Huskies coach Chris Petersen, UW athletic director Jennifer Cohen and Peach Bowl CEO Gary Stokan got together for a press conference earlier this afternoon in Seattle. Here is everything they said, including a pretty thorough rundown of bowl-week events for players and fans.
PEACH BOWL CEO GARY STOKAN
“We pride ourselves on being full Southern hospitality. We like to think we have the best staff in the bowl business. We know we have the best volunteers, and undoubtedly the best sponsor - the second-longest sponsor in all the bowl games is Chick-fil-A. They are the underpinning of a lot of college football you see from week to week, so we’re very blessed in Atlanta to have that kind of staff and volunteer and partnership with our title sponsor.
“Just an overview of our game - obviously number four Washington versus number one Alabama in the semifinal game. Washington is 12-1, 8-1. Alabama at 13-0, 8-0. We think it’s the best matchup of the bowl season. They say great fights are made from styles. You have the number-one defense in the country against the number-four scoring offense. You have in Washington you have the number-one team in turnover margin and number 10 in defense. We have 16 All-SEC and All-Pac-12 first team players playing in this game, and five national award winners. We have the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year, the Freshman of the Year, we have the SEC Freshman of the Year and the SEC Player of the Year on offense.
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“It all starts with the coaches. You have in Chris Petersen and Nick Saban two winners of the Dodd Trophy, which is the most coveted college coaching award in the country basically because it’s built on scholarship, leadership and integrity. We have two coaches that do it the right way. Not only are they great coaches on the field, but what they do off the field is very meaningful to the game of college football. We’re humbly very proud to be able to host both coach Petersen and coach Saban and their teams.
“I would like to also tell you a little bit about the bowl game. I don’t think we’ve had a Pac-12 since 1970 when Arizona State, when they weren’t even in the Pac-12 then, play in our game. So this is kind of great for us to be in the college football playoff now. We’ve had a Big-12 team, an American Athletic last year with Houston, and now we have the Pac-12 joining us in Atlanta. We’ll play at noon on December 31st on ESPN, and the road to the National Championship comes through Atlanta this year. This will be the most significant college football game ever played in Atlanta - until next year when we host the National Championship game in Atlanta.
“Everything we’ve done as a bowl in our 49-year history is to get ready for this game. We take great pride in being a New Year’s six game now and mentioned in the same sentence as the Rose and the Sugar and the Orange and the Cotton - bowls that are 82 to 102 years old. You guys know the Rose Bowl very well obviously at 102 years old and we’re only 49 years old, so we’re kind of the baby. We take pride in all the effort and hard work we’ve put in and look forward to hosting the media, the administration, the team, the fans of the Dawgs.
“One of the most competitive bowls in the country. Fifty-four percent of our games have been decided by a touchdown or less. Our team payout will be six million dollars - four million dollars to the team and two million in travel expenses.
“We were built in 1968 to be a charitable bowl game, and we take that very serious in our mission. Since 2002 we’ve given away 21 million dollars back to scholarship and charitable donations to various schools around the country and to our state of Georgia. This year we’ll give 1.7 million dollars out just this year alone and for this game we’ll give out 100,000 dollars between us and Chick-fil-A. We’ll combine together and give 100,000 dollars in endowed scholarship to the President of the University of Washington. We’ll start an endowed scholarship here at U-Dub.
“With all that background on our game and official welcome, we’re really here to hear about coach Petersen and from AD Jen Cohen. So I’d like to officially - hopefully she will accept this. This is a letter of invitation to play in the 49th Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, the college football semifinal game. So Jen, there you go. Hopefully you accept.”
“We accept, yeah! Thank you so much Gary. The University of Washington is just thrilled and honored to be able to play in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl and to be playing in the college football playoff. It’s a real honor for our university. We’re really looking forward to a first class experience for our student-athletes and for our coaches and our fans in Atlanta. So thank you so much.”
