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Friday, December 6, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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WSU Football

Catching up with Jim Walden: Radio keeps him close to Cougars

Seattle Times staff reporter

Few folks are enjoying the ride of the Cougars over the past two seasons more than Jim Walden, the former coach turned radio commentator.

"Doing the radio is fun for me because it lets me be in the intrigue of the game, but when it's over I don't have to go do a press conference," Walden joked. "I don't have to explain why a guy jumped offsides or why the second quarterback didn't play better."

Washington Coach Don James once called himself a "2,000-word underdog" to the glib Walden when they were Apple Cup rivals.

Walden has enjoyed perfect timing because he became Bob Robertson's radio partner in the fall of 2001 just as the Cougars were starting their 19-4 journey that continues tomorrow against UCLA in the Rose Bowl-or-bust game.

Walden, 64, was 44-52-4 as WSU coach from 1978 to 1986 and is best remembered for getting the Cougars into the 1981 Holiday Bowl and for the 1982 Apple Cup upset over Washington. He coached eight seasons at Iowa State (28-57-2) after leaving the Cougars.

Walden lives in Iowa City and has a smaller second home on Lake Coeur d'Alene. He and wife Janice are planning to build a larger year-round home on Coeur d' Alene and to leave Iowa, probably next year.

"Doing Cougar football now has heightened our need to close this chapter back here and move on out there, and that's what we intended to do," he said.

Walden said what he misses most about coaching is putting together game plans with assistant coaches.

"I miss being in the room with dedicated people," he said. "You are trying to scheme better than (the opponent is) trying to scheme against you. It's an eternal chess match."

Two things he doesn't miss about being a coach are the public-relations responsibilities and dealing with players who make dumb mistakes off the field.

Although Walden is a social creature and likes people, the offseason schedule at Iowa State required his presence at about two dozen functions. He said it became "draining."

"And I don't miss those 2 a.m. phone calls when I had to go down to the local sheriff's office," he said of dealing with players who got in trouble.

Walden brings a coach's eye to his commentator role and has a knack of explaining why a play worked.

He doesn't meddle, but at one point this season he passed word to WSU coaches that Jason Gesser was accidentally tipping off opponents to the Cougars' draw plays.

"The only time he would shuffle back after the snap was on draw plays," he said.

Walden doesn't pretend to be a neutral observer — "I'm a Cougar" — and tough losses bother him, but not as much as they did when he was coaching. Still, the past two losses to the Huskies gnaw at him.

"In that game, for two years in a row, I've seen the worst of the Cougars," he said, "and I don't know why."

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