George Briggs, who served as University of Washington athletic director from 1956-59 and hired College Hall of Fame football coaches Darrell Royal (1956) and Jim Owens (1957-74) in back-to-back years, died at 91. Briggs passed away July 16 at his home in Seattle, near the U-District, where he lived for many years.
In 1956, after the Huskies had been slapped with a two-year NCAA probation for running an illegal slush fund designed to pay football players more than their scholarships mandated, Briggs replaced Harvey Cassill as athletic director. His job was to clean up the mess left by Cassill.
Briggs’ first significant move was to hire Royal as head football coach, who worked at Washington for only one year before departing for the University of Texas, But at Royal’s suggestion, Briggs replaced Royal with Owens, who guided the Huskies to three Rose Bowls in a four-year span. Both Royal and Owens eventually wound up in the College Football Hall of Fame.
During Briggs’ tenure, the Huskies not only won back-to-back-Rose Bowls in 1960 and 1961, the UW’s eight-oared shell in 1958 knocked off the famed Leningrad Trud Club in Moscow, the best crew in the world at the time, in one of the greatest upsets in rowing history. The race was the first sporting event broadcast live to the United States from the Soviet Union.
Born June 2, 1925 in Santa Monica, CA., Briggs attended Seattle’s Roosevelt High School and the University of Washington before earning his bachelor’s degree at the University of California, where he was student body president. He came back to the UW as a 36-year-old after having worked in the athletic department at Cal.
After nearly five years at the UW, during which he also helped found the Tyee Club, the athletic department’s fundraising arm, Briggs left college athletics for good to work in banking for the remainder of his professional career.
He spent time at Seattle First National, Fidelity Mutual and First Interstate banks. He was also active in Washington Athletic Club (past president), 101 Club (past president), Museum of Flight (chairman emeritus), PONCHO (past president) and Broadmoor Golf Club and Seattle Tennis clubs.
Briggs and his wife of 65 years, Beth, retired in Seattle. They remained together until her death in 2013.
Briggs is survived by sons Garrett and Geoff, daughter-in-law Clare, and three grandchildren, Coyle (wife Tessa), Holly and Gabriel.