BY Art Thiel 09:30AM 08/29/2014

Thiel: In Petersen, Huskies have 1 prepared guy

It’s not necessary to observe long new UW football coach Chris Petersen to detect echoes of Pete Carroll and Lloyd McCl;endon in how he wants to run his shop.

Chris Petersen makes his points steadily, without histrionics. / Las Vegas Bowl

Chris Petersen is highly organized, detail-oriented football coach who seeks to run a program square, plumb, flush and level.  Hospital corners on bedsheets so crisp they leave cuts. It would be intriguing to see, if someone were to pull up Petersen’s tucked shirt from his trousers, whether he would spontaneously combust.

Probably not. He is so prepared, he knows he is unprepared.

“Oh, there’s no question,” he said during his first game-week press chat as University of Washington football coach, answering a question about craziness in season  openers. “And it wouldn’t matter if you’re at a place for a long time. You’re going to have stuff where it’s like:  ‘Are you kidding me? How did that happen?’ You already know that’s coming.”

Crazy has already happened, well before beach cooties infest his team in Honolulu.

A couple of months after his move from a highly successful tenure at Boise State, he learned that his presumptive starting quarterback waded into a campus crowd celebrating the Seahawks’ Super Bowl win wearing a Denver Broncos beanie. Cyler Miles couldn’t have asked for more trouble if he’d worn a suit of bacon into a den of wolves.

So breathtakingly dumb was that provocation, regardless of who hit whom, Petersen suspended Miles for all of spring ball as well as the Huskies’ opener at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Hawaii. But he didn’t throw him off the team, as he did his fellow Bronco booster that night, Damore’ea Stringfellow.

Petersen dismissed three others in the off-season for unidentified infractions of team rules, including one over the weekend, freshman safety Lavon Washington — one of his first class of recruits to Montlake. He lasted six months and never made it to a game or a classroom.

“Guys gotta do things right around here,” Petersen said in a calm monotone. “It’s been preached from day one, and if they’re not, we’ll take action.”

But before Petersen is presumed to be giving new meaning to the term kickoff, it’s worth knowing he’s not some overwrought, Woody Hayes-style martinet. In fact, it’s nearly the opposite, and different from his UW predecessor, Steve Sarkisian.

Asked to explain the differences between the coaching staffs, Huskies LB Shaq Thompson, a preseason all-conference selection by many media outlets, was forthright.

“No yelling and screaming,” he said. “And they are very consistent every day in what they do.”

If that sounds familiar to Seattle-area football fans, it’s an echo from the Gospel of Pete — Pete Carroll, the Seahawks coach and, for purposes of this discussion, the other Pete.

Both coaches have a conviction that in the tumultuous world of big-time sports, the head man has an obligation to have the same set of rules, attitudes and responses regardless of circumstances or pressures. That may sound obvious, but especially in college, where the players are younger and the alums, boosters, websites, fans at the bar and the university president all know better than the head coach what to do on third-and-seven, steadiness is an elusive imperative.

It was something often missed by Sarkisian, which is ironic, since he worked at USC under Carroll.

But it’s also important to remember that when Sarkisian was hired for the 2009 season, he was 34 and had never been a head coach at any level. It was a large gamble on the part of AD Scott Woodward. For the most part, it paid off. But as in the time Sarkisian was so mad at some dumb penalties that he dressed down the entire team on the field before going in for halftime, he was prone to impulse.

Embarrassing the team in front of thousands is not usually a good thing. At 49, Petersen is so over that kind of look-at-me stunt.

“I know this when I was a player,” he said of his time as a quarterback at Cal-Davis, “you don’t need to scream and yell at those guys all the time to get their attention. In fact, you can be calm most of the time, and just by the way we look at them or the tone of your voice, can have the exact same effect. I’m not saying we don’t get loud or frustrated at times. But I think we’re always trying to communicate to these guys in a positive way.

