James was 176-78-3 as a head coach at Kent State and Washington. He went 153-58-2 with the Huskies from 1975-92 and led the school to a six-pack of Rose Bowl appearances. His crowning moment came in 1991 when Washington had the most dominant defense in the country, and beat Michigan in the Rose Bowl to finish 12-0. The Associated Press media poll gave Miami — James' alma mater — the national championship, while the coaches' voted in favor of Washington in their poll.
Saban played under James during 1971-72, and it was James who talked him into serving as a graduate assistant for the 1973 team, starting a coaching career that has resulted in four national championships.
During Saban's senior season in 1972, James coached his Kent State team to the Mid-American Conference title
Alabama's athletics communications department released the following statement from Saban on Sunday night:
"Our thoughts and prayers go out to Coach James’ family. He was a special man and meant the world to me. There aren’t enough words to describe not only the great coach he was, but how much he cared for people and the positive impact he made in the lives of everyone he came in contact with.
"Coach James was my mentor and probably did more than anybody to influence me in this profession. Like I’ve said before, I didn’t plan on going into coaching. He saw something in me and asked me to stay on at Kent State as a graduate assistant after my playing career was over. I really enjoyed it, got hired full time and went on from there.
"From an organizational standpoint, our program today is run much like he ran his program. He was very organized, efficient, and did an outstanding job of defining expectations for players, coaches and everyone in the organization.
"He was always personal and inspirational to players and people around him. He wanted you to reach your full potential as a football player, but more importantly, he wanted you to do well in school and become the best person you could be so you would be successful in life. He was the same way when it came to assistant coaches or anyone who worked for him, you were a better person because of the time you spent with Coach James."