an expert on the area that she wrote a book about it.
What had changed? Not the desert. Simply by changing her own attitude, she had transformed a miserable experience into a highly rewarding one.
Men, we want and need a positive attitude. We want and need positive leadership. We can readily transform a miserable experience into a highly rewarding one. Every game is important — this one takes on great meaning for 1979 success. We’ve added some additional pressure. I’ve asked each coach what he thought about our team and came up with this.
What We Need: We need to restore our confidence. We need to perform like we’re capable.
We need to not beat ourselves. Skill people — make some mistakes, OK — but make big plays. If each guy does his job we’ll win. Take the game to UCLA, be aggressive. Execute. Limit critical errors. Don’t question others — have faith in them. Defense: Assume every play is coming at you, make plays and be disciplined.
Terry Donahue “King of Washington.” We need to correct this. We can do so with a good first quarter, start fast. We can do so with defensive leadership — force turnovers. Respond well in pressure situations. Last year, they defeated us on national TV. There’s not a person in America who thought UCLA was better than us. A lot of people will be watching or listening to this one.
We must recover our pride. Let’s use the revenge factor. Men, this is our championship. We must get totally prepared. We need: Emotion. Excitement. Abandon. Poise. We need a greater commitment than ever. We need to win!
We beat UCLA 34-14. Junior quarterback Tom Flick led the way, connecting on 11 of 17 passes for 129 yards and two touchdowns. Cornerback Mark Lee returned a punt 62 yards for a touchdown.
None of us was cheering in the locker room or on the plane ride home, however. Our brother, senior tailback Joe Steele — the Huskies’ all-time leading rusher at the time — suffered a knee injury in the game that would end his collegiate career.
By Thomas Clouse
A new book by a Spokane author highlights the teaching techniques of legendary Washington football coach Don James, who took over the struggling program in December 1974 and eventually won a share of the 1991 national championship.
Peter Tormey, 56, played linebacker for the Huskies and later used his interviews with James as the basis of his 2007 thesis. Tormey sat on the project for a number of years before the 2013 memorial service after James’ death convinced Tormey to publish the work in book form in “The Thursday Speeches: Lessons in Life, Leadership, and Football from Coach Don James.”
“He really believed in educating players,” said Tormey, the associate director of public and university relations at Gonzaga. “I asked him, ‘What was the one thing that helped you the most?’ He said, ‘Learning.’ He was very well-read and intelligent guy.”
Tormey, who played four years under James (1976-79), interviewed his former coach several times in the mid-1990s for his dissertation in Leadership Studies at Gonzaga. James gave Tormey copies of his Thursday speeches, which James had written out on yellow-legal pads on Wednesdays before every game.
“This is the exact language he used during his speeches,” said Tormey, a former part-time copy editor for The Spokesman-Review. “It’s a side of Don that no one other than the players has ever seen.”
James, who compiled a record of 153-57-2 at Washington, presented the speeches on Thursday “to get the guys visualizing … two days out to get their minds locked in.”
The book nearly coincides with the 40-year anniversary of James’ hire in Seattle. He took over the program two days before Christmas 1974. He died on Oct. 20, 2013, at the age of 80 from complications caused by pancreatic cancer.
After the memorial service – which included speeches from Missouri coach Gary Pinkel, Alabama coach Nick Saban and others – James’ wife, Carol, approached Tormey and asked him about the interviews.
“She asked me if I was ever going to finish the book,” Tormey said. “I knew it was great stuff and I wanted to get back to it.”
The book documents James’ playing days as a quarterback at the University of Miami and his coaching influences, including Paul “Bear” Bryant, Sid Gillman and Bill Peterson, who coached at Florida State.
“He felt he had to be a role model,” Tormey said of James. “If he lost his composure on the sideline, then he gives license to everybody else to do the same.”
But the book focuses on how James would use his Thursday speeches to teach his players to visualize success.
James, who was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1997, would draw upon a wide range of topics to use as teaching tools, including the Cheshire Cat from “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.”
In another speech before the game against UCLA in 1979, James told the team about a young wife in World War II who followed her husband, despite his objections, to an army base located in the California desert.
The living conditions were horrible and the wife wrote her mother about coming back home to the East Coast.
The mother replied to the young wife by writing two lines: “Two men looked out from prison bars. One saw mud, the other saw stars.”
Choosing to see stars, the young wife befriended nearby Native Americans and began to learn their culture and study the desert. She later became an expert and wrote a book about the area.
“Simply by changing her own attitude, she had transformed a miserable experience into a highly rewarding one,” James wrote.
Washington beat UCLA 34-14 two days after that speech.
