Pac-12 Notebook: Stunning News -- Chris Petersen Steps Down at Washington

Jake Curtis

Shocker: Chris Petersen has stepped down as Washington’s head coach.

“Wow,” Utah coach Kyle Whittington said Monday when he learned of the move. “I never would have thought that.”

Washington made the announcement Monday after Washington completed a 7-5 season, including 4-5 in the Pac-12. Petersen will remain the Huskies head coach through their bowl game. Defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake has been promoted to head coach, and will take over after the bowl game.

The 55-year-old Petersen is expected to stay at Washington in a leadership advisory role. He was the highest paid head coach in the Pac-12, earning approximately $4.875 million per year.

Petersen recorded two Pac-12 titles and one appearance in the College Football Playoff in his six seasons at Washington, amassing a 54-26 record. The Huskies finished first or tied for first in the Pac-12 North each of the three previous seasons before slipping to a tie for second this year. He coached at Boise State before coming to Washington.

In his 14 seasons as an FBS head coach, Petersen has never had a losing season, and has been to a bowl game every year. His worst season was 2015, when Washington won its final three games to finish 7-6.

There is no indication that health was a reason for Petersen's unexpected decision.

"It has been a privilege and a professional dream fulfilled to be part of this world-class institution," Petersen said in a statement. "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."

Two other high-profile coaches at big-time football schools also resigned recently before reaching the age of 60 -- Bob Stoops was 56 when he resigned at Oklahoma after the 2016 season and Urban Meyer was 54 when he resigned at Ohio State last year.

Petersen never mentioned the word "retire" in his statement, but the reason for his decision remains a mystery.

Seattle Times columnist Larry Stone wrote:

"Chris Petersen’s decision to step down Monday as the University of Washington’s football coach was so stunning and seemingly incongruous that my first inclination was to wonder if the school’s press release was a hoax or a hack.

"Why in the world would a successful coach such as Petersen, still relatively young at age 55 with highly acclaimed recruiting classes on the way, walk away from one of the best jobs in college football?"

Here is a video addressing the surprising news:

So the Washington program will belong to Lake after the bowl game.

“I could not be more excited about taking over as head football coach at the University of Washington,” Lake said in a statement, according to the Seattle Times. “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.”

The Seattle Times reported Lake will get a five-year deal that starts out paying him $3 million a year. His pay will increase by $100,000 each year, reaching $3.4 million in 2024.

Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury-News chimed in with this:

Can Utah Make the College Football Playoff?

Utah is ranked fifth in the latest College Football Playoff rankings released Tuesday, putting the Utes in position to get into the top four and earn a spot in the national championship playoff.

"We're here, and I hope you're ready," Utah safety Julian Blackmon said, according to, "because if we get to the playoffs, we're going to beat somebody's brains in."

Utah must beat Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game on Friday in Santa Clara, but that might not be enough by itself to earn the Utes a CFP berth. A loss by Georgia against LSU in the SEC title game would help the Utes' cause, and so would a loss by Oklahoma to Baylor in the Big 12 championship game. Of course, a Baylor win over Oklahoma might be impressive enough to push Baylor past Utah in the final CFP rankings, which will be announced Sunday, Dec. 8.

Utah (11-1) may need to be particularly impressive against Oregon (10-2) to convince CFP selection committee members that a Pac-12 team deserves to be in the College Football Playoff.

“We believe in conrolling th controllables and we can't control what happens in that regard,” Whittingham said Monday. “But what we would need to do is win Friday night. I mean, that's an absolute. Obviously there's no debate about that.

He does not know whether Utah's level of dominance in Friday’s game would be a factor,.

"I don't know, the style points and things that people talk about," Whittingham said. "We're just focused on trying to get the win, and if we're fortunate and able to come away, we feel like we're a complete football team and could line up and play with anybody.

"But whether we get that chance of not we'll see. But again it's all contingent on trying to get a win over the Ducks; that's our entire focus and what we're looking towards.

Another issue is branding. Only 10 teams have competed in the College Football Playoff in its five previous seasons, and Utah does not present the same kind of football name prestige that schools like Oklahoma or Georgia do. Will that affect the CFP selection committee?

"Well, we'll see," Whittinhgham said.  of our hands."

Obviously, it would have been better for Utah's chances if Oregon had beaten Arizona State a week ago. Then Utah could claim a more impressive victory if it knocked off an 11-1 Ducks squad.

ESPN lays out the way Utah could make the College Football Playoff, although you would have pay $5 to read it.


When asked which Oregon player is the one Utah has to be most concerned about, Whittingham did not name a quarterback or a running back.

His response: “Penei Sewell; he’s a beast.”

Sewell is an offensive tackle.

Defensive Efficiency

Utah has played fewer defensive snaps per game this season than any other team in the country. The Utes rank third in the nation in total defense, and their defenders have been on the field for just 690 plays, or 57.5 plays per game.

Whittingham says it’s a combination of Utah’s offense holding the ball for long stretches, and the Utes’ defensive proficiency on third down, leading to a lot of three-and-outs.

Ohio State leads the country in total defense but its defense has been on the field for 748 plays, or 62.3 per game.

Cal’s defense, meanwhile, has been on the field for 867 plays, or 72.3 per game.

Is Clay Helton In or Out?

Conflicting reports have further cloused the issue of Clay Helton's job status at USC.

Sports Illustrated reported over the weekend that Helton will be fired and that an announcement could come Monday.

No announcement was made Monday, and and number of other reports suggest that no decision has been made on Helton's status.

Presumably there will be a slew of additional reports claiming to know what USC will do regarding Helton.

Sumlin Safe at Arizona

One Pac-12 coach who is not getting fired is Arizona's Kevin Sumlin, even though the Wildcats lost their final seven games and finished 4-8, including 2-7 in the Pac-12, the worst record in the conference. Arizona went 5-7 overall, 4-5 in the Pac-12 last season in Sumlin's first year in Tucson.

One reason Arizona athletic director Dave Heeke might have been reluctant to dismiss Sumlin after two seasons: Sumlin would have been owed a $10 million buyout, with half being due within 30 days and the other half due by January 2023.