Former Huskies coach honored amid NAACP protest

Updated: October 25, 2003, 6:13 PM ET

SEATTLE -- Former Washington coach Jim Owens was honored at halftime of Saturday's game against USC, one day after NAACP leaders held a news conference to protest his treatment of black players.

The school unveiled a statue of Owens and installed it on a plaza outside Husky Stadium. During an unveiling ceremony on the field, he acknowledged the controversy with an apology.

"To my players, I thank them and apologize for any hurt they may feel. I hope today we can begin to heal the wounds of the past," Owens said, drawing cheers from across the sold-out stadium.

Owens coached Washington from 1957-74, posting a 99-82-6 record, and served as athletic director from 1960-69. He led the school to its first conference title in 24 years in 1959, along with two Rose Bowl victories.

The Huskies beat Wisconsin 44-8 in the 1960 Rose Bowl and one year later beat Minnesota 17-7.

The 1969 Huskies, though, were dogged by the turmoil of the Civil Rights era.

Four black players were suspended for refusing to pledge loyalty to Owens, and all of the team's black players boycotted the next game. UCLA beat the Huskies 57-14, the worst loss of Owens' career at the time.

"That was a painful time, especially for some of the black athletes we coached," Owens told reporters Friday at his own news conference, called to rebut the NAACP allegations.

"Some of the decisions I made during that time were decisions I felt would be the best for the team. It was never my intention to single out the black athletes in any way," he said.

Fans cheered when Owens pulled back a black cloak to reveal the statue, which portrays him kneeling. The Husky marching band spelled out "Jim Owens" across the field as a backdrop to the ceremony.

The 77-year-old Owens wasn't available to reporters Saturday. The day before, he said he had met with and apologized to his players, but he rejected a request from the NAACP for an apology to black leaders.

"Like everyone else, you make some good decisions and you make some that you wish you hadn't made that way ... but my mindset is certainly not of any interest in making an apology ... to the NAACP," he said.

Owens is an Oklahoma City native who played for Bud Wilkinson at Oklahoma from 1946-49. He coached under Bear Bryant at Kentucky and Texas A&M, spending three seasons at each school.

Owens, who was 29 when he became Washington's head coach, is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame and a charter member of the Husky Hall of Fame.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index