SNOHOMISH — For 16 years, Jim Adams roamed the sidelines as the head coach for the Snohomish High School boys basketball program.
Many of the kids he taught are now high school coaches themselves.
He leaves behind a sprawling coaching tree: Snohomish girls hoops coach Ken Roberts; Glacier Peak High School boys coach Brian Hunter; and Snohomish boys coach Jim Wilson are all still leading Snohomish County programs.
“He understood what players needed — what each individual player needed to be motivated — and he would do that,” said Roberts, a 1986 Snohomish graduate. “I don’t think you can do that unless the kids really respect you as a person, which means they aren’t your buddy, but they like you.”
Adams’ squads were known for their fundamentals and physical play on defense.
“With each kid on that team, he would treat them the way that they needed to be treated to get the most out of them,” Roberts said. “It’s not a one-size-fits-all thing in coaching, and I think he was as good at that as anybody I ever played for.”
Adams was known as a compassionate leader with a knack for getting the best out of his teams.
“Looking back … he definitely was a very good people person,” said Nate DuChesne, a 1985 Snohomish graduate. “He could read people. If people were down because they weren’t getting a lot of playing time in games, he knew how to approach them. If someone was feeling a little too confident in the position or not working as hard as they should, he would be able to get on them as well.”
Adams took over head coaching duties for the Panthers’ boys basketball program in 1977 after spending 10 years in the same position at Molalla High School in Oregon.
Under legendary coach Dick Armstrong, the Panthers had just won the state championship in 1976 on the gridiron. Football was king in Snohomish.
Adams carved out his own legacy on the court.
The longtime Snohomish hoops coach is in the Washington State Coaches Association Hall of Fame. His Panthers teams made three state playoff appearances during his tenure, topping out with fifth-place finishes at the AAA (now Class 4A) state basketball tournament in 1985 and 1987. Snohomish claimed three district championships and at least a share of four conference titles under Adams. He retired from coaching in 1994.
“I just remember how much fun I had and how much I learned while I was at Snohomish under him,” 1982 graduate Phil Roiko said. “He was a really good fundamental coach. He just made basketball fun. He had a great sense of humor, always seemed to have a joke or would be joking around, whether it was before a game or practices.”
Roberts has been the varsity girls coach at Snohomish since 2000 and previously made stops at Tahoma and Bridgeport high schools.
Hunter, a 1988 Snohomish graduate, netted the Glacier Peak coaching job when the school opened in 2008. He was the boys head coach at Stanwood High School from 2006 to 2008.
In 2016, Wilson, a 1993 Snohomish grad, became just the second coach to lead the Panthers’ boys program since Adams’ retirement. Wilson also spent two years as the boys head coach at Granite Falls High School and 16 years as a boys assistant coach between Snohomish and Glacier Peak.
All three active coaches said lessons learned from Adams are on display in their programs today.
“Defense is a big thing to me, and I think that has a lot to do with Coach Adams,” Wilson said. “That was his emphasis. … When you play for somebody, you kind of get that ingrained in you. I would say a lot of the defensive stuff he used to do with us is still ingrained in our program.”
Roberts’ Snohomish girls program carries a similar reputation to teams Adams coached. The Panthers have made 11 state tournaments and finished second at state three times in Roberts’ tenure. Snohomish is regularly near the top of the Wesco leaderboard in fewest points allowed each season.
“We’ve been pretty good at defense and finding ways to stop people, (and) understanding that taking a good shot every possession is what the goal is,” Roberts said. “Those are things that were really important at Snohomish.”
Hunter’s Glacier Peak teams, which have made nine state tournaments, exude that same defensive focus.
“He could say a lot without really saying much,” Hunter said. “He wasn’t someone who would really jump on players and get on them individually all that much. I think he was a little ahead of his time. I definitely learned that from his as well.”
DuChesne, now the principal at Mariner High School, was the head coach for the Stanwood boys from 1997 to 2006 and La Conner High School boys coach from 1993 to 1997. He went on to be head coach at Edmonds College and an assistant at the University of Montana and Portland State University.
The list of former players turned coaches doesn’t end there.
Jeff Larson, now principal at Glacier Peak, led the Redmond High School boys program for eight years and spent four seasons as the head coach of the boys team at Wood River High School in Idaho.
Mark Harkins, a 1986 Snohomish grad, won a state title at Glacier High School in Montana in 2017. He has been the boys head coach there since the school opened in 2007, and he spent numerous seasons as a head and assistant coach in basketball, football and track.
Roiko coached for 33 years at Air Academy High School in Colorado. He spent time as a head and assistant coach for the school’s girls basketball and boys and girls soccer teams.
Adams was elated to see what his players had accomplished as they got into coaching.
“It makes me bust my buttons,” he told The Herald in 2019. “I’m very proud of the fact that … they discovered that it was a fun thing to do and it was a challenging to do. … I like to think that a little bit of my philosophy rubbed off on them and has helped them get the success that they’ve had.”
He added, “They’re not just good basketball coaches. They’re just really outstanding citizens. And to think that I played a little part in their development and their careers and their life makes me very proud, and I’d like to be happy to say that I contributed some to their success.”
Roberts, Hunter and DuChesne all said Adams made appearances at their practices and games long after his retirement.
“I’d be working with the perimeter guys and I’d look down there and I’d see the guys standing around giggling,” DuChesne said. “I just knew the kinds of stories that he was telling them. He had quite a sense of humor. I think they really appreciated that. I think he had a big impact on our team, and it was cool to see him out there.”
“If coach came to a game, I knew it was a big game,” Hunter said. “… When I saw him sitting in the stands, I would get a little extra excited. A little extra butterflies in the stomach before the game, because you know someone that meant a lot to you is going to be in the stands.”
At practices, Adams would sometimes come in to help coach the post players, a position at which he starred during his stellar playing career at Western Washington University.
Adams, who stood 6-foot-3, was an undersized post at the college level. He still holds school records for rebounds in a season, rebounds per game in a season and rebounds per game in a career.
He was a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics All-American honorable mention in 1963.
After graduating from WWU, he received an invitation to attend the Boston Celtics training camp as an undrafted free agent. Adams never went to the camp because he had to pay his own travel costs and figured he wouldn’t make the team, according to his son, Jay Adams.
Jim Adams was inducted into the Western Washington University Hall of Fame in 1983.
Off the court, the longtime coach enjoyed spending time with his family and friends. He loved fishing and could often be found chopping wood with Jay.
“He was a joker, and he was also a hard worker,” said Jay Adams, a longtime football coach in the area who teaches at Snohomish. “We couldn’t take a water break or a snack break until the brim of his baseball cap was covered in sweat.”
Herald writer Cameron Van Til contributed to this story.
Zac Hereth: email@example.com. Twitter: @ZacHereth.