3 landmark moments in Huskies’ turnaround under Chris Petersen
There was no single thing that turned Washington around under Chris Petersen.
It was more like everything he did, from the player he kept in state to the one he kicked off the team in his first year on the job.
And now – as Washington prepares to take the national stage against the country’s best team in the College Football Playoff – we can look back at the road the Huskies have traveled in Petersen’s three years and see three landmarks that defined the journey:
1. Finding Budda.
It’s not just that Washington safety Budda Baker will be one of the very best football players on the field on Saturday at the Peach Bowl. It’s what Baker meant to Petersen and his recruiting of the state’s top players.
Baker was the best high school football player in the state when Petersen was hired at Washington. He was also headed to Oregon, continuing an out-of-state exodus of the state’s top players.
The year before, quarterback Max Browne had chosen USC while Myles Jack opted for UCLA. The year before that it was two Grade A linemen who left the state, Joshua Garnett heading to Stanford and Zach Banner going to USC.
And when Baker said he was going to Oregon in December of his senior year at Bellevue, well, that had become par for the course. Petersen had recruited Baker while at Boise State, and after he was hired at Washington, Baker stepped back from his commitment to the Ducks. He became a recruiting priority for the Huskies.
When Baker decided to go to Washington, it wasn’t just a recruiting coup. It was a statement about the direction of the Huskies’ recruiting.
2. Dismissing Marcus Peters.
The decision wasn’t all that difficult.
That doesn’t mean it was hard, but choosing to dismiss one of the team’s most talented players in Marcus Peters wasn’t some highly complicated exercise, either. He threw equipment on the sidelines during a game earlier in the season. He argued with coaches on the sideline during a game against Colorado and finally reacted in a meeting with coaches, including Petersen.
Peters was incredibly talented. One of three players from that defense who would be chosen in the first round of the draft. But his dismissal also made the boundaries of the program pretty darn clear. It didn’t shape the culture of the team so much as it showed the limits.
3. QB or not QB
Petersen’s second season was going to be a step back. At least that was the expectation when Cyler Miles’ career as quarterback was cut short, and the Huskies had a three-way competition to determine the quarterback.
There was K.J. Carta Samuels, veteran Jeff Lindquist and Jake Browning, a true freshman.
It wasn’t just that Browning won the job, it was how Petersen eased his freshman quarterback along in much the same way Seattle’s Pete Carroll handled Russell Wilson his rookie year. There was never too much put on the freshman’s plate, and halfway through that regular season, what some had worried would be a lost season turned out to be a launching point for the success we’re now witnessing.