JIM WALDEN & PAUL SORENSEN IN PULLMAN BEFORE EWU
JIM WALDEN IS my favorite Coug of all-time. As coach, he took us to the 1981 Holiday Bowl, ending a bowl-game drought that lasted nearly a half-century. The next year he brought the Apple Cup from Joe Albi to Martin Stadium, and his Cougs shocked the Huskies in the Chuck Nelson-wide-right game for the ages.
For the past 11 years, Walden also made Cougar football more enjoyable than it could have been with his quips and insights on the radio broadcasts.
When I talked to him in May, he said: “The last six years were tough for a color guy because there wasn’t much to color.”
As you know, Walden was relieved of his duties in the booth last spring. The broadcasts are now being handled by Bob Robertson, Bud Nameck, Shawn McWashington and sideline reporter Jessamyn McIntyre.
After being at more than 130 Cougar games in a row, Walden watched the BYU game from his home on Lake Coeur d’Alene.
“Was it weird?” I asked.
“Nah, it was like watching any other college game, but I watched it with way more interest,” he said.
NOT WANTING PEOPLE to think “I died and crawled into a hole,” Walden threw a tailgate party before last Saturday’s game against Eastern Washington.
“We went through a keg of Blue Moon and a keg of Miller Lite,” he said. “It was a good, fun party. I enjoyed the hell out of it.”
He went to the game – section 26, row 31, seat 12 – even though he calls himself “not a good go-to-the-ballgame kind of guy.”
Walden hears comments from fans and cringes.
“Most coaches don’t like hearing the second-guessing,” Walden said. “People don’t mean harm, but you’ll have the guy to the right of you saying: ‘You gotta punt.’ The guy to the left of you is saying: ‘Ya gotta go for it.’
“I like to sit by myself. I don’t like to cheer and do the ‘jaws’ thing. I’m always afraid of someone seeing me and saying that I don’t care or I’m indifferent if I’m not jumping up and down.”
“Was it weird?” I asked again, thinking it must have been since he’s usually in the broadcast booth at Cougar games.
“Yes and no,” he said. “I go to a lot of high school games.”
He pulled for the Cougs but was impressed by the Eagles.
“That’s a pretty darn good football team the Cougars beat,” he said. “I’m telling you, it’s a nice win. I’ve seen worse Pac-12 teams.”
Walden thought it was great when Mike Leach opted to run the ball as frequently as he did, saying: “That’s how you attack a three-man front.”
WHEN YOU LOOK around the Pac-12 and see Arizona State, Arizona and UCLA off to fast starts with new coaches, you wonder why it’s not happening as quickly at Washington State, particularly with the expectations so high for the Air Raid offense.
But Walden said: “You see a lot of new learning with a new staff. It takes time for players to learn. Nothing’s second nature. Every day it’s a new learning curve for these guys. It takes time to make it second nature, until they react automatically.”
It’s evident with Jeff Tuel.
When I asked if the Cougars’ starting quarterback was going to be OK, Walden said: “He’s gotta get over his anxieties if he’s gonna be OK. He’s trying too hard, trying to be perfect. He’s so busy trying to do everything right that he’s not doing anything right. We all see that he’s uncomfortable.”
Walden has been impressed with the defense, noting that it’s “much more intense.”
“They don’t have the greatest defensive talent yet, but as long as you’re flying to the ball, you make up for things you don’t have,” he said.
WALDEN, 74, HAS spoken from time to time with former coach Paul Wulff, who’s now working for the 49ers. Walden said that Wulff is pulling for his former players and has nothing against the current coaching staff but is still upset with the higher-ups who fired him.
“He watched part of the BYU game and it was sad for him to see,” Walden said. “He didn’t think they played very good. He said it seemed like they had taken a step back in terms of execution. But he didn’t have much bad to say.
“It’s eating at Paul. He told so many (recruited) players that he wanted them to help us straighten out (the program). He feels like it wasn’t fair to the players that they weren’t allowed to finish the job (with Wulff as coach).”
Walden believes that “when you have a coaching change, 99 percent of the time, seniors get screwed.”
LIKE WULFF, IT’S tough for Walden to not be officially involved with the Cougs anymore. I got the impression that he’s holding up all right all things considered. He will continue to follow the team as he always has.
“Cougars suffer well together,” he said. “We bitch and complain, but we don’t leave. We always come back. There’s a certain amount of suffering that bonds us at that school.”
And when you’re a Coug, even while you’re suffering, you find time to trash the Dawgs anyway.
Walden saw the Huskies’ 41-3 loss to LSU and said: “They’re not very good. They got a nice little quarterback, but I’m surprised he didn’t get killed. The Cougars, Huskies and Buffaloes are the three worst teams in the Pac-12.”
I waited ‘til the end of the 50-minute interview to ask him if he’s had a chance to listen to the Cougar football broadcasts. He caught part of the BYU broadcast and parts of the pre-game and post-game shows last week.
He’s not a fan of a three-person booth nor the revised pre-game show, saying: “There’s way too much talk and not enough information.”
Is he bitter? Of course, though he didn’t say as much.
It’s a completely understandable – if I’d been taken off the broadcasts, I’m guessing I wouldn’t like the new format either. It’s a work in progress as Nameck takes on a new role while McWashington and McIntyre are football-broadcasting rookies.
(Full disclosure: I’m rooting like mad for McIntyre because I work with her at 710 ESPN Seattle, and I’m rooting like mad for McWashington because he’s a Coug who helped us get to the 1998 Rose Bowl, and I’m rooting like mad for Nameck because he’s a terrific guy, and I’ve always rooted like mad for Robertson, and you know the reason for that – Bob Rob is Cougar football.)
But if I’m being honest, I miss Walden on the broadcasts. He made bad football better. Fortunately for all of us, he’ll still be around, tailgating at Martin Stadium and pulling for the Cougs.
More of the Go 2 Guy’s writings can be seen on his website, jimmoorethego2guy.com, seattlepi.com, kitsapsun.com and 710Sports.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and to follow him on Twitter, point your browser to @cougsgo. Moore appears weekday afternoons from 3 to 6 on on 710 ESPN Seattle or 710Sports.com.