“One of the things I want these guys to do when we play, is to cut loose and play fast. If they make a mistake, they know that’s not just on them. That’s on us as coaches as well. We’ll go back and practice and fix this. I want them to have fun and I want them to take chances. And I think a lot of that goes to the style and the way we coach.”

Those remarks echo sentiments expressed by another big-time boss in Seattle sports — Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon. As with Petersen and Carroll, McClendon is secure with himself and steady in his bearing. Those characteristics have become even more valuable in an era of media inundation, where young people willingly invite access into their lives without understanding the potential negative consequences.

Someone in their lives needs to have a grip. Carroll, Petersen and McClendon all have grips on themselves and their teams, not by bluster or intimidation but by clarity of purpose and relentless pursuit of consistency.

To describe their manners as old-school completely misses the point. Coaches of every era deal with generational changes in values and technology. Imagine the Gil Dobie era of Washington football when the automobile became affordable for many families. Imagine the trauma for coaches in the 1950s when television became ubiquitous.

And now imagine the distraction when the entirety of the world’s knowledge, and most of its people, can be accessed by a small device in pocket or purse.

When every one and every thing in the world seems capable of change, Petersen will be completely locked in on the task at hand for the moment, the day, the week. It’s reassuring.

He will start at quarterback Saturday Jeff Lindquist, a sophomore who has never thrown a college pass. He will start at safety freshman Budda Baker, who has never played beyond Bellevue High School. The Huskies list 14 freshmen or redshirt freshmen on the game roster, of which he guessed eight might play.

And they all will wake up Friday and Saturday morning in Hawaii, a place many if not most never dreamed they would see.

“I’m just as curious as everyone else about what’s going to happen,” he said.

Much as he has coached against it, something crazy will happen. Huskies fans should be impressed that their coach is prepared to be unprepared. Takes preparation.


  • Pat Conlon

    Pete Carroll has the same set of rules for everyone?Tell us what we want to hear-Or better yet write whatever you want to believe-sports writing is all about myth making anyway ain’t it ?

    • Diamond Mask

      not a Carroll fan?

    • art thiel

      Yeah, you’re right. SB was a myth, as were seven Pac-10 titles.

      • poulsbogary

        art, we know you’ve got a business to run here, and you are trying for as many readers a you can, but even a half-hearted attempt at objectivity would be appreciated. When I ask myself, in this town, where can I go to get a straight shot of old-fashoned sports journalism, it is not the lapdogs at the seattle times, it most certainly is not those blowhards at kjr, and it’s not KIRO radio.
        Can it be SPNW? It can if you want it to be.

        • art thiel

          Sounds good to me. What is your point? Should I not offer an honest opinion when coaches/players do things in a manner that I perceive to be the right way?

          • Jeff Shope

            I think his point was carroll while steady certainly has different rules for different players as do most coaches. But there is no such thing as the right way only the way that works best for a certain person or situation

          • art thiel

            Agreed. There’s always exceptions to the rule, and Carroll has them. But the players earned them. What drives players crazy are coaches who decide something in the moment, or to please a constituency, in disregard of the competitive facts or in the absence of a bedrock set of beliefs.

        • RadioGuy

          A reporter’s role is different from a columnist’s role. With a reporter, you’re hopefully just going to get the straight story without an opinion (although that’s certainly a dying trend) while a columnist is going to give you an opinion based on his/her perception of that same straight story. SPNW is run by columnists, not reporters.

          Best thing to do is glean as many sources on the same story as possible and then begin drawing your own conclusions starting with whatever common thread runs through them…and you still hope you’re right.

          • poulsbogary

            I can understand the deification of local sports figures by the masses, but not sportswriters. I understand everyone needs an escape. But good reporting and writing brings us back to reality. But “gospel of pete”? That one’s a little strong for me. All I am saying is I enjoy hard-hitting sports writing.

