Petersen happily blends in while building up Washington
SEATTLE (AP) This city is home to grunge rock gods, tech billionaires and a ubiquitous retail giant. Downtown, a King holds court in the summer and a recent Super Bowl champion dominates sports-talk radio in the fall.
Surrounded by mountains and water, there is plenty to do in and around the Emerald City, and it does not rain quite as much as its reputation suggests.
For Washington's Chris Petersen, college football's most unassuming star coach, Seattle is the perfect place to build a powerhouse program on a foundation of well-ordered priorities.
While Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, Jim Harbaugh and Dabo Swinney could stop traffic in their towns, Petersen can spend a day at the mall or a night out with his wife without drawing so much as a ''Good luck, coach'' here.
''I don't think Chris Petersen minds at all. Other college coaches probably would. I think it fits right to the nature and personality of Petersen that he doesn't have to be the center of attention,'' said former Washington quarterback and Seattle radio host Brock Huard.
Of course, it is only year three for Petersen at U-Dub. If the sixth-ranked Huskies (10-1, 7-1 Pac-12) keep playing as they have this season, Petersen might reach the celebrity status in Seattle currently held by Mariners Cy Young Award winner ''King'' Felix Hernandez, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, or Wilson's coach, Pete Carroll – whether he likes it or not. (He will not).
Washington is two victories away from its first Pac-12 championship since 2000 and maybe a spot in the College Football Playoff. Not since Don James was regularly taking the Huskies to Rose Bowls from 1975-92 have Washington fans felt so comfortable with their coach.
Petersen, 52, has a runner's wiry frame, a just-right wave in his salt-and-pepper hair that would make an anchorman jealous and an ''aw-shucks'' demeanor. He loves the water and his office view of Lake Washington and Mount Rainier. He comes across as an effortlessly cool dad.
The son of a high school and junior college football coach from Northern California, Petersen did not want to follow in his father Ron's footsteps growing up in Yuba City.
''I would go to his games and I think I would care more about winning and losing more than half the players that I saw on the sidelines,'' Petersen said recently in his office. ''And I would tell my Mom, like, there is no way I would coach and let 18 year olds control my happiness.
''To this day she's like, `Don't complain to me. You knew what you were getting yourself into.'''
Petersen played quarterback at Division II UC Davis, undersized but fast. He was a star at a place where the team shared its locker room with students and faculty.
''I think there's certainly no sense of entitlement coming out of somewhere like that,'' Petersen said. ''We didn't have anything. We had pads and football gear. We didn't have any sweats or shirts or any of that stuff. I think we bought our own cleats.''
Petersen worked his way up the career ladder carefully and somewhat reluctantly to become head coach at Boise State.
''Every job I've taken I've not wanted to go, but just felt like I need to do this,'' he said.
Petersen helped turn the Broncos into the standard by which all college football overachievers are judged. Boise State went 92-12 in eight seasons under Petersen, winning two Fiesta Bowls and frequently forcing itself into the national championship discussion.
No matter how many giants the Broncos slayed, no matter how much attention and praise was heaped on them, Petersen never allowed them to feel as if they had made it. He used a cramped room under Broncos Stadium to get his message across, dispatching players and coaches there for positional meetings and film study.
''Very much like a dungeon. No heat. Cold. You'd have to roll your TV and your VCR in and out of there,'' said Montana State coach Jeff Choate, who worked for Petersen for eight years at Boise and Washington. ''And the point was that you've got to remember where you came from and you've got to have that humble and hungry attitude.''
Petersen could have left Boise State sooner. Stanford and others came after him.
''I had left Boise State because I didn't think Chris was ever going to,'' said Choate, who rejoined Petersen in Seattle in 2014.
When Southern California fired Lane Kiffin, USC made a run at Petersen. For reasons that are obvious to anyone who knows him, Petersen passed on the glitz of Los Angeles. USC then hired former Trojans assistant Steve Sarkisian away from Washington. That was the job that made sense to Petersen, and in some ways it has worked out even better than he thought it would.
''Hands down the thing that I completely underestimated that has been the biggest surprise, the most pleasant surprise of me coming over here is I just blend in,'' Petersen said. ''I didn't blend in at all in Boise. It's small. Here it's so big. There's pro sports. There's everything else. There's people that don't even know about sports. I appreciate that and I like that.''
In Seattle, he found a program Sarkisian had revived from its darkest days, including an 0-12 season in 2008. The challenge for Petersen was to move Washington from pretty good back to the top of the Pac-12.
The first thing that had to change was the way the players interacted with each other.
''There's a saying he says that I like,'' senior offensive tackle Jake Eldrenkamp said. ''It's not just about respecting your teammate. A lot of people say you don't have to like him you just have to respect him. But with Coach Pete it's you've got to respect him and you've got to like the guy.''
Petersen and his staff shuffled lockers and meeting seats to move players away from their friends and position groups. Players had to learn the hometowns and high schools of their teammates. The names of siblings and parents.
The next step was bringing in more of what became known at Boise State under Petersen as OKGs: Our Kind of Guys. Petersen wants players who live for football, but understand there is more to life.
''Seventy-five percent of the time he's talking to the team it's about your character. What type of person you should be, you want to be, and just doing the right thing all times,'' linebacker Keishawn Bierria said. ''Life outside football. That's really what he talks about.''
There is much to life outside of football in this part of the Pacific Northwest. Amazon is headquartered in Seattle. Microsoft is in nearby Redmond. Bill Gates lives here and his Microsoft co-founder, Paul Allen, owns the Seahawks. Seattle's music scene produced Pearl Jam and Nirvana and it is the city that gave the world Starbucks.
Petersen can tap into all of what Seattle and the University of Washington provides to mold his OKGs. And when things don't go so well for the Huskies on Saturday, he can always change the subject.
''How `bout those Seahawks? I'm taking all questions about `em,'' Petersen began his first Monday media availability of the year that followed a loss .
It worked for about a minute, but if there is one coach of a top-10 team who could blend in at his own news conference, it's Petersen.
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