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.
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.