BY Art Thiel 06:30AM 11/14/2014

Thiel: Apology? No. Petersen should know better

After the UCLA loss Saturday, the Huskies coach apologized to fans. Why? Because Huskies lost to 11th-ranked team in country? Please. Never apologize for losing.

In his first year at Washington, Chris Petersen is finding Pac-12 play a bit daunting. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

In the College Football Playoff rankings released Tuesday, four Pac-12 Conference schools were in the top 14 of the table from which the sport’s first four playoff teams will be selected: 2, Oregon, 9-1; 6, Arizona State, 8-1; 11, UCLA 8-2; 14, Arizona 7-2.

The 6-4 Huskies lost to the first three teams, and probably will lose to the Wildcats Saturday in Tucson. The other loss was to Stanford (5-4), which was ranked at the time.

Against Oregon and UCLA, Washington was over-matched; the Huskies were close with Stanford and Arizona State. Not a great season so far; not terrible either.

Yet coach Chris Petersen said an odd thing after the 44-30 defeat at the hands of the Bruins Saturday at Husky Stadium.

“I want to apologize to our fans,” he said.

For what? Losing a game to the No. 11 team in the country? C’mon.

A big-time college coach does not apologize for losing a football game — unless, somehow, it ignited a shooting war between, say, India and Pakistan. In that event, yes, please grovel.

But losing a game? The only time an apology is issued around a football game is when the lights fail to come on and the game is postponed. No other reason — not for overpriced beer, upchucking students, an inability to execute a play for the fastest man on the team, not even for the pernicious demon that is the Pac-12 Networks.

The only other exception might be if the NCAA wanted, at each of 60-some games one Saturday, to simultaneously announce, for perpetrating the mythology of the student-athlete primarily for the purpose of growing the wealth of all affiliated coaches, administrators, apparel companies and networks (and for the bribing of the entire University of North Carolina faculty): “We’re really sorry. Our bad.”

But apologize for losing a game? No. Never. One of the two teams is going to lose in every game. It’s in the rules.

I’m reminded of the scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail where God in the clouds accosts King Arthur and his coconut-clicking knights:

God: (angel chorus plays): Arthur. Arthur, King of the Britons! (Arthur and the Knights grovel) Oh, don’t grovel! (chorus stops) If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s people groveling.
King Arthur: Sorry.
God: And don’t apologize! Every time I try to talk to someone, it’s “I’m sorry” this, and “forgive me” that, and “I’m not worthy” . . .

God has a point here: You’re not going to find the Holy Grail or the Pac-12 North title if you’re on your knees sniveling.

Monday, I asked Petersen why he felt compelled to apologize.

“I know how passionate (fans) are and I know how much they care about this program,” he said. “We all do. We’re trying to do our best and trying to win games and playing a lot of good football teams. We’ve got to continue to make progress.

“I know how fans are. I know how much they care about it, and I just want them to know we care about them. We’re trying to do the best we can.”

I’m not sure I’ve heard any fans claim that Petersen, his coaches and players don’t care. Some bellyache about playcalling and personnel choices, but that’s standard fan stuff.

This fan base does know the gamut of emotions — it’s the only one in the country that knows 12-0 (1991) and 0-12 (2008). But at 6-4, with a reasonable prospect to finish 8-5, and then go to a bowl?  That’s a little better than decent. Certainly, it requires no apology.

What’s happening here is Petersen, if UW loses Saturday, will have lost more games in a season than he did in any of his eight years at Boise State, where he was 92-12. He doesn’t quite know how to deal with losing in bunches, and by bunches of points.

Asked if his first year in Montlake is harder than he thought, he said, “It’s been hard. It’s been hard. I think anytime you go somewhere new, and you’re figuring everything out as you go, I think that’s always challenging.

“But I didn’t come in here thinking, ‘How hard is this going to be?’ I just take it one day and one week at a time and keep grinding.”

What’s getting to him is the high level of play in the Pac-12. Far from the dirt tracks of the Western Athletic / Mountain West conferences, the Pac-12 is Formula One. Petersen  just about owned up to it Monday.

 “I think (Pac-12 play) is pretty much what I thought,” he said. “The parity is legitimately as good — or the really good teams are as legit as I thought they were going to be. It’s good football every week. There’s no breaks.”

It’s every bit as good as the SEC; to reference the rankings again, there’s four SEC teams in the top 14 too. At Boise State, Petersen beat Oregon (twice) and Oklahoma. But he didn’t have to play that caliber of team every week. He could rest players, he could hide gadget plays, and his players could indulge in peaking for top-flight opponents.

Moving up the coaching ranks is a little like players advancing from college to the pros: Everyone is bigger, faster, better. Listen to Petersen talk about Arizona:

“It might be the fastest team. They run a lot plays. They go, they go, they go.”

He almost sounded morose. But again, the Huskies have beaten the teams they should, and lost to the teams that were favored. A breakthrough win would be nice, but not mandatory in the first year.

Is this first-year shock indicative of some sort of fatal flaw with Petersen? Hardly.

In Don James’ first season at Washington in 1975, he lost at Alabama 52-0. Two years later, the Huskies won the Rose Bowl. At the 1986 Sun Bowl, he again lost to Alabama, this time 28-6. Five years later, UW went undefeated and shared a national championship.

Good coaches, like good players, adapt, learn and improve. One thing worth learning is there’s no need for apology unless criminal negligence or equipment failure is involved.

