Commentary: Chris Petersen has plenty to prove at Washington

The Seattle TimesDecember 10, 2013 

In a coaching profession known for abrupt and clumsy exits, Chris Petersen left Boise State for Washington in the most dignified manner possible. He didn't sneak away in the middle of the night. He didn't leave an incomplete legacy or a trail of bitterness.

There's nothing but love and good memories emanating from Boise right now (mostly), and more than anything, those warm feelings should tell you about the kind of coach the Huskies hired. Boise Mayor Dave Bieter praised Petersen as "Boise's greatest ambassador." Former player Jason Robinson wrote a classy letter of thanks for all Petersen did for the program. The outpouring of gratitude from Boise is almost unprecedented for a coach's departure.

"It's kind of strange when you read all this stuff," Petersen said Monday after he was introduced at Husky Stadium. "It's almost like you died. It's kind of weird."

After a brief laugh at his joke, the coach turned serious.

"What I think is my heart and soul has been in Boise so long, and they appreciate that, and I wasn't going to run out of there just for anything - more or a bigger stadium or anything like that," Petersen said. "That's never what I've been about, and I think people realize that. I think they realize the timing was right, the fit was right, and I think they're good with it because it was truly those things."

Petersen won the day not with bluster and bold predictions, but with a sincerity that drips off every word he speaks. He's comfortable in his skin, confident in his approach and concerned only with doing the best he can. He didn't promise Rose Bowls and national titles. He talked more about the process of building a winner and of coaching "young men and turning them into real men."

In fact, Petersen's introduction didn't feel so much like an introduction as it did catching up with an old friend. He's the kind of person - earnest, genuine, hard-working - who should thrive here.

Petersen has an enormous task ahead in proving that he has the coaching chops to live up to the exacting standards of Husky fans. But his approach is already an ideal fit.

Washington Athletic Director Scott Woodward perfectly described the first impression that Petersen leaves. "He's a class guy who runs a class program with an impeccable record and impeccable integrity," Woodward said.

Later, Woodward added: "He just exudes genuineness. When you meet him, as soon as you grab his hand and look at him in the eyes, you realize the type of man you're dealing with. I really felt good. It was just comfortable."

Petersen will run the program his way, but it's not like the Huskies sold their souls to acquire one of the best coaches in college football. Petersen committed to Washington. Washington didn't have to commit to the University of Petersen. He's a rich man, $18 million-over-the-next-five-years rich, but he's humble as he attacks a new job.

"I know this: My job just got harder," Petersen said. "This is a tremendously competitive conference. I get that."

He's not oblivious to failure. He didn't dodge a question about the struggles former Boise State coaches Dan Hawkins and Dirk Koetter had at the next level, acknowledging that good coaches come up short all the time. But, Petersen said, "I'm different from those guys. I'm at a different place."

He's at Washington, where he's replacing Steve Sarkisian, a coach who did a good enough job to get USC's attention. The Huskies aren't a barren program. They're preparing for their fourth straight bowl game. They're playing in a beautifully renovated stadium, with a fabulous new operations facility. There's plenty of momentum and hope at Montlake. Petersen is merely the latest reason for it.

He left Boise State not to climb the social ladder. He left because he sought a new challenge.

"It was a feeling like I needed to take a step out of Boise to really grow and improve," Petersen said.

Though it took Sarkisian leaving to open this job, it was time for the Huskies, too. Sarkisian was a great at resurrection, but they don't need that anymore. They need a finisher, and Petersen's credentials suggest he could be that guy.

"I certainly envision and really hope I can stay here a long time," Petersen said.

You need only call someone in Boise to know he's sincere.

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