“We’re extremely excited to be going. We’re not so thrilled about the matchup (laughs). We’re excited. We’re so pleased and proud and really of our players. How hard those guys have worked, how far we’ve come and in pretty short period of time. Our coaches as well. I think this whole crew has been very, very driven to get to this point. We’re excited. We know the challenge we have coming in terms of Alabama. We’ve seen the tape. Our guys haven’t seen a whole lot of it yet. They are finishing up finals this week, but our coaches have. And it is one heck of a team. It’ll be a tremendous challenge. But I said this before: this is why these kids came to Washington. Whether we play in this very challenging league to get an opportunity to play some programs outside of our conference that are as renowned as Alabama, and then to have this type of team - I think this is one of the better teams that coach Saban has had since he’s been there. And that says a lot. It’s an exciting time for us. It’ll be an exciting game. I’m really excited to see our guys compete at this level. Every time they’ve been challenged they’ve risen up and performed well. We’ll have to be at our best to do what we want to do, for sure.”
PEACH BOWL CEO GARY STOKAN
“You should know that coach Pete is 1-0 in the Georgia Dome, so he likes playing in the Georgia Dome. He beat a highly-ranked team in Georgia in the 2011 Chick-fil-A Kickoff game. We really look forward to hosting everybody back in 2018 for our Chick-fil-A Kickoff game against Auburn, which we think will be a tremendous way to start the season for college football, for the University of Washington and Auburn.”
“Coach Petersen mentioned the players. Everything that we’ve done as a bowl game we focus on a reward for the players. We do a great job with the fans and we love hosting people southern hospitality wise. Everything we do, the events we do for the bowl game, are built of the players. They’re the ones that during the winter, the spring, the summer, they give up their time. They’re working out so we want to make special memories for them. We use a them ‘Live, Laugh, and Learn.’ The players are going to live great. They’re going to stay in a beautiful hotel. They’re going to go to great events. They’re going to get great gifts. They’re going to eat great food, like Chik-Fil-A. They’re going to play in great facilities. They’re going to live really, really good that week. Laugh, we don’t have banquets. We have a battle for bowl week. We have a 30 pound WWE belt that the players compete every night after they’ve had practice and film and meetings and everything. We want to give them a little levity. If you talk to players, all they want to do is compete. It doesn’t matter whether it’s ping pong or whatever. They’re going to go carting, cart racing. They’re going to bowl. They’re going to make Chik-Fil-A milkshakes. They’re going to have a family feud and they’re going to shoot basketball. Those are the five events. So Coach Petersen, you have to get them practicing that as well. Maybe take a five minute practice. That’s the laugh part. We want them to have fun.
“The learn part, we take it very seriously that these are student athletes. They’re young people. We want to create memories. There’s two special things that we do. I think the one thing is the best thing in the bowl business. We’ll take both teams into Ebenezer Baptist Church where Doctor King actually was pastor and spoke form the pulpit. Both team sitting together, we’re going to have Congressman Lewis, who if you’ve seen the movie ‘Selma’, he led the march across the Selma Bridge And Doctor Vivian, who just last year won the presidential medal of honor from President Obama. Both of them were in the executive committee with Doctor King in the Civil Rights Moment. And to hear Congressman Lewis to talk at 19 years old, to all the student-athletes who are 19-20 out there when he was in charge of the students movement. Before he walked across the Selma Bridge he put on a backpack. Everyone of those kids sitting out in the pews there has a backpack on, right? He put a book, toothpaste, toothbrush, and an apple in that backpack because he knew he was going to jail when as he led the march across the bridge. He marched across the bridge, hit over the head, concussion, bleeding. He didn’t get rushed to the hospital; he got rushed to jail. And to hear those kinds of stories and to hear a lot of the student-athletes ask questions after and thank Congressman Lewis and Doctor Vivian for the opportunities that now exist for them, it’s pretty powerful. Very learning, memorable experience.
“Secondly, we take the kids during that time to give back. The kid’s and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta three, four, five years old. Some of them, they didn’t get out of that hospital for Christmas and they’re never going to get out of that hospital. To see these big guys come in and spend some time to make those kids’ day for an hour is really, really special during the Christmas season. Those are two things we do about learning for the kids to learn to give back during that time. We think our bowl week is really, very special and I know the players are going to enjoy that. Finally, a little about what you’ll see in Atlanta. We have a short video that if you’ll watch the screen it will give you a little idea of how we feel about this game and how fired up we are about it.”
