BY Art Thiel 11:39AM 12/02/2019

Petersen steps down at UW; Jimmy Lake next up

Stunning the college football world, Chris Petersen, 55, stepped down as University of Washington football coach. Defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake was appointed his successor.

Chris Petersen has resigned as football coach at the University of Washington. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

Shocking all wearing purple, not to mention everyone else in college football, Chris Petersen is stepping down as University of Washington football coach, according to a statement from the school Monday morning. Athletics director Jen Cohen immediately appointed defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake to the permanent position as head coach.

Petersen, 55, has never expressed any health issues, nor complained about money or control problems at Montlake. His Huskies just beat Washington State 31-13 Friday at Husky Stadium, the seventh consecutive Apple Cup win for UW. The Huskies finished 7-5, which was considered a disappointment relative to expectations he helped create with three New Year’s Day bowl games over the previous four seasons.

While Petersen has had great success at UW, he never seemed comfortable with the standard obligations regarding boosters and media. He has expressed some low-level dismay over NCAA rules regarding athlete compensation and other rules changes that didn’t fit with his views of national operations. But no specific reason was given for his decision.

Lake, 42, has never been a head coach but has been a well-regarded assistant in college as well as the NFL, and a likely head-coaching candidate. He reportedly turned down the DC job with Alabama under Nick Saban in order to accept the promotion to he Huskies’ DC job in 2018.

Here’s the release by the University of Washington:

Chris Petersen announced Monday that he will step down from his position as University of Washington head football coach following the Huskies’ bowl game. UW Director of Athletics Jennifer Cohen has named current defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake the new head coach of the Huskies. Petersen will transition into a leadership advisory role for Husky Athletics.

“It has been a privilege and a professional dream fulfilled to be part of this world-class institution,” Petersen said. “I will forever be grateful, honored and humbled to have had the opportunity to coach our fine young men on Montlake for these past six seasons. I thank each of them, as well as our coaches and administrative staff for the incredible commitment they’ve made to Husky football during my tenure. The football program and Husky Athletics across the board will continue to prosper – and do it the right way – with Jen Cohen’s leadership and the University administration’s commitment to excellence. I’ll be a Husky for life, but now is the right time for me to step away from my head coaching duties, and recharge.”

Petersen steps down with a career record of 146-38, compiled during his eight seasons at Boise State and six years at UW. His career winning percentage of .793 ranks second among active coaches with at least five years of FBS experience. He reached 100 career wins (in 2014) faster than all but four coaches in major college history, doing so in just 117 games.

In his six seasons at Washington, Petersen led the Huskies to two Pac-12 Championships (2016 and 2018), the 2016 College Football Playoffs, and three consecutive New Years Six bowl games. The Huskies won 39 games from 2015 through 2018 – most ever by the UW in a four-year stretch. If the Huskies win their bowl game this year, it will be the program’s 40th victory over the four seasons from 2016 to 2019, setting a new record.

“Chris has been transformational for not only our football program, but our entire athletic department,” Cohen said. “It has been such a privilege to watch how he has been so committed to the development of our young men, not just on the field, but more importantly off. I can’t thank him enough for his service and leadership, and I look forward to having him stay on staff in a leadership advisory role, so he can continue to impact individuals across our department and the entire campus.”

Along with his on-field successes, Petersen has raised the Huskies’ academic profile well past its previous highest heights. His teams have consistently compiled grade point averages well above 3.0, and the Huskies recently unseated Stanford as the Pac-12 leader in the NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate. The Huskies have also succeeded on the gridiron after graduation as 24 UW athletes have been selected in the NFL Draft in the last five years, while 31 Huskies are currently on NFL rosters.

“Chris Petersen epitomizes everything you can want in a head coach. His first priority has always been preparing his student-athletes for life, not merely the next game. Their performance in the classroom, leading the conference the last two years and being among the best in the nation, was matched by their performance on the field, including two Pac-12 Championships. We are fortunate to have had Coach Petersen as a leader for UW football, and I know his positive influence will continue to be felt on Montlake in his new role,” said UW President Ana Mari Cauce.

During the Petersen era, the Huskies have been anchored by one of the most stifling defenses in college football under the leadership of defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake.

Lake, who also served as a UW assistant coach under Keith Gilbertson in 2004, returned to Seattle as defensive backs coach on Petersen’s first Husky staff in 2014. He was promoted to co-defensive coordinator before the 2016 season and to defensive coordinator in 2018.

