O’Neil: Why Petersen’s resignation as UW Huskies coach is alarming
Chris Petersen’s resignation is shocking for the UW Huskies.
It should be downright alarming for college football at large.
This is one of the best coaches in the country, someone who seemed built to do this very job in this very place, and he just decided he’d rather not work in this particular trade. He has the second-highest winning percentage of any coach with five years of experience at the big-boy level of the FBS. He was the fifth-fastest coach to reach 100 wins.
He’s not leaving to take a better job. If moving up the college-football food chain was Petersen’s priority, he would have left Boise State long before 2013. Heck, he very well could have taken the USC job that ultimately went to Steve Sarkisian.
As a Washington alum who’s grateful for all that the Huskies accomplished in Petersen’s six years, I’m curious to see what he will do next. As a college football fan, I’m concerned about what this says about the state of the sport.
This is a guy who’s among the 10 most respected coaches in the sport saying he’d rather do something else.
Some of that reflects the realities of recruiting high-school athletes in 2019. Some of it is certainly the scrutiny that is trained not just on the coaches, but on the players. He’s always been a guy who’s seen himself as an educator, someone who’s uniquely invested in the development of not just the players, but the people he recruits to the team. It’s why – in a time when some schools offer 300 to 400 players a chance to take one of 25 football scholarships – the Huskies were incredibly selective in the players they sought.
He did it his way. He did it successfully. And while the word retirement was not used in Washington’s announcement, there’s no indication he’s taking another job. He’s just walking away after going 54-26 in his six seasons with the UW Huskies.
I can’t remember a more surprising move in Seattle sports. George Karl was fired as Sonics coach in 1998 after the team made seven straight playoff appearances, but the coach’s relationship with the president and general manager was a clear rift. When Don James walked away as Huskies coach in 1993, it was because the coach felt hung out to dry by the athletic director and university leaders.
Petersen wasn’t on the outs here. The Huskies won two conference championships over the past four seasons, and while this year was a disappointment, Washington had played in a premier bowl game each of the previous three seasons.
Petersen isn’t getting out while the getting was good – he’s just getting out, and that is something I just didn’t expect. I thought the Huskies had hit the lottery with him, hiring that rarest breed of college coach who’s incredibly good, stunningly effective and not bound and determined to job hop to increase his salary and/or his status.
My belief that Petersen was the second coming of Don James blinded me to some of the writing that was already on the wall because this isn’t something Petersen just decided. If it was, Jimmy Lake would have taken a head coach job a year or two ago. The fact that Lake stuck around is because he knew this was a distinct possibility, and in that way, the Huskies are very fortunate.
As a Huskies fan, I can’t wait to see what Lake will do as the head coach and I’m intrigued at how the offense might change with Petersen no longer on the sidelines. I thought the coach who was known for his trick plays at Boise State became more pedestrian here with the Huskies. He coached to the team’s strength, which up until this year had been its defense.
But there I go with the expectations and the scrutiny and the second-guessing that very well may be a part of the reason that Petersen decided that college football isn’t worth the trouble, and really, that’s too bad.
College football needs more coaches like Chris Petersen. Instead, it’s losing him, and I’ll close by saying thank you to Petersen for everything he did in rebuilding a program that had bottomed out under Tyrone Willingham and been uneven under Sarkisian. Washington is better for the six years that Petersen spent on campus and college football is worse now that he’s leaving.