Another of the great Oklahoma ’49ers has died. Few are as instrumental in college football history as Jim Owens. Owens, an all-American end at OU in 1949, died Saturday at the age of 82 in his Bigfork, Mont., home. His son told the Seattle Times that Owens had been in poor health in recent years, with some problems related to his heart and high blood pressure. Owens was a University of Washington icon and ranks with Darrell Royal as the greatest player/coach combo produced by Bud Wilkinson. In 2003, UW dedicated a statue of Owens outside the gates at Husky Stadium. Owens coached Washington 18 years, 1957-74, compiling a record of 99-82-6, including a 2-1 record in Rose Bowls. Owens is credited with leading a renaissance of West Coast football. Owens was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1982, but not as a coach. As a player. Owens, a 1945 graduate of Oklahoma City’s Classen High School, in 1999 was named the tight end on The Oklahoman’s all-century high school team. In 1946, Owens arrived at OU as one of the war veterans who came in as grizzled freshmen and helped Jim Tatum and Wilkinson establish the Sooner football dynasty. The 1949 team went 11-0 and had five all-Americans, including Owens. "Jimmy was a great player,” said Claude Arnold, a backup quarterback during Owens’ playing days and the starter on OU’s 1950 national title team. "It’s unfortunate that maybe he was playing on split-T teams where we didn’t throw much. He could have played in a much later time.” Owens coached for Wilkinson, who then recommended Owens for a job on Bear Bryant’s Kentucky staff. Owens spent six years with Bryant, including the 1954 Texas A&M team that staged a legendary training camp in Junction, Texas. The Junction Boys eventually won the Southwest Conference title. Owens became head coach at Washington in 1957, replacing his old teammate, Royal. While Royal built Texas into a power, Owens did the same with Washington, taking the Huskies to back-to-back Rose Bowls in 1959 and 1960. His 1959 team went 10-1 and routed Wisconsin 44-8 in the Rose Bowl. "Coach never really said anything about his accomplishments,” former UW player Don McKeta told the Seattle Times. "I do remember him saying Coach Wilkinson had called him and said that was the finest-prepared football team he’d ever seen. Jim was really proud of that.” Owens also retained pride in his alma mater, even to the point of protest. In February 1989, after a series of embarrassing scandals rocked the OU football program, Owens wrote a letter to interim school president David Swank calling for the firing of coach Barry Switzer and athletic director Donnie Duncan. He and his old teammates canceled a 40-year reunion of the 1949 team. That June, Swank fired Switzer. View/sign the guest book
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