SEATTLE — From his new office, Chris Petersen could gaze toward the Husky Stadium scoreboard, which on Monday was adorned with his face. Alongside it was the message: “Welcome to the Petersen era.”
Beyond that scoreboard, within view of the football coach’s office is Union Bay, a nook of Lake Washington that welcomes commuters on the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge to Seattle.
It is a welcome sight for Petersen, a Northern Californian who long ago fell in love with the Northwest and doesn’t want to leave.
“I love the water,” Petersen said Monday, speaking with a handful of reporters shortly after his introductory press conference in the football operations center at Husky Stadium. “I love to be on a boat and be on the water. That’s something we do in the summer, (that) we’ve always done. Other than that, it’s football.”
A new kind, now.
Nearly five years to the day after UW introduced Steve Sarkisian as its new coach, Petersen donned suit and tie and waltzed through the same paces. He’s the new guy now, leaving behind Boise State, the program that he led for eight seasons, during which he won 92 games, a pair of BCS bowl games and two trophies touting him as the nation’s best coach.
This day felt different, despite the four-man squad of shirtless chest-painters who used their bodies to spell “P-E-T-E,” same as five years ago with “S-A-R-K.”
Petersen didn’t speak of victories or championships or Rose Bowl appearances, as Sarkisian did that day in 2008. He didn’t need to, perhaps because the new coach understands that unlike back then, those achievements are now more expectation than fantasy. Talk means little these days.
Instead, this was a time for Petersen, 49, to introduce his philosophies to a fan base eager to find out where he plans to take a program that won eight games this season for the first time since 2001.
“We’re going to play smart, fast, physical and unified football. There’s no doubt about it,” said Petersen, his tie purple, his slacks neatly pressed. “We’re going to recruit just awesome kids here. You talk about young men and turning them into real men. I think there’s such a misperception out there about what a real man is, and that’s a passion of mine, to really get some guys straight on what a real man looks like and what he does and how he plays and how he conducts himself.”
To that end, Petersen said he wants to recruit “OKGs” — short for “our kind of guys” — with an emphasis on academic and off-field performance.
He’s just not quite certain who will be doing that recruiting. Asked about the possible fate of the remaining assistants on UW’s staff — such as defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, or defensive line coach Tosh Lupoi, who strolled through the building Monday — Petersen said he doesn’t want to speculate about which of them might remain after the Huskies’ bowl game Dec. 27.
Nor, he said, can he say yet which assistants he plans to bring with him from Boise State, though running backs coach Keith Bhonapha appears to be a lock.
“We’re still working that out,” Petersen said. “I think in the next week or so, a lot of things are going to happen and play out. We don’t have an exact plan.”
This was Petersen speaking for the first time about leaving Boise, his home since 2001 when he began as an assistant. From a professional standpoint, it seemed he outgrew it, saying “it was just time” to move on.
“I think every place kind of has a shelf life. Sometimes it’s very short, sometimes it’s very long. Sometimes it’s in between,” Petersen said. “It was just time. We’ve done some really good things there. I think for me to take the next step as a coach, as a teacher, as a person, to grow, I needed to take that next step out of my comfort zone over there.”
He’s stepping into a bucketful of cash, too. Petersen will be paid $18 million over five years, according to a memorandum of understanding released by the school, making $3.2 million his first season and $4 million by Year 5. Those figures will make him the highest-paid coach in school history, the highest-paid public employee in the state of Washington and the highest-paid football coach at a public school in the Pac-12 Conference.
UW athletic director Scott Woodward said during a teleconference that Petersen is being paid market value. He made about $2.2 million per year at Boise State.
“He wants to be paid what he’s worth,” Woodward said, “and I want to pay him what he’s worth.”
Woodward met with Petersen in Boise on Thursday, which is when he offered him the job. Mutual interest was born earlier than that, Woodward said, and Petersen was the only coach the Huskies offered the job.
“He’s a class guy who runs a class program with an impeccable record, with impeccable integrity,” Woodward said. “Our type of guy and our type of coach. I thought at the end of the day, the answer to the equation was ‘fit,’ and I felt really comfortable about it.”
So does Petersen, who seemingly stepped out of one comfort zone and into another.
“This is where I’ve been. This is what I know. This is who I am,” Petersen said, asked of his affinity for the Northwest. “That’s certainly the biggest thing. Certainly I’ve been to Seattle a lot of times. I’ve never lived here, but I’m excited to do that. It’s a new challenge, a new chapter.”
uw introduces new football Coachchristian.caple@ thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/uwsports @ChristianCaple