Photo by The Seattle Times
Two days before Christmas 1974 — 40 years ago this week — the University of Washington plucked a 41-year-old football coach away from Kent State and empowered him to lead the Huskies’ turnaround.
Don James did just that, of course, leading the Huskies to the Rose Bowl in his third season, becoming the program’s most iconic figure and inspiring hundreds of young men who played for him.
It wasn’t an easy climb to the top for James, however. Former UW linebacker Peter Tormey, in his new book, “The Thursday Speeches: Lessons in Life, Leadership, and Football from Coach Don James,” chronicles James’ 18 seasons at UW through the scope of the coach’s weekly addresses to the team.
The speeches, as the coach himself, eventually took on a legendary quality, particularly for players like Tormey who felt a personal connection to them.
Tormey, a Spokane product, was part of James’ second UW recruiting class, and he witnessed up close the program’s growing pains when the team went 5-6 in 1976, the only losing season of James’ UW tenure. The Huskies experienced similar growing pains this year during an up-and-down first season under Chris Petersen.
Now an associate director of university and public relations at Gonzaga University, Tormey first had the idea to write about James’ speeches for his own doctoral dissertation about a decade ago.
He asked James for permission and cooperation in writing the dissertation, and James agreed. The very next day, a FedEx package arrived at Tormey’s Spokane home. Inside, a stack of 11-by-14-inch yellow legal-size papers — the original speeches James had handwritten each Wednesday in his office at UW.
“I thought, ‘Oh my God, what a treasure chest,’ ” Tormey said.
Tormey went over the more than 100 speeches and also sat down with James for multiple interviews over several years. Tormey completed his dissertation in 2007 and shopped it around, hoping to find a publisher — the University of Washington Press initially showed interest — but nothing stuck.
It wasn’t until James’ death, at age 80, in October 2013, and after Tormey attended The Dawgfather’s public memorial service at Hec Edmundson Pavilion, that Tormey was motivated to rework the transcript and publish it.
He wound up publishing the 220-page book independently and in large part as a tribute to his coach and mentor.
“It was a great honor and a privilege to develop this book,” said Tormey, the younger brother of former UW assistant coach Chris Tormey. “It’s a long time in the making. …
“What’s unique about this book is it’s not a third-party person. It’s me interpreting his messages and themes, but when you get to actual speeches, it’s his words. I wanted it to be very, very authentic, and I think it really shows a side of him that no one else saw, except his players.”
Over the years — and especially those early lean years as James developed the program — some general themes emerged from the speeches. Attitude was often the overarching message. It was crystallized in Tormey’s favorite speech he heard the coach deliver in October 1979, “Two Men Looked Out from Prison Bars; One Saw Mud, the Other Saw Stars.”
“Possibility thinking,” the idea that a positive attitude, starting about 48 hours before kickoff, was fundamental to success according to James.
James, whose first contract with UW, for four years, paid him $28,000 annually, used lessons from Julius Caesar, George Washington Carver and Helen Keller, among others, in his speeches, and he was often more passionate, more animated than he ever allowed in public. Tormey published the speeches as James wrote them, including the rare grammatical error and the occasional, emphatic curse word.
“It’s amazing to think about how fired up he would get and how much he inspired us,” Tormey said. “My inspiration was … to share some of his wisdom as a man and as a person — really on how to get through life. So many of his speeches had nothing to do with X’s and O’s. They were just tips to dealing with problems and the importance of attitude and why that’s so critical.”
Tormey, like many Huskies who played for James, does see some similarities in the program 40 years later. Petersen and the Huskies (8-5) play Oklahoma State (6-6) in the Jan. 2 TicketCity Cactus Bowl in Tempe, Ariz., where they’re hoping to end an up-and-down season with some positive momentum. As James, Petersen preaches the importance of molding young men — “Build for Life” is his theme — something that is renewed throughout “The Thursday Speeches.”
In 1975, James’ first season at UW, Tormey writes that “a decisive turning point” came after the Huskies’ 52-0 defeat at Alabama (and its legendary coach, Paul “Bear” Bryant), which dropped UW’s record to 2-3 in mid-October. Upon returning to Seattle, James decided to sleep on the couch in his UW office that night. Without telling anyone, he wanted to send a message to the team.
“Someone, a janitor, saw me in my pajamas early one morning, and the word kind of got out,” James told Tormey. “But it got out to the team that I hadn’t given up on the season. And it was an important season, too.”
Four nights a week, Sunday through Wednesday, James continued to sleep in his office that first season. The Huskies would rebound and finish 5-2 in Pacific-8 Conference play that season, narrowly missing out on a Rose Bowl berth.
For James and the Huskies, the stars were beginning to align.