BY Art Thiel 11:00AM 11/07/2014

Thiel: Peters’ firing, like Harvin’s, was easy

As Seahawks coach Pete Carroll did with Percy Harvin, Huskies coach Chris Petersen saw star CB Marcus Peters’ insubordination as a threat to his control of the team.

Insubordination by Marcus Peters made a hard thing easier for Huskies coach Chris Petersen. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

Only thing that disappointed me about the Marcus Peters episode is that Huskies coach Chris Petersen couldn’t find a way to trade him to the New York Jets. Some would say that’s impossible because the Jets are a pro team. Jets fans would argue otherwise. And I would argue that the Huskies and the rest of the Pac-12 are pro teams: The conference just approved cash payments to players beyond scholarship limits.

That discussion is for another day. But there is a parallel between the drastic deeds. Just as Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said he “couldn’t make it work” with Percy Harvin, so said Petersen Thursday regarding his tempestuous junior cornerback: “When you feel like it just can’t work, you gotta do what you’ve gotta do.”

These remarks are coach-speak for: “I gotta get this tumor outta here before he spreads.”

Carroll and Petersen fired high-profile players amid seasons that are below expectations, stirring controversy, scrutiny and potential disruption, because the miscreant players jeopardized entire operations.

Both coaches will feel some guilt for not having found another way, because now they must put every person in the organization in charge of keeping company secrets. That is never good. And both operations lost difference-making talent.

But after both coaches assessed that the risk of retention outweighed the reward, the episodes begin to differ. Perhaps the biggest difference is that Carroll invited known trouble by hiring Harvin. Petersen inherited known trouble from his predecessor.

Petersen more easily can shrug off the loss by implying — but never saying — Peters was not OKG, his pet acronym (Our Kinda Guy). What that means, beyond vague, cheery description typical about any recruit, is not specifically clear. But likely there is no allowance in the description for insubordination, which is the behavior that Carroll, Petersen and any coach interested in remaining employed, most fears and must eradicate.

“All in” is not just a slogan for the Seahawks; it’s Carroll’s mantra for maintaining control of 53 well-paid professionals. The same circumstance prevails for Petersen, only he has to control 100 players, all of whom are underpaid laborers and most of whom think they deserve to be well-paid professionals.

Neither job allows tolerance for insubordination. Of the two, Petersen’s job is far harder.

Any college coach must create uniform discipline among 17-year-olds from several races, cultures, classes and varying degrees of wealth, training, education and ambition, nearly all of whom are away from home for the first time.

Frankly, that it works most of the time is remarkable. Success is largely due to the widespread delusion that most recruits believe they will play in the NFL. As long as the coach holds the mythological power to advance a player’s NFL ambitions, most of the potential rebels fall in line, grudgingly.

When a coach sees a genuine threat to that control, he has no choice but to act.

I don’t know specifics of Peters’ misdeeds, other than to read the latest news that he had a confrontation, presumably verbal, with an assistant coach Wednesday. I do know, as did all viewers of the Washington game with Eastern Washington in September, that Peters helmet-butted an opponent, drew a 15-yard penalty and subsequently had a helmet-throwing tantrum on the sideline, where he argued with a coach. Peters was benched for the rest of the game.

In light of Thursday’s developments, Petersen’s post-game remarks, which were followed by a one-game suspension for Peters, are worthy of review.

“I’m not into stupid penalties,” he said of Peters’ unsportsmanlike-conduct foul. “(Benching) is not even an issue for me. If guys aren’t going to conduct themselves right, then they’re not going to play. If you don’t play the way we want you to play, then you won’t play.

“It’s not even a decision for me. It’s easy.”

Petersen’s blunt remarks were the first public insight into his coaching priorities — he will not accept behavior from anyone that undermines his authority. Peters went way over the new coach’s line. My guess is he thought about firing Peters then, and probably regrets he didn’t, given what transpired.

But with eight other players already suspended or dismissed since he took over, he probably rationalized a second chance for Peters. It probably helped Peters that the secondary was the weakest unit on the team.

But not even that vulnerability was enough to save Peters this week. If the player’s insubordinate behavior with the assistant coach was rationalized again, the head coach would have been the object of mockery, and discipline would begin to evaporate.

Regarding Harvin, the fights with teammates that the Seahawks leaked to media were plausible reasons for the public to support his firing. But fights happen between teammates all the time. What happens far less, and is far more threatening, is a player’s refusal to play when told. That is a considered choice by a player, not a moment of foolish petulance on the field.

Peters, like Harvin, knew his behavior would put him in jeopardy, but both believed their football value protected them. Mistake. They overestimated themselves and underestimated their coaches.

As Petersen said the first time, it wasn’t even a decision for him. It was easy. He won’t say that now for public consumption, but it was true again. Smart coaches like Carroll and Petersen don’t act impulsively; they know that midseason firings of high-profile players come with some significant costs.

But there is no price greater for a football coach than a loss of control. When that is the choice, it’s easy.


YourThoughts

  • poulsbogary

    I can appreciate the reference to being paid as professionals, but he still retains his scholarship. Don’t think “fired” is the correct word. There are alot of young people who couldn’t gain entrance to the UW who would love to have a seat in a classroom being taken up by this guy.

    • art thiel

      I picked up the phrase “fired” from a guy who was in the business of dismissing scholarship players: Don James. His term.

      Are you sure he was taking up a seat in a classroom?

      • poulsbogary

        Well, if he is not attending classes, why does he still have a scholarship?

        • art thiel

          Because the university is covering its butt with the offer.

          • eYeDEF

            Because of the PR hit they would take if they straight up kicked him to the curb right?

