BY Art Thiel 06:30AM 04/07/2014

Thiel: Huskies QBs test Petersen as politician

Chris Petersen’s first spring in Montlake is complicated by having to find right punishment for his presumptive starting QB that satisfies all constituencies in his “political” job.

Chris Petersen has to figure out / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

If the Washington Huskies produce a dynamic offense this fall, it will be one of the more remarkable feats in recent UW football history. Because in addition to breaking in a new coaching staff, the purples are auditioning two quarterbacks, neither of whom has thrown a pass in college, while the presumed incumbent sits out spring practice suspended for being a knucklehead.

Coaching transitions always take a toll on programs, but the additional degree of difficulty in this maneuver should be recognized by the judges in their scoring of the free skate portion of the program.

Cyler Miles is the incumbent/knucklehead in question. Even though the King County prosecutor’s office said Thursday no charges would be forthcoming because of a lack of evidence, something happened in the U District the night of the Seahawks’ Super Bowl win to make new coach Chris Petersen suspend indefinitely the most important player on the team.

But with six of 15 spring practices left, Petersen for the first time hinted that Miles, who played in eight games, starting one, the past season, might get on the field before summer.

Asked Saturday after practice if it was safe to assume Miles will not participate, Petersen, who has been tight-lipped about the episode, said, “No, it’s not. We just haven’t really decided on that whole situation. It’s kind of one day, one week, at a time. There’s no reason to rush anything. We’re always going to do the right thing.

“I know everyone thinks they have their opinion on what the right thing is, but we’re going to do the right thing by the school, by this program and by the kids as well.”

It’s good to know about Petersen’s ability to always do the right thing. If he would forward his methodology to, say, President Obama or Gov. Inslee, I think many would sleep better. But coming from a football coach at a high-powered program, doing the right thing can be elusive, depending one one’s perspective.

He acknowledged as much.

“This is such a political job,” he said, referring to all big-time college coaching. “I’m never going to make decisions because of political reasons, to make me look better, because (outsiders) think, ‘Oh, that’s the right thing.’ That’s not why we’re in this thing. We’re in to do the right thing on all accounts. Sometimes, things just need to play out.”

What needs to play out isn’t clear. What is known is that teammate Damore’ea Stringfellow has been charged with three gross misdemeanors for assault after the celebration party, and was suspended with Miles Feb. 5. And as long as Miles stays suspended, the inference is there’s more to the episode. If not, then Petersen is hurting the team by not getting Miles in for some reps.

But as Petersen intimated, there are many constituencies, with varying aspirations, watching this test of the new coach, which may account for some of the dithering.

Petersen’s predecessor, Steve Sarkisian, had a similar dilemma with his star player, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who was busted for DUI after crashing his car. He served a day in jail. The Huskies similarly dragged out a decision on the program’s punishment. When Seferian-Jenkins injured a finger in practice before the 2013 opener against Petersen’s Boise State team, suddenly the decision was rendered: A one-game suspension, which coincidentally coincided with the healing time for the finger.

The Miles case is different, because it involves an assault with two players and a couple of victims, and it involves the presumptive starting quarterback. Even after charges weren’t filed against Miles, questions linger.

How does the participation of the players in the episode differ? Does the school want it known that Miles was more of a bystander, at risk of appearing to make Stringfellow the fall guy? How eager are the victims to prosecute, given the players’ profiles? And do the players feel that their best interests are also the school’s best interests?

Lots of unknowns.

While that is being sorted, into its third month, the two QBs in attendance, redshirt sophomore Jeff Lindquist of Mercer Island and redshirt freshman Troy Williams of Los Angeles, split all reps and attention for a coaching staff eager to learn what it has inherited — and whether either is better than Miles, who can do nothing at the moment to advance himself.

Saturday in a pads practice including some 11-on-11 scrimmaging, Lingquist and Williams had their moments. Williams had a pair of touchdown passes and Lindquist had one, a big uptick from the Thursday workout when the pair split four turnovers.

“I think both guys are making progress, I really do,” Petersen said. “I think both guys are truly improving.”

Besides inexperience, Lindquist and Williams have to manage the transition to the new staff’s changes in plays, terms and priorities. At least they and many of their teammates have some experience with that.

The team’s oldest players are on their third offensive coordinator at Washington, following Doug Nussmeier and Eric Kiesau under Sarkisian. It could be argued that Petersen is a third head coach, if the bowl-game tenure is counted for interim head coach Marques Tuiasosopo, who then fled to join Sarkisian at USC.

The team has had five months to get over the shock of Sarkisian’s departure and meet the new crew. But some salty lessons have been learned.

“Initially it didn’t set well with me, how (Sark) did it,” said DiAndre Campbell, a fifth-year senior wide receiver from Oakland. “During the season, he addressed it by saying, ‘Guys, there’s rumors that I might go USC. But that’s not important. I’m here for you guys.’ Then at the end of the season, he just leaves. Nobody knew anything. Even some of the coaching staff was shocked.

“As a recruit, you want to trust the coaches. But the other thing you see, is if the coach doesn’t win, he’s fired like that. One win over .500 isn’t good enough these days. Coaches come in and go out, like flies.

“Players realized as a team, it’s all about the guys in the locker room. We have to have each other’s back and hold each accountable, because coaches are here today, gone tomorrow. We learned that in the bowl game (with Tuiasosopo).”

Petersen figures to be around awhile. And players, as ever, are the ones who come and go. But in his first spring in Seattle, Petersen has to be, as he put it, a politician — and a good one.

