PULLMAN, Wash. — Immediately after the clock ran out on No. 5 Washington’s 45-17 Apple Cup win against No. 23 Washington State on Friday afternoon, a small stage was placed in the east end zone of Martin Stadium.
A number of dignitaries took their positions and were joined at last by Chris Petersen, coach of the victorious Huskies. As he was handed the Apple Cup trophy, the purple, gold and white partisans in the adjacent stands chanted “PE-TER-SEN! PE-TER-SEN!”
It was exactly right and wrong choice of cheer, all at once.
It was right because the Huskies had just won their championship since Petersen and his staff had swept into Seattle prior to the 2014 season. It was wrong, in terms of current Dawg dogma, because it focused so much attention and praise on one person in the program — a person who doesn’t want it nor need it.
But he does deserve it.
“He’s more than a coach,” said Trey Adams, Washington’s sophomore left tackle and a two-year starter. “He’s more like a father figure in my eyes. He’s there for you, he’s going to get on you when things aren’t going right, but he’s the definition of what I think a coach should be and how a coach should act, and I’m blessed to have him as a coach.
“He’s not just an offensive coach, he’s not just a defensive coach, he’s an all-around stud of a coach who just really cares about you.”
Washington is the Pac-12 North division champion for the first time and has 11 wins for the first time since 2000 and the fourth time in its history. Yet even with the irregularity of those occurrences, the Huskies could have expected them once the Petersen administration came aboard. Seven of the 11 teams for which he’s been a head coach have won 11 games, and another won 10.
“We said it was a dream hire when we did it, we feel even stronger now than we did back then about what he brings to the table,” said Jennifer Cohen, Washington’s athletic director. “There’s so much more substance and depth to him than we ever knew we were getting when we hired him.
Cohen was the athletic department’s sport administrator for football when Petersen came aboard and joined her predecessor as AD, Scott Woodward, for the 90-minute interview in Boise three years ago that initiated Petersen’s migration to Seattle.
Cohen said she believes a football coach’s leadership and teaching style can set a tone for an athletic department, and she embraces that style too. She can even sound like a football coach.
“I think that you focus on the process,” Cohen said as she stood among exuberant players and families Friday. “You do the right work every day and you hope that the outcome like this happens. But we don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the outcome at all. We want them, we want those goals, we want to dominate the Pac-12 in all of our sports, but it’s not so much thinking about that every day as it’s doing the little things really well and trying to get better every day.”
Despite occupying the relatively prominent position of being the third-winningest active coach in college football, there continue to be misconceptions about Petersen. Namely, that his disinterest in public attention means a disinterest in interacting with people. In fact, it’s the opposite. He might not espouse an “enthusiasm unknown to mankind” — to borrow a phrase from another highly successful college football coach who happens to receive more attention than anyone in his field — but he does exude it. Just ask coaches who have witnessed his rugby tackling seminars or the players who witness his weekly talks on personal conduct and growth.