See G. Fowler, Beau James (1949, repr. 1970); H. Mitgang, Once upon a Time in New York (2000).
From 1968 until 1983, Unger was the debate coach at Georgetown University. During these years, annual coaches' polls ranked Unger's Georgetown teams first in the nation in five different years (1973: Bradley Ziff & Stewart Jay; 1976: Charles Chafer & David Ottoson; 1977: John Walker & David Ottoson; 1978: David Ottoson & Thomas Rollins; 1980: James Kirkland & John Thompson) and second at least once (1981: John Q. Barrett & Paul Bland). During this period, Unger's Georgetown teams won every major college-level policy debate tournament in the United States at least once. In 1977, Unger's team of David Ottoson and John Walker won the National Debate Tournament (NDT), the national championship of college-level policy debate. Unger's Georgetown debaters also won numerous individual awards at every national tournament, including three NDT top speaker awards (Rollins (twice); Barrett) and three NDT second speaker awards (Walker; Rollins; Barrett).
In a nationwide poll of leading intercollegiate debaters, coaches, and speech professionals, Jim Unger was named the Outstanding Debate Coach of the 1970s. Separately, in a similar national poll, he was named the Outstanding Debate Judge of the 1970s.
Following his years at Georgetown, Unger was the debate coach at American University.
James Unger's influence on the stylistic and academic structure of policy debate in the United States was even greater than is reflected by the competitive success of the teams he coached at Georgetown and American. For many years, Unger was the director of, as well as an instructor at, the Georgetown University summer institute for high school debaters. After leaving Georgetown, Unger created the National Debate Institute at American University. Through these institutes, on a cumulative basis, over ten thousand motivated and articulate high school students from throughout the nation were exposed directly to Unger's theories and practices.
Unger is associated most closely with the "policy-maker" paradigm for evaluating academic policy debate. In contrast to other theoretical constructs (such as hypothesis testing or kritik), this view of debate asks whether the topic or resolution, as exemplified by a specific policy proposed by the proponent of the resolution, should be "adopted" or "implemented," most usually as a governmental policy. In Unger's view, the policy-maker paradigm served to prepare high school and college debaters to serve as informed and effective constituents, advocates, and citizens.
In U.S. presidential election years, Unger served as a consultant and was widely quoted on the presidential and vice presidential candidate debates for NBC, ABC, the Associated Press and United Press International.