Commentary: Chris Petersen seems to have found his perfect fit at Washington
LOS ANGELES—My standing belief that Chris Petersen was never seriously interested in taking USC’s football job, or UCLA’s the two times it was offered, was confirmed Thursday when Petersen complained about traffic — in Seattle.
The good news is, he lives close enough to campus to avoid the real gnarly stuff.
“But everything else there you have to plan out your day,” he said. “Can’t go there. Why not? Well, it’s going to take two hours.”
No one who really knows Petersen thought for a minute he’d end up in bumper-to-bumper Los Angeles.
Three’s not a crowd to this guy, it’s a mob.
At a news conference in Boise, Idaho, days before the 2006 Fiesta Bowl in which his Boise State Broncos stunned Oklahoma and the college football world, Petersen noted the stampede of national media in town.
There were two of us.
It is conspiratorial to suggest Petersen purposely tanked his interview with USC so it could then hire Steve Sarkisian, leaving vacated the comfort-fit Washington job Petersen wanted all along.
Let’s just say it all worked out for the best.
It figured Petersen would someday leave Boise, but he wasn’t easily pried from his seat. He spurned offer after offer during an eight-year run in which he led Boise State to a 92-12 record.
Petersen prowled patiently for the right opportunity and seems to have nailed it.
He didn’t leave Boise State because he went 8-4 last year; he left because there was only one last train leaving town before major college football partitioned the biggest and best five football conferences from the other five.
Boise State lived among the others.
Petersen could compete in the old Bowl Championship Series system with overachieving teams that willed their way toward the top of the rankings. However, the new college playoff and autonomy structure will funnel more resources to major conferences as it cuts adrift the rest.
Petersen had to get to a power league even if change was hard.
“Everybody’s in shock,” he said of people on both ends of his move from Boise to Washington. “The kids look at you like, ‘What just happened?’”
Petersen the family man, at 49, could have retired in Boise. But Petersen the competitor knew it was time to go. “Kind of a gut feeling,” he said.
Washington acquired one of the nation’s premier coaches and innovators and the Pac-12 added another stellar football mind to a growing stockpile.
NFL.com recently ranked Petersen the second-best college football coach behind Alabama’s Nick Saban.
Petersen doesn’t look like Woody Hayes or Bear Bryant. If he wore brown shorts, you might think he drove a UPS truck. But he has the intangible “it” factor.
Washington players, burned by Sarkisian’s departure to USC, have quickly come to appreciate Petersen. Boise State’s epic win over Oklahoma is still etched in the mind of Washington offensive lineman Ben Riva.
“I kind of realize why they were so successful,” Riva said. “That’s probably one of the biggest things that have changed. How hard the workouts are. How hard they work us. It sort of made sense. They didn’t always have the most talent, Boise, but they worked harder than anyone.”
It wasn’t just that. Riva says Petersen’s team-building philosophy is truly unique, even if it seems like “cheesy stuff, like making us play ice-breaker games.” Riva said.
“When you’re on a team with a hundred guys, not everyone is going to like each other,” Riva added. “That’s just human nature. But with him ... it kind of got me to talk to guys I may not have talked to before.”
Petersen is no stranger to Pac football; he was an Oregon assistant in the mid-1990s alongside current Coach Mark Helfrich. But Petersen is, in every way, in a different league now. His glossy win-loss record figures to take a hit as he reboots his career in a den of dangers.
Kyle Whittingham knows. He coached Utah of the Mountain West Conference to an undefeated 2008 season capped with a Sugar Bowl win over Alabama. Utah is 18-19 overall since joining the Pac-12.
“It’s going to be tough sledding, no doubt,” Petersen said.
There is congestion everywhere in the Pac-12’s traffic lanes.
At least in Seattle it’s an easier commute.
©2014 Los Angeles Times
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