From 2015 through 2018, Washington’s defense led the Pac-12 in both total defense and scoring defense all four years – and by a significant margin in most cases. Lake’s secondary was key in that success, as evidenced by the long list of defensive backs who have gone on to success in professional football. Eight former Husky defensive backs coached by Lake on currently on NFL rosters.

“I could not be more excited about taking over as head football coach at the University of Washington,” said Jimmy Lake. “I’ve been dreaming of this opportunity for as long as I can remember and I can’t think of a better place to do it than in the world-class city of Seattle and at such a prestigious university with a rich football tradition. This wouldn’t be possible without the mentorship of Coach Petersen and I would like to thank him for everything he has done for me, as well as Jen Cohen for entrusting me with this opportunity.”

An honorable mention All-Big Sky and academic all-conference honoree at Eastern Washington, Lake began his coaching career at EWU in 1999 and spent time at Montana State and in the NFL (Tampa Bay and Detroit) before joining Petersen at Boise State in 2012. A graduate of North Central High in Spokane, Wash., Lake and his wife, Michelle, have three children: Jimmy Jr., Faith and Bronson.

“There is no one better suited to assume the reins of our program than Jimmy Lake,” Cohen said. “Under Coach Petersen’s mentorship, Jimmy has grown into one of the most widely respected minds in college football. He has an extraordinary way of relating to our student-athletes, is a gifted teacher of the game, and has a vision for what will make this program successful.”

“I can’t think of someone better than Jimmy to take over this program,” said Petersen. “His energy and ability to relate to our players is unmatched. Jimmy is a great teacher of the game and his track record of developing young men both on and off the field speaks for itself. He is ready to take this step and I have full confidence that he will continue to build on the foundation that has been set here and he will elevate the program to new heights.”


  • Will

    Stunning news.

    But the wrong football coach in the State of Washington resigned.

    Thanks Coach Petersen for your UW years, your teams have been competitive and often big time winners. Against the trend of ‘win at all costs’, you’ve shown there’s still a place for doing the right thing’.

    While I wish you could have relaxed a bit when talking to fans and the media, as the saying goes, you let your team do the talking.

    • Couldn’t agree more. Leach is an ass who doesn’t deserve to coach anywhere. Glad the Huskies are living in his head, rent free for the past 7 years….

      • art thiel

        It would be so easy for Leach to be decent to people . . .

    • art thiel

      Whatever his reasons, and I think burnout is near the top, any big-time coach who leaves on his own without NCAA violations has my salute.

  • DaveinSeattle

    Wow. How many Husky fans can say they saw this one coming? I know there was a lot of unhappiness regarding Hamdan, but I don’t see Petersen making this move just because he was unwilling to fire a coordinator (and I doubt he would have stayed on as an advisor if that was the reason). This is puzzling. Maybe Petersen was just burned out, and perhaps a bit discouraged by all the transferring, win-or-else pressure and churn that is a part of the college game now (I’m thinking about the QB situation specifically).

    I’ll never forget what my uncle, a diehard Ducks fan, said to me when Sark left and we landed Petersen: “The Huskies just got better.” I think the subsequent events definitely proved him right — Petersen had a lot of success, and he did it without the baggage of many other top coaches. Now, I feel like maybe UW has taken a bit of a step down, replacing a proven winner with someone who has never been a head coach.

    I like Lake and am willing to give him a chance, but this is a bit of a tough pill to swallow for Husky fans. Thanks, CP, for everything you did for the program. We’re going to miss your steady hand and your unmatched integrity. Class act all the way.

    • art thiel

      My guess is Petersen was burned out, and dismayed with the changes, current and pending, in NCAA governance. I will be writing about what a terrible job, compensation aside, the head football coach’s job is at a top program.

      • Tian Biao

        yes, that seems likeliest: he’s had enough of the grind. but what changes do you think he’s dismayed about? look forward to reading that in your next column! –

  • Damn, I’m stunned. Frankly, I hope Coach Peterson opens up about his decision. Doesn’t sound like he’s retiring and at 55 he’s in the prime of his coaching career. My guess is that he’s headed to an SEC school or maybe the Big 10. He may have concluded that he can’t win a National title playing in the Pac 12. Or would he want to coach in the NFL, a la Carroll?
    I wish him the best of luck, given all the success he’s had as lead Dawg. I have a feeling we’re really going to miss him.

    • Husky73

      I am wondering if Southern Cal just found their next coach?