          • art thiel

            Now I get it. I didn’t mean “gospel” in the religious sense. I meant it in the lower-case, secular sense of a buy-in by employees/players/students of a professional belief system offered by leadership. The term has been in regular use by writers describing the techniques of leadership by Buffett, Gates, Jobs, Disney, Bezos and many others, including Carroll, that has succeeded.

            But readers are entitled to take the religious meaning, so I probably should refrain from use to avoid confusion.

            Frankly, one term shouldn’t disqualify me from being a purveyor of hard-hitting sportswriting, which is always has always worked for me.

            To make criticism legitimate, I have to be honest when coaches and their methodologies succeed. Otherwise, I’m just a crank or a crackpot. Seattle at the moment has three purveyors of successful methods in Carroll, McClendon and Petersen. If you disagree, l’d like to hear it.

          • art thiel

            Thanks, Radio. SPNW has straight news, and, hopefully, informed opinion. If that creates a little confusion, I’m not sure there’s any workaround these days. But what I can say is that honesty and accuracy are the aspirations, and independence is the primary distinction between us and the house organists.

  • Diamond Mask

    “a suit of bacon in den of wolves.” Good one Art.

    Looking forward to seeing Peterson and the results of his coaching style. Guy was enormously successful with Boise State.

    • art thiel

      He did well with lesser talent at Boise State. Big-time college FB coaching is largely about getting marginal kids in school and keeping them out of jail. It’s been that way for about 120 years.

  • Mike

    Chris Peterson’s coaching style is intriguing. Is he truly is a better coach than the masses or is incredible win/loss record while at Boise St. a product of circumstance (lesser conference, etc.)

    I believe that he is an elite coaching talent and expect his success at UW to validate this belief. But what specifically makes him different? Your article is about his preparation and temperament. I’ve read reports about how organized, high pace, and efficient his practices are. I’m interested to hear more details about his recruiting style and player development.

    I can’t wait to see what the UW football program looks like Peterson at the helm. He seems like a great fit and I think the UW is incredibly fortunate to have landed him. I know I did not find myself barking for Sark this week – seemed like LA had that market covered.

    Always like your work, Art, thanks.

    For those of you that don’t appreciate Art columns, why are you here reading them? Seems a bit ironic and a waste of your time. Plenty of options out there…

  • skip demuth

    I love Art’s line about “giving new meaning to the term kickoff.” I love SPNW, and this piece provides great writing and humor, and reflects the writer’s immersion in the subject and understanding of the many nuances involved in coaching and sport. That said, I’ve come to believe there’s an intangible success element affecting a team’s performance, and that Carroll has that
    going for the Hawks, and we’ll find out if Peterson has it with the the Huskies. He had it with Boise State. Thanks Art, keep it coming.

  • jafabian

    This touches on what I’m interested in: the differences in coaching style and philosophy of Sark and Petersen. Despite the fact he was a young first year coach with little coaching experience Sark turned the Huskies around after a tumultuous turn of events since Rick Neuheisel left. (And maybe since Don James left) Coach Pete comes with a solid resume. I’ll also be interested later in the year on what the transition is like for him into the Pac 12. Boise State vs. UW. Is it what he expected?

  • Truthy

    But will Petersen be able to quiet the barking of the Husky, ahem, bitches? A fan base who is one of the nation’s more unrealistic was given to Iraq-style tribalism over whether Sark was a decent coach or whether he was the worst person ever, to the point where I remember present starter James Atoe being panned when he was 18 simply because Sark said he was a good recruit. Then there was the “Sark is like Neuheisel’s and won’t recruit offensive linemen” trope, where we were instructed that the present strength of the team was not being built, regardless of whether it was or not.

    As I watch Alabama struggle with West Virginia, will the anti-fun apparatchiks settle for Sabanesque performance from Petersen? The answer is no. Just want to point it out now, HHB crowd. You’ll never be welcome again because you rooted to failure so as to seem brilliant.