            So they are extending him this olive branch as a public gesture so they don’t get vilified as uncaring bad guys, but meanwhile they know there’s zero chance Peters will take them up on it. It’s essentially a bluff because they know Peters has no interest in calling them on since he’ll be prepping to enter the NFL draft after the year concludes in two months and they’ll be off the hook.

          • poulsbogary

            I am a skeptic when it comes to these types of arragnments, and I don’t buy into what most of these guys say, but I just have no clue on this scholarship details stuff.
            That being said, Art, do you find it difficult to keep a straight face when you report on some of these things. I mean, seriously.

  • ll9956

    Good, well-thought-out article, Art. The tragedy here is that Peters failed to realize what a rare privilege it is to be a starting player in big-time college football. Only an infinitesimal per centage of high school players have the talent to succeed at the college level. Obviously Peters was one of them. Now he is sitting on his butt, completely off the stage. According to other reports he has a good chance of ending up in the NFL being paid big bucks with the chance of being paid really big bucks if he does well. In the meantime he’ll be watching his buddies have all the fun. Sad.

    • art thiel

      Peters could have emotional problems that transcend anything to do with football or Petersen. My guess is he’ll go high in the draft. Talent usually prevails.

      • eYeDEF

        Do you think Percy might suffer emotional problems too or is he is just a difficult person that marches to the beat of a different drum?

    • eYeDEF

      Why would Peters realize the rarity of his privilege as a starter when it was the college program that should be thankful for the enormous added value his elite skills brought to them? After all it was the commitment of highly sought talents like himself that allowed the program to continue calling itself “Big Time” all the time. He generated millions of dollars for them by allowing them to exploit his non-unionized labor for their fun and profit. It was UW and Coach Pete that actually owed him their everlasting gratitude.

      The qualities you want requires a modicum of humility and circumspection unheard of from entitled athletes that drive major revenue streams for their big time programs. Nor is there any perceived need when there’s so many people to see, places to go, things to do … when everyone wants a piece of him.

  • jafabian

    Several media outlets are predicting Peters will still be a 1st round pick and that his release from UW will have no bearing on where he’s drafted but I question that. With the NFL now cracking down on personal behavior and having players like Percy Harvin getting jettisoned from their team due to their attitude come draft day next year I think Marcus could find himself well out of the first and second round of the draft.

    • art thiel

      Hard to say right now. NFL scouts will talk to Peters and get their own information. Lots of collegiate bad boys have had good NFL careers. A lot haven’t. It’s also possible for 21 year olds to grow up.

  • 1coolguy

    “Only thing that disappointed me about the Marcus Peters episode is that Huskies coach Chris Petersen couldn’t find a way to trade him to the New York Jets. Some would say that’s impossible because the Jets are a pro team. Jets fans would argue otherwise. ”

    GREAT opening lines Art – I always enjoy clever humor and had a good laugh!
    Thank you for another “Thiel class” column!

    • art thiel

      I bow in your direction.

  • Jamo57

    Interesting read, Art.

    It brings to mind how “bass-akward” the Chone Figgins situation was. Fully understanding how the guaranteed contracts of MLB and NBA make things fundamentally different in those sectors of the sports entertainment industry. I’m sure Don Wakamatsu looks on his contemporaries in football with envy.

    But kudos to the Hawks for parting ways with a clear problem, regardless of cost, rather than forcing the coach/manager to live with the problem (and ultimately banishing the manager) a la the penny-pinching Ms.

    • art thiel

      NFL owners have always held the upper hand over the union. That helps explain why they felt they could hide what was known about the consequences of concussions.

      • notaboomer

        how many concussions has marcus peters had?

  • Its onlySports(DavidWakefield)

    Harvin is drawing a paycheck on a one win team…is that karma for his behavior?I dont know but in a way if Peters 1st round draft stock drops some due to this “fired ” thing it will only benefit him… who knows maybe he drops into the late 20s and gets on a play off caliber team instead of say Tampa or Jacksonville.
    You could only hope he learns from this but probably not. Anger control issues should never be treated with “ostrich syndrome” that is putting ones head in the sand and pretending there isnt a problem. Coach Peterson wasnt going to pretend the problem hadnt gotten out of hand. After the Percy debacle if Peters were to drop to the Hawks draft slot i would guess Carroll would take a long look at this messy affair before deciding whether to consider him(or not).

    • eYeDEF

      Maybe if Peters were to drop to the Hawks in the 5th round would Carroll even bother to consider taking a flyer on him. Otherwise, I can’t think of any reason to believe Carroll would consider spending early round draft capital on a CB instead of in areas of far greater need.

      • Its onlySports(DavidWakefield)

        Good point…but as we have seen with mega injuries influencing who is in the line up from week to week having depth is always coveted. Art said something in another comment that talent wins out over behavior in the NFL most days and I suspect the Hawks wont have to make that decision as Peters will be gone before all that would need to be put to rest.

      • art thiel

        After Harvin, Carroll is properly chastened. Even Dr. Phil can’t help some people.

  • eYeDEF

    Success is largely due to the widespread delusion that most recruits believe they will play in the NFL. As long as the coach holds the mythological power to advance a player’s NFL ambitions, most of the potential rebels fall in line, grudgingly.

    You know, I’ve often wondered about this Art. Are you seriously saying that typically a coach like Peterson that has 100 kids on his roster and every single one of them believes they’re going to the pros? There aren’t kids that actually recognize they have no shot and instead wisely make the most of the education being given them?

    If true, this “opium of college athletes” handed out just to get them to “play ball” with the coach all comes across as rather tragic.

    • art thiel

      In my experience, most major college scholarship football players — at least 75 percent — think they have a decent to good shot at the NFL. Who in their circles is likely to tell them otherwise?

      Most of the players give lip service to the value of an education, but they are there to play ball, period. Kids more serious about school go to FCS, or D-2 or D-3. Big-time universities are in the entertainment business first, education second.