PEACH BOWL COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR MATT GARVEY
“I will note the winner of the battle for bowl week belt has gone onto win the game six straight years. So don’t take it lightly, coach. It’s a big deal.”
PEACH BOWL CEO GARY STOKAN
“If I can, for the fans, too, the College Football Hall of Fame is down in Atlanta, which is a great, great place for all fans to get an experience with the University of Washington, but also get a complete experience of college football. Secondly, our game day starts with a parade that will go through Centennial Olympic Park and run into fanfest, and at fanfest, the Washington band and cheerleaders will be on the big stage and the team will actually walk through with Coach Petersen, through the fans. The last people they’ll see are their families before they walk into the Georgia Dome to go to the locker room. It’s kind of a unique day, unique experience for not only the players, but the players’ families, and for the fans to get ready to kickoff Dec. 31.”
(On the message to players about outside noise, talk of how good Alabama is, etc.) “We’re not trying to block it out, and I don’t think that’s realistic, just like you’re saying. So we just talk to our kids all the time about where they need to focus. They’re going to hear it. They’re going to know what everybody says, for the most part. But what do we think about, what do we pay attention to, where do we focus? How do we treat all this attention coming their way? And they’ve been great about it, because it’s been since the summertime. We had a lot of focus on us, really undeservedly so, and they understood that. So that was really obnoxious and annoying to a lot of us, and then they started to play good and win games and earn some of that attention. But then we just talked about how we keep that in check, and what’s important. And so they’ve been great about it. But we don’t ignore it. We don’t just block it out. I don’t think it’s realistic. But we do try to figure out how to keep straight on the train tracks, so to speak.”
(On whether he’s noticed recruits being more receptive or impressed by UW’s success this season) “I think it’s such a process. I really don’t. I think there’s been great buzz since we came here. That’s why we’re playing in this game – because we got really good players three years ago. So I think you just stick to your process, you recruit the right kids. Washington sells itself in so many ways when these kids just do their homework. I think the football part of things, they’re starting to understand and get. But I think it’s more than just coming here for big-time football. I’ve said that from the start, so I don’t think it’s like, ‘OK, now here we are.’ I think the football part, they’re really starting to see and believe what we’ve been talking about, so that’s nice. But this is just only part of coming to Washington. This is half the deal. The other half is everything we’ve been saying from the start, and that’s why a lot of these good players have come here the last couple years anyway.”
(Does this feel at all like when you were at Boise State and a big underdog against Oklahoma?) “I don’t even remember that was so long ago. I just know it’s a big game. We’ve played in a lot of big games over the years. We’ve played in some big games this year. I know usually when we play in games like that, our guys may be a little more on point and you feel a different energy and those type of things. So that’s nice to be involved with that. But like I’ve said, these kids, the reason we’re playing in this game is because they’ve done such a great job all year long. They haven’t missed a beat. Even when we played SC and didn’t play our best, they were preparing hard and they were focused on the right things and you play good teams and sometimes it doesn’t all go your way. But it’s been good all year long, and we’ll get through our finals this week and then get re-focused in.”
(On how his bowl preparation has changed since his first bowl game as a head coach) “You’ve got so much time on your hands. It’s a lot of time to … sometimes you get out of your routine of, like, making decisions. You have all this time to look at all this tape and sometimes that can almost be paralyzing. So one thing that we do a little different is we really always pay attention to ourselves, first and foremost. And then get on to the game-planning aspect of things. So that’s one thing that might be slightly different, just in terms of how we focus with all this time that we have on our hands.”
(Flying down on Christmas Day?) “Yep.”
(Practicing at the Georgia Dome at all?) “I think we’re there in it maybe three times. Two practices and then I think we’ll practice a couple times at Georgia State. We’re still kind of exactly mapping that out, but that’s what it looks like is going to happen with the schedule that we have.”
