Thursday, January 16, 2014
Q&A: Washington coach Chris Petersen
By Ted Miller
Chris Petersen shocked many when he opted to leave Boise State and replace Steve Sarkisian at Washington. He's been the Huskies coach for more than a month now, so it's time to advance past his move and consider his present and future on Montlake.
With national signing day just around the corner, it seemed like a good time to check in with him and see what his early impressions of the transition are. And what's ahead.
Update us on how you spent your time since you were introduced as the Washington coach. Have you settled in and been able to move the family from Boise to Seattle?
Chris Petersen: That hasn't even kind of happened. I'm here and my family is in Boise. Just every day is a scramble. The good thing is we got our staff in place, so now we're trying to re-integrate ourselves with the players, get to know those guys, get them up to speed. School has re-started, so we're a week into it. Then along the way the most important thing is re-establishing our ties with connections and recruits. Guys that we've recruited before, been recruiting for the past year, guys who already have ties to Washington. Trying to put that puzzle together.
A whirlwind few weeks has Chris Petersen ready for his first signing day and spring at Washington.
How does that work? It's complicated, isn't it? You're trying to recruit to a new school after building long-term relationships with guys as the Boise State coach. How much do you look at what Washington already has committed vs. some of the guys who were talking to you about going to Boise State?
CP: You're right. It is complicated. Every situation is a little bit different. We've been talking to a lot of these kids for a long, long time -- some for over a year, so a lot of them are tied into us as coaches. You know how that goes in the recruiting process. Some kids are really tied in to the university itself, but most are tied in to the coaches. When you show them what Washington has to offer academically, the league we play in, for some of these kids, that's a real benefit. We'll see when it's all said and done. We're really trying to figure out what is best for everybody, the best fit. This is how we've been at Boise. It's all about getting each guy into the right place for them. That's when the magic happens. If this isn't the right place for some of these guys, then that's OK as well. But we'll get some good players here, without question, in this class. And then we'll start the process over immediately after signing day. We'll have a lot longer time to work at it.
You're also introducing yourself to a new set of players who are probably curious about what they are going to get from you and your staff. You're fortunate in that you have an impressive track record and that everyone knows who you are. But give me the general message you give the returning players, what they need to know about playing for you and what you're looking for.
CP: The first thing is that some things we do are going to be different. Not necessarily right or wrong -- it's just going to be different. It's going to be our way that's worked for us. The sooner they buy into it, the sooner it's going to work for all of us. It really comes down to kind of putting the ball in their court. It's an exciting, fun time. They've learned some really good things from the other coaches. They have those techniques and philosophies, and here we come with some new things. The faster they are all-in on the way we do things, the better it's going to be for everybody. They've been really excited, really receptive. We're just kind of getting started here. It starts in the weight room for us. I'm excited to watch them go to work.
Boise State played Washington to open the season, so you have a pretty good knowledge of the schemes they ran last year on both sides of the ball. How much different are your offensive and defensive schemes compared to what they did this year?
CP: That's going to be interesting offensively and defensively, because I think the plays, the schemes, the concepts -- so much of it is very, very similar. So it's a matter of blending the languages together. Certainly, we'll emphasize different things, but I think a lot of it is the same. So we're trying to be smart in terms of how we can help the players and not have to have them learn from scratch. Yet we've got to be able to call things the way we're used to calling things for a long, long time, because we've got to be able to teach it. So we're working on that right now. Defensively, it's the same thing. This whole system started at Boise when [defensive coordinator] Justin Wilcox was with us. So there's going to be a lot of carryover with that terminology, with that structure of the defense as well. So in some ways, it's really pretty nice. It's going to be as much as the same as you can possibly have it on a brand new staff.
Is the message for spring practice that every position is open for competition and no one should feel settled? Or guys have fresh life who were buried on the depth chart?
CP: Absolutely -- that's the beauty of a new staff. But it's always like that. It was always like that at Boise. When we had [quarterback] Kellen Moore, it was like, “Kellen, I hope one of these guys pushes you very hard to beat you out. It's just going to make you better.” Our philosophy is it didn't matter who you were; it was always a competition. Certain guys have earned more reps than the others through the years, but hopefully we're recruiting young, hungry guys who want to play. That's better for the entire program. Everybody competes. Heck, we don't know anything about these guys, other than the basics of seeing them on tape, playing against them one game. That's not enough. So, yeah, I think it's a breath of fresh air for everybody. Guys who have started a lot and guys that haven't. Hey, show us what you got. We're all eyes and ears.
How deep did the discussion go with Justin Wilcox at defensive coordinator? Or were you pretty much set on bringing over most of your staff from Boise?
CP: It was a total win-win for both sides. Justin and I go way, way back. It was just a matter of what was going to work for the both of us. I think at the end of the day, it was a win-win for both of us that he was going to go down there [to USC] and we were going to bring our staff here. Justin and I will always be extremely close. It worked out great.
I don't know how many times through the years I typed your name as a potential candidate for a coaching opening. But you always stayed at Boise, at least until Washington came calling this time. It's still got to be a little bit of a shock for you to look around and see Seattle and the Huskies and not Boise State. Has it sunk in fully that you are in a new situation with a new team? Or has the whirlwind of demands and getting settled kept you from being reflective about this massive change?
CP: The time at Boise was awesome. So much of my life -- 13 years -- was there. It was the longest I've lived anywhere. I don't want to discount that. Those were the best years of my professional life, certainly without question. But I also felt really strongly that it was time for a change for the right place. This was the right place. I feel really good about that. I don't look back and say, "Oh, my gosh, I'm here now." Nothing like that. It felt like the right time for a new challenge. We're energized by it and excited to do what we can do.