Given the mind-numbingly dull nature of Pac-12 media days – now televised! With fans invited! – I wanted to ask Washington Huskies coach Chris Petersen about something other than the ever-mounting preseason hype surrounding his football team (don’t worry, we talked about that, too).
So we talked politics.
Petersen and his family traveled to England and France this summer, visiting London, Normandy and Paris. And they happened to be in London on June 23, when voters in the United Kingdom caused international uproar by narrowly supporting a referendum – known colloquially as “Brexit” – to leave the European Union.
Like many folks in the United States (hand raised), Petersen wasn’t familiar with the referendum until just before it happened.
“My wife, about a week before, said, ‘are you familiar with Brexit?’ I’m like, ‘what? Breakfast?,’” Petersen said. “So I read up on it, and then when we got there and we had some guides and we were talking to people, you could see how passionate everyone was, from the taxicab drivers, it was on the radio, it was on everything. So we really got into it.”
Petersen said being in London for the vote was educational, particularly because of how differently older voters and younger voters viewed the issue.
“I wish we had our team there to see all the stuff,” he said.
Petersen said he relayed the experience to his players, with whom he often engages about non-football topics.
“Talking about shootings, talking about terrorism, talking about the world we live in, talking about Brexit,” he said. “It’s not just unique to our country. It’s like, what’s going on in the world. A lot of people are frustrated. For us to not talk about what’s going on … we’re always going to have conversations about that stuff.
“… (That’s) one of the reasons these guys are at the University of Washington. Not just to win conference championships, and not just to get a degree, but to pay attention to what’s going on in the world, and have an opinion, an educated opinion, and bring wisdom to it.”
Other things we discussed during a 25-minute sit-down …
--- When it came time to extend the contracts of UW’s assistant coaches last winter, each of them received a two-year extension … except for offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith, whose deal was only extended for one season.
UW scored only 29 points per game against Pac-12 competition in 2015, which ranked 10th in the conference. The Huskies’ offensive struggles led to frequent criticism of Smith, whom Petersen has defended throughout the past two seasons.
Considering the one-year extension, though, is this season make-or-break for Smith?
“First of all, Jonathan Smith is a good football coach,” Petersen told the News Tribune on Friday. “I’ve been around a lot of coaches, and not to try to sound arrogant or whatever, but I think I know a good coach when I see a good coach. How he treats the kids, how he strategizes, how he schemes, how he treats other coaches. I mean, there’s a lot to being a really good coach. He’s a good football coach.
“But at the end of the day, everybody’s got their area of responsibility, and there’s nobody out there who doesn’t know, hey, one of the things we have to do to take the next step is score more points. We’ve got to get better on offense. And we will. I have every bit of confidence that we’re going to.”
--- UW’s athletic department reported a nearly $15 million deficit in the 2016 fiscal year, and new athletic director Jen Cohen has stressed the importance of selling more tickets for home games at Husky Stadium to improve the financial situation.
Petersen said that while he tries not to worry about the attendance, it is “absolutely” a concern. UW averaged only 61,919 fans per home game in 2015. Capacity is just north of 70,000.
“When you say this is the greatest setting in college football – and I believe that, and that’s one of the reasons I came here – to me it’s only the greatest setting in college football when that stadium is jam-packed and the energy and the passion is in there like it was in the old days when I used to come up here and play against (UW),” he said. “It didn’t matter who it was, what the team’s record was, they were there in full force. That, to me, was the greatest setting.
“… What comes first, the chicken or the egg? If you win, they’re going to come. You don’t win, they’re waiting. My message to our fans is that we’re in this together. And so we’ve got to do this together. So even if we haven’t (won a lot recently), let’s pack the place, and eventually it will come. It’s a process. It will. I know that from the bottom of my heart, that it’ll come.”