(On UW seniors’ approach to their final game) “I don’t know. You’d have to ask them that. But I really appreciate those guys, and I’ve said that all along. Those guys are awesome and we love ‘em. Those guys who are senior and had been here before I got here, I have a really special place in my heart for those guys because there are a lot of guys that are not here, you know. It always works out how it’s supposed to be. Not everybody can do this. And in some ways we take pride in that. If everybody can do this, we don’t have this thing set up right. This thing is for the special and the few. And when they do it right, I think you can see what can happen here. So I’m really, really proud of those guys. … Nobody likes change, but change is all about growth, and I think these kids have grown tremendously going through a change and are in a much different mindset to go through hard stuff. Because change can be hard on everybody. But when you do it the right way, there’s a tremendous benefit at the end.”
(You’ve kept a sense of humor about the challenge Alabama presents, but now that you’ve studied more film how different of a challenge is this compared to what you’ve seen this season?) “You know, probably the best college team I’ve seen. So what can you do but keep humor about it? I mean, these are some — top to bottom, there’s no weaknesses out there. There’s no players, like, ‘Well, he’s a freshman …’ If he’s a freshman, he’s a freshman All-American (and) a whatever-star recruit. They’re good. They’re coached well. And the thing that I’m as impressed with (as) anything in that program is how they recruit. They get great talent and then he does a great job with the culture of their program — playing hard and all those things. There’s no weaknesses, you know. But that’s OK. It’s going to challenge us to be at our best and see what we look like when we’re at our best and where we are in our evolution of playing against the best.”
(Jen, do you have a ticket update?) “I don’t have a number for you, but we just opened up sales to Husky fans who aren’t season-ticket holders today, so we expect to go through the rest of our allotment by the end of this week. They’ve been incredible. Atlanta’s a great city. It’s also, geographically, a little ways away, but our fans have really stepped up, but Husky fans have stepped up all season long for us.”
(Chris, in the USC game you had to rely on a lot of young guys. Defensively, you had lost Joe Mathis earlier and then Azeem Victor went down in the second quarter. How much better can you get with a month to prepare now?) “I sure hope — and we need to get better, for sure. And that’s the one thing I told our guys: We’re not going to do this bowl preparation where we’re wearing our guys out. We’re very mindful of that. With that being said, when we go to practice, when we go to lift weights, when we go to run, we need these guys on point. They’re doing a little lifting and doing a little running ony during the finals week on their time, but I don’t want them coming in here going through the motions, just kind of, oh, that was kind of a good workout. It needs to be to build skill and improve. We need to get better by the time we play. I think they’ll be on point with that. But it’s also a fine line with, Wow much do you really get after it in live situations and all that? There’s a delicate balance to how to get better and how to get ready for that game, but I think all coaches are trying to figure out the right balance of that. We, without question, we need to not waste one second of meeting time or one second of practice time because we’re not going to be out there (for) 15 practices and these long practice where (it feels) like another spring practice. That’s just not our style.”
(Chris, players who are either redshirting or hurt, will they all travel to Atlanta?) “Yeah, everybody will go, for the most part. There may be an exception or two that they don’t go, if they have something else going on. But I think everybody wants to be part of this.”
(Has anything changed with the availability of Joe Mathis or Azeem Victor?) “No, they’re not playing.”
(On fun bowl week competitions being similar to Husky Olympics during fall camp) “Yeah, (Stokan) doesn’t know we’re already good at that stuff (laughs). … So I’ve been a part of one of Gary’s games, the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic back there and it’s first-class. It’s awesome. They pride themselves on that. And so to have a week back there with their hospitality is going to be great for our guys, and I couldn’t agree more with their statement of living and laughing and learning. That just ties into what we’re all about. I want these guys to really enjoy this thing and have a great time. So really excited about that. It fits what we’re all about here and things we have on tap for the kids educationally, and even the College Football Hall of Fame. I was just back there (in Atlanta last week) and really didn’t get a chance to (visit), just went through it for 30 seconds. I can’t wait to go back and really look at that whole setup as well. I think it’s going to be an awesome week besides the football.”