Washington's Chris Petersen on the transition to his new job
SEATTLE -- The new head football coach at Washington was running late. He may have found a house nearby. He hoped.
This is indicative of where Chris Petersen finds himself in late February, months before the start of another season. He's in charge of the Huskies after a fruitful tenure at Boise State from 2001 through '13 that included an iconic Fiesta Bowl victory; he's recruiting in a different conference; he's preparing for spring practice; and he's handling his first crisis. He's also moving, if/when he can find the perfect place. In a word, busy.
He apologized as he arrived early on Tuesday afternoon and commenced with a tour of his palatial office. There is a fireplace on one wall. There is a second room he calls his "Seattle room," with a mural of downtown, Space Needle included. There is a bathroom with a shower and a deck with sweeping views of Lake Washington that looks over remodeled Husky Stadium. The house that Petersen had just looked at is out there across the lake.
Petersen, 49, settled into a leather chair and chatted with SI.com for half an hour. He discussed why he left Boise State, his transition to Washington and what he expects as he replaces Steve Sarkisian (who is now at USC) in the months ahead.
SI: So you're doing some house hunting. What has the rest of the transition been like?
Chris Petersen: Chaotic. It's just scrambling from one thing to the next. It may take the whole year to go through the cycle of everything, but I'm really looking forward to having bigger chunks of time to work on things, where it's not just one thing after the next.
My family is not here yet, so in some ways that's good. I can just spend late hours getting caught up.
But the job? The job is the same. From Boise, it's the same. Really, the big issue is getting everybody on the same page. So many of the coaches came with me, which is awesome. The people here are fabulous but we had a little bit of a different process.
SI: One of the assistants who came with you is Tim Socha, the strength and conditioning coach. It seems these days like that position can be the second most important on a college football staff. Do you agree?
CP: They're everything. Finally people are starting to figure out how valuable [strength and conditioning coaches] are. They're starting to get paid better. I mean, they probably spend, and I don't even think it's a probably, they do spend more time than myself or the assistants with these kids. That was my first hire, and probably my most important.
SI: Prior to this whirlwind, I imagine there were points when you thought you would stay at Boise State forever?
CP: It's so funny because everybody would always say that. 'He's not going anywhere.'
SI: You never felt that way necessarily?
CP: I never said that. I even told the recruits that, because that was the question they always asked. [I] was not thinking about going anywhere, but I always saw these coaches say, 'I'm there forever,' and six months later, they're gone.
SI: I will not be the head coach at Alabama. Or something like that.
CP: What I felt was, those coaches really believed [they would stay with a team] at the time. And then times change. Situations change. That's what I really thought. I was very careful to not say that, but on the outside, everybody was like, if he turned that down, he's never leaving. I'm thinking, that's not true. I'm just happy here now. We're building and we're growing. I just thought one day the time might come. But if it didn't, we really liked being [at Boise State].
SI: What appealed to you about Washington?
CP: This was the first time that I did feel like -- I'm trying to think what the correct words are, but -- there wasn't maybe quite as much excitement. I'd been [at Boise State] a long time. Thirteen years total, five as an assistant. It was maybe the first time that it was not as much, I don't want to say the word drudgery, but certain things I wasn't excited about, that just come with any job. So that, coupled with when this opportunity came, it was like, maybe this is the time. Looking back on it, it was totally the right time. I think it was the right time for Boise. They need a new burst of energy. And this has been a good thing for me. The challenge to get everybody going, it's so different. At Boise, we had the process. Here, we don't have the process set up yet. That's what's kind of exciting about it.
SI: How much did in the in-office fireplace seal the deal?
CP: I walked in here, and I said, oh, that view is unbelievable.
SI: You've already had your first firestorm. (Two players, including Washington's potential starting quarterback, Cyler Miles, were suspended after an incident that allegedly involved them beating up a Seahawks fan after Seattle's Super Bowl victory.)
CP: How about that? It was like, really? But that's part of the job.
SI: What were your thoughts on the situation?
CP: It's taken me a long time to come to grips with that. They are college kids, they are kids, and you've got 100-and-whatever of them, and there's just a lot of issues that come with that, even if they're really good kids. In the past, we'd spend a lot on educating kids on how to do things the right way. And here, right away, it's like, here we go.
SI: What's the biggest differences you've found between Washington and Boise State?
CP: I think the margin for error, the competition we're playing is going to be completely different. So I'm not trying to say we're just going to do what we did at Boise, and we're going to win all the games. The job itself and how we do it is the same. Everybody keeps asking about the recruiting being so different. We have a really good process, and we've gotten really good players at Boise, and we missed out on a lot of good players, because of a couple reasons that hopefully being here we can get those guys that we could not get in the past. The bottom line, it comes down to how we develop the talent that we do get. We'd recruit against the Pac-12. There are good players. I'm hoping we get more of them.
SI: What has been the biggest change with recruiting?
CP: I think the high school coaches really had a lot of respect for our staff at Boise. The coaches were really like, I can totally see this kid coming here. A lot of times, the kids, some of the kids we didn't get were more into the league, the Pac-12, growing up in the west. And I get that. But I think what really helped us at Boise is we won so much. If we can win a lot here, then all of a sudden, things will change.
SI: But you are familiar with the area.
CP: The footprint we recruit is exactly the same. It would have been different if I went south or east. That would have been foreign territory. Here the footprint we recruit we know all the coaches. That's important.
SI: Did you ever come close to going anywhere else?
CP: There were one or two places I was very close to. I don't want to say, just because.
SI: What years roughly?
CP: A couple years ago. The timing just wasn't right. This time, it felt right to leave. Great place.
SI: How did your family react?
CP: My oldest son is a freshman in college this year. So that was easy. My youngest son was a ninth grader, who we kind of learned from the last time when we almost did something, which surprised me, was not into moving. At all. We knew this would be hard. It'll be a transition for him over here.
SI: Looking at your roster, you lost a lot on offense, including running back Bishop Sankey, quarterback Keith Price and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins. The suspended players are both on the offensive side of the ball, too.
CP: There's some good talent. Those kids who left are really good players. I don't know how that translates to the NFL, but Bishop Sankey was one heck of a college football player. That was a really hard one to lose here. He would have been as good as anybody in the country in college football next year. That's a lot of firepower.
So, yeah, we got some work to do.
SI: You do have Shaq Thompson, among others, on defense.
CP: We have to shore up our secondary. We're very thin. We signed seven freshmen there. You don't want to bring in seven freshmen at that position, but that's what we had to do.
SI: What do you remember most about this stadium? You suffered a bad loss here in last year's season opener. The Huskies won, 38-6.
CP: When I was at Oregon (1995-2000), we used to come here and just be in awe of this stadium. I've known about the difficulties of this place. This is the finest setting of college football, and I've been to a lot of stadiums across the country. It's hard to beat.
SI: When do you think you'll feel settled?
CP: I think it will take a year. I said that to our recruits. You need to go through a full year cycle.
Start with the Pac-12. I think this conference is underrated. I really do. Every week you can get knocked off. That will be different.