With his team leader, Petersen has to come up with a sanction that sends a firm message that deters knuckleheadism in others, while not coming off as insincere as did Sarkisian with ASJ, yet not compromising the team’s play, nor retarding the progress of Lindquist/Williams — either one of whom could emerge in spring to be a better choice than Miles.

Petersen certainly is compensated well enough to make tough calls. But the only break he’s catching so far at Montake is opening the season in Hawaii against a Rainbows team coming off a 1-11 season.

 

 

 


YourThoughts

  • RadioGuy

    Very good piece, Art, that really cuts to the point: How to deal with Miles. By nature I get nervous when anyone (coach, politician or heart surgeon) says “I’m always going to do the right thing” because historically, the only person who ever did got crucified for His troubles. The differing charges for Miles and Stringfellow really muck it up because Petersen really has to consider their punishments on a separate basis. He really needs to talk to both the victim and the prosecutor’s office, and I’m sure he’s already at least in the process of the latter.

    The glass-half-full takeaway at this point is that the coaches are going to get a better idea of what they have in Lindquist and Williams by giving them extended reps with the first team. As you say, Miles was Price’s heir apparent until he got himself into an incident that nobody would ever dream of KP being involved in. Your quarterback HAS to be a team leader and Miles has already failed his first test. These are kids, but young players do notice when one of their peers (especially the guy who’s supposed to lead them on the field) gets away with something and it sends a signal.

  • Been There Done That

    I would think if winning is the one and all objective, the decision on QB is easy and straightforward. If truly doing the right thing — even if it means winning fewer games — is the objective, the QB decision (actually the QB not to choose) is easy. When the starting QB is announced, we’ll know which path was really taken. It’s pretty safe to assume if lots of excuses come along with the former “learned his lesson, etc.” we will all know the real reason behind the decision anyway.

  • jafabian

    Something did happen that night in regards to Miles: he did NOTHING. Stringfellow is being charged for two separate assaults and both times Miles only stood by and let it happen. Is that really what you want from one of the leaders of the team? I predict Petersen won’t yank Miles’ scholarship but will tell him its in his best interests to leave. Would not be surprised if Stringfellow is off the team.

    • art thiel

      We don’t know that Miles did nothing; we just know that what he did do wasn’t a chargeable offense.

  • Calibandawg

    Talk about a lose-lose situation. Generally I am inclined to favor meaningful punishment, sincere public contrition in the form of acts in addition to words, followed by cautious forgiveness. Unfortunately college coaches seem to be more about keeping a lid on media coverage by silencing players involved in misconduct and Petersen is no exception. Prior to charges being filed, I get it, but Miles won’t be charged so I would like to hear what the young man has to say for himself. What he says and what he does will inform my opinion about what should be done, how I will feel about Petersen’s values and his ability to properly mentor these young men. Ultimately I would be fine with the program moving forward without them as long as that separation doesn’t involve young men running away from their problems or a program unwilling to mentor.

    • art thiel

      What a contrarian view, Caliban. Actually letting an athlete speak for himself, and answer questions about it? How American of you. Don’t you know this is the NCAA?

      • Calibandawg

        Why thank you Art. Not sure if I have ever been complimented as being American. Do you think this reticence is a reflection of NCAA policy or just a common approach by coaches? Interesting that Seferian-Jenkins was allowed to make public comments and personal appearances–words and acts of contrition that went a long way towards rehabilitating his image. I wonder if this regards pending legal matters with Stringfellow.

        • art thiel

          In this case, both remain suspended, and it’s standard practice not to allow them to speak. I don’t think the NCAA has a rule. My reference was to the general practice of attempting to script and otherwise muzzle players who have independent thoughts and ideas about the way they’ve been treated/disciplined/managed while on scholarship.

          I realize that most employers make some limits on employees for same. But the NCAA keeps reminding us they’re not engaged in employment.

  • Jamo57

    Seeing that Seattle celebrants wouldn’t even jaywalk in the post game euphoria, raised the necessary funds online in less than 12 hours to repair damage suffered in Pioneer Square, and that no one was arrested during the parade; is this episode the one enduring scar of the post Super Bowl celebrations?

    Hey, Vancouver! Are you taking notes?

    But more seriously, yes characterizing the two players as ‘Knuckleheads’ is right on in my opinion. I am hesitant to call the ‘victims’ such as often times these things are exercises in degrees of ‘knucklehead-dom’. The ‘victims’ may have engaged in behavior that was far from innocent. We really won’t know unless this goes to a full trial.

    But each player has to know the place they hold and the responsibilities that come along with it as well as the possible pratfalls, and realize nothing good can come from allowing a situation to escalate.

    And I think they should also be given the opportunity to learn from the situation and be given another chance rather than paying an ‘ultimate price’ in regards to their careers at Washington.

    • art thiel

      Enough things remain unknown about the episode that a strong conclusion is difficult. But it’s plain the players put themselves in harm’s way with their own actions, and Petersen felt the evidence he had merited an indefinite suspension. Not saying he’s right either. But players have to learn/know that they often can’t be where other college kids hang out.

  • Jeff Shope

    send them both back to colorado the other two qb ‘s were both highly recruited we’ll be fine without the knuckleheads

    • art thiel

      Petersen was in charge, however unfair that is, and players are always held to a different standard than regular students.

      Throwing them out is so 20th century, Jeff.

  • Jeff Shope

    Holding Peterson accountable for this is stupid anyway how many professors get held accountable for those who while on academic scholarship get into trouble, exactly zero