But he’s right about one thing: The Pac-12 is hard. Grail or gridiron, there’s no time for groveling.


YourThoughts

  • RadioGuy

    Chris Petersen has no reason to apologize for anything. His handling of Cyler Miles notwithstanding, he took over a program run by a coach who was a bit lax in discipline and is still sorting out players who’ll buy into what he and his coaches are doing. Leach is in his third year at WSU and isn’t nearly as far along there (although, in fairness, Leach took over a program with tepid support that has accepted mediocrity for a long, long time).

    All things considered, he’ll probably lead the UW to another bowl game, albeit a minor one, and may turn in a better record than Sark ever posted. For a transitional year, that’s not a bad line on the resume but Pete sets the bar much higher for his players and coaches than his predecessor.

    • art thiel

      He can’t say any of that, of course, but Petersen does chafe at Sark’s sense of discipline.

  • Jamo57

    Oh c’mon, Art! No apology from the networks? A 7:45 PM kick-off in stormy late November followed by a 10:00 AM start? OK, but a bouquet of flowers and a cheesy Hallmark card might make me feel a little more appreciated. (I’m sure they’ll change if I just hang in there a couple of more seasons…….)

    • Jamo57

      And our date with Oregon State is 8 days away and I still don’t know what time we’re meeting. But I’m sure the network has just been really busy…….

      • art thiel

        So, you don’t like surprises?

        • Jamo57

          I’m just glad I live in Snohomish County and not in Kelso or east of the mountains. The folks that come in from the nether regions must have it pretty tough.

    • art thiel

      How about we send you a copy of Mike Leach’s book on Geronimo?

  • notaboomer

    most die-hard husky fans think of themselves as gods so it’s natural for coach to grovel before them. petersen needs to work on averting his eyes though.

    • art thiel

      Cold, nota. Cold.

  • ll9956

    It’s obvious that Petersen puts high standards of behavior above performance. The team is young and hopefully will improve. Success in big-time college football is all about recruiting. Hopefully Petersen and his assistants will have some success in that department in attracting big, strong, fast and talented players. That would bode well for the Dawgs.

    • art thiel

      I think Petersen’s standards will serve the program well in the long run. He just needs to avoid digging himself deeper with an apology.

  • jafabian

    If anything someone needs to apologize to Coach Pete for the program he inherited. He’s had to suspend or release players, deal with the Miles/Stringfellow suspension as well as losing the team’s best players to grad and having very little ready to replace them. Oveall though the Dawgs are having the kind of season I expected, though I thought Miles would be more further along in his development.

    Arizona is beatable, though the key to do so would be the passing game which isn’t the Dawg’s strength. At least they don’t seem to be having as many penalties as in the past under Sark.

    • art thiel

      Every incoming coach has to deal with the same things, including a feeling of betrayal by players and skepticism with the new coaches. The buy-in is always incomplete in the first year. Petersen should have heard from many of his peers about degree of difficulty.

      • jafabian

        I’ve wondered how Sark would have faired here if he stayed on. I doubt Miles and Stringfellow would have been suspended and Peters would most likely still be here. Not sure they’d have a winning record though.

  • barrieo

    Right on with
    “pernicious demon that is Pac 12 networks”

    • art thiel

      I know it’s paying most of the freight, but that doesn’t mean fans don’t find aspects of it profoundly annoying.

  • Matt

    I, for one, appreciated the apology. All those rankings you just showed, Art, are simply because those teams have lived up to their expectations. If the Huskies would have done the same and lived up to theirs, they would have been ranked as well and won two of those games. Their offense is pathetic. Their talent is better than they’re performing. There was no bare cupboard when the new coaches arrived, and the adaption to the new staff has been way more painful than anyone imagined. Everything about this season has been underwhelming. Also, the apology acknowledged the fan base, whereas having a closed program in general, blocking off access to media, etc. is kind of like giving the fan base a stiff-arm. At least the apology shows Petersen acknowledges the fans are an important part of the program and their loyalty deserves reciprocation on the football team’s part.

    Oh – and Jonathan Smith’s offense and playcalling are terrible, meriting an apology. Go Dawgs.

    • Matt

      And the sissy white helmets + white pants were worthy of an apology.

      • art thiel

        That one, I get.

    • art thiel

      I agree that keeping some access open to fans/media is good, and Petersen so far has been less paranoid than Sark. But apologizing for losses by any coach, anywhere is poor form. He opens himself up in the future for abuse and introduces shame into the player-coach relationship.

  • RunningRoy

    If only they could paint those coconuts purple and gold, we might really have something here.

    • art thiel

      You might bring that up to the folks doing the sequel.

  • Tyee Club member

    No need to apologize unless he doesn’t believe he can elevate this program.
    Husky fans who endured Tyrone Willingham’s 0-12 season are willing to cut Coach Pete some slack in his first year.

    • art thiel

      I hope you cut him more than one year. That’s the problem with entitled alums: No patience. The big reason Washington fell so far was coaching turnover.

  • Matt

    Wow!!!! The irony is soooo thick. Did you really just write that AZ loss column after having written this?! You “expected petersen to fall on the sword”?!?! Can’t have it both ways.

  • Matt

    What?!? Did you really just write your UofA loss column after having written this?! Haha oh the irony! CP should have “fallen on the sword”?!? Can’t have it both ways.