      • art thiel

        Absolutely no way.

        • Husky73

          I also wonder if the Dallas Cowboys have found their new coach? Perhaps Kellen Moore has been having conversations with CP and Jerry Jones?

      • DaveinSeattle

        CP turned them down before, if I’m not mistaken, along with Oregon before finally taking the UW job. No reason he would make that kind of move. UW was a great fit for him culturally. He’s not coaching anywhere next year. After that… who knows, maybe he’ll end up in the NFL as an assistant? Or even head coach? No recruiting, match football minds with the best in the business, no NCAA to deal with. Could be worse things.

    • art thiel

      There’s a lot about big-time college coaching he doesn’t like. But I assume we’ll hear something at a presser tomorrow.

  • 1coolguy

    I suggest we haven’t heard the end of this story.
    CP is a very respected person, as well as coach, nationally, and has the program turned around and on a roll, regardless of this season. Remarkable he could simply walk away, as he accomplished what few coaches ever have, and had a job for life.
    Even though his tenure was only 6 years, I suggest he is second to James in the UW coaching annals, with Bagshaw (Remember him Art? haha) 3rd.

    • Husky73

      Gil Dobie was 58-0-3.

      • art thiel

        He was fired. President Suzzallo did the deed, saying he was “too big for the program.” In 1916.

      • DaveinSeattle

        I would say that you can’t compare eras that far apart. If you take the “modern era” as Post-WWII, James is number one (national champs, many Rose Bowl wins). Owens is probably number two, with 18 seasons and two RB wins (back to back, even), although the way his tenure ended (with allegations of racism in the program) slightly tarnishes his legacy. CP would be third — a very good coach, but ultimately couldn’t win the big games. No big bowl wins and only six seasons diminishes the overall record, which is pretty stellar if you simply look at regular-season success.

    • art thiel

      As Husky73 points out below, Gil Dobie will always be No. 1. And no, I don’t remember him.

  • DB

    I’ve always maintained that Petersen was the second coming of Don James, but never expected a similar surprise resignation. In James’s case the reasons were pretty clear. With Petersen, it’s a real mystery. -At least for now.

    • art thiel

      As I mentioned above, burnout is part of it. It’s a ridiculous job.

  • Archangelo Spumoni

    Somebody call the Spokesman-Review and have Mr. Blanchette call The Pirate for a quote on this one. Then Mr. Blanchette can remind The Pirate that Jimmy Lake is still around in the form of head coach.
    That’ll provide a nice quote or even more.

    • art thiel

      I think the Spokesman will have Theo Lawson, their beat reporter, will make the call. John is busy living his meager life.

  • coug73

    Let the speculation begin now.
    I wish Chris Petersen good will and a successful second career.

    • art thiel

      I hope we’ll get to unanimity on that.

  • 1coolguy

    CP’s timing is interesting IF he actually takes an NFL job – this is the time of the year owners are assessing who they will keep and more importantly, who may be available. CP just hung out a HUGE “I’m available” sign.
    I have always considered CP as a college coach, but the timing is deafening.

  • busterbluth

    I think we all know that CP is wired a bit differently than most football coaches. He’s stated numerous times that he didn’t want to coach into his 60’s. He’s never been one to chase after more prestigious jobs or more money. I think he’s simply tired and burned out after 14 years as a head football coach. Most coaches never have the luxury of controlling their own destiny for that long since most get fired at least twice in that timespan. The man just needs a break, but it wouldn’t shock me if he never coached again. He’s got all the money he’ll ever need and he doesn’t seem like the type to care much about his legacy.

  • jafabian

    I was initially caught off-guard at the announcement but after some thought not completely surprised. Coach Petersen didn’t seem to have the same passion for the games as he has in the past and I’ve wondered if that filtered to other coaches and players. He also might have been forced to make some changes in the coaching staff in the offseason that he would not have been comfortable making. Hopefully promoting Jimmy Lake will have more success for the program than when Barbara Hedges promoted Jim Lambright. Coach Lake has some mighty big shoes to fill. I would love to see Coach Pete remain with the athletic department but I’ve wondered if he just wasn’t comfortable coaching in the PAC-12 (I’ve wondered that about Mike Leach also despite coming over from the BIG-12) and might go to a smaller school and conference in a few years.

  • Estip

    I can picture Petersen as a teacher, leading seminars on leadership and promoting his Built for Life program to students and young adults; taking a break from the grind of football coaching and getting his personal life back.