University of Washington

Petersen takes the high road in spat with ESPN. ‘It is what it is’ Huskies coach says

UW coach Chris Petersen: 'Onward and upward, here we go.'

Remarks from his Monday press conference heading into ASU Saturday.
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Remarks from his Monday press conference heading into ASU Saturday.

It appears Washington Huskies football coach Chris Petersen won’t be taking the first step to mend fences with ESPN.

Especially after the network mockingly laid down a few cupcakes to belittle his team’s schedule during the broadcast of the Huskies-California game Saturday night.

A week after Petersen pointed out the issue of UW late kickoffs, including back-to-back 7:45 p.m. PDT starts against Cal, and this week at Arizona State, the coach was asked if he regretted making any of those comments.

“Not at all,” Petersen said in a stern voice during his weekly on-campus Monday press conference. “I spoke my mind.”

The question is, will this brouhaha finally die down, given the No. 5 Huskies have are back on ESPN this weekend?

It all started last Monday when Petersen, who admits he is normally not a “political guy,” complained about UW not having a kickoff this season before 5 p.m.

He called it “painful” for his program, the UW administration, and most importantly, all the fans who travel from all over the Northwest to attend the games.

“We want to play at 1 o’clock,” Petersen said.

He also noted the string of late games “hurts us tremendously in terms of national exposure,” adding no East Coast-based fans care to watch college football games that late.

“I just try to be honest,” Petersen said a week later. “There are certain times you do stand up for certain things, and then you move on.”

That is when notable ESPN personalities became irate.

During the “College GameDay” broadcast Saturday morning, analyst Kirk Herbstreit, who proclaimed himself an advocate for the Pac-12 for nearly two decades, said Petersen “should be thanking ESPN for actually having a relationship.”

Later Saturday, during the third quarter of the game broadcast, sideline reporter Quint Kessenich, a former All-American lacrosse goalkeeper who has worked with ESPN since 1993, laid down three cupcakes on the sideline turf at Husky Stadium to explain the difficulty of the Huskies’ non-conference schedule (Rutgers, Montana, Fresno State).

“Cupcake city,” Kessenich said.

Not always known as the most media-friendly college football coach, Petersen was described during the telecast by game analysts Mark Jones and Rod Gilmore as “irascibile” and “cantankerous.”

Petersen’s reaction to all of the ESPN antics?

“It is what it is,” he said.

“Like I said, we just need to move on ... It’s easy to get all caught up in all kinds of stuff that’s really not going to help you win games on Saturday.”

There might be one other issue that remains unsettled, and that is his pregame conversation Saturday with Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott.

Scott tried to smooth over the mini-controversy with reporters, and even on-air with Jones and Gilmore, saying the conference has enjoyed a boon in exposure and revenue since agreeing to the 12-year, $1.5 billion deal with the network.

He even mentioned that Petersen apologized for his comments, which the UW coach flatly denied Monday.

“I did not,” Petersen said. “I did tell him I thought things were blown out of proportion.”

What was evident Monday is that Petersen has full support from his administration — athletic director Jen Cohen praised her “first-class program and people” on Sunday via Twitter — and wants this to subside as quickly as possible.

EXTRA POINTS

Petersen did mention another topical issue that has been on his mind this week — Pac 12 bye-week distribution. The Sun Devils are coming off their bye week to play the Huskies, just like Oregon State did two weeks ago. And so will Washington State next month. “That is not ideal,” Petersen said. For the record, the UW will have a week off after the trip to ASU. ...

As far as Lincoln High School product Jusstis Warren scoring his first touchdown on offense Saturday, Petersen said he could be a full-time fullback if the offense was built that way. As it stands, the part-time outside linebacker will continue to serve as a de facto fullback on short-yardage plays. “He is a pretty big, physical guy that can move his feet pretty well,” Petersen said. ...

In the middle of his press conference, news broke that Oregon State coach Gary Andersen had been dismissed. It caught Petersen by surprise. “That’s hard. It’s too bad at least you can’t finish the season ... This is a tough business,” he said. ... The Huskies are up to No. 5 in the Associated Press media poll this week.

UW HUSKIES OPPONENT THIS WEEK

Arizona State Sun Devils (2-3, 1-1 in Pac-12 South)

7:45 p.m. Saturday, Sun Devil Stadium, Seattle, ESPN, 1000-AM, 97.7-FM

Coach: Todd Graham (41-29 in 6th year at ASU; 49-29 at previous stops at Rice and Tulsa).

Against the Bears: ASU leads, 18-16.

Scouting report: Even though Graham largely has had success in Tempe, there is heat on him to get the Sun Devils to a bowl game. They have talent over the field, led by QB Manny Wilkins (108 of 164, 1,452 yards, eight TDs, two INTs), whose success as a dual threat has been somewhat compromised by all the sacks he has taken (22). If he is given time to get the ball in the hands of sophomore WR N’Keal Harry (34 receptions, 476 yards, three TDs), that will only benefit ASU. But even if the Sun Devils somehow dent the stout UW defense, their own defense has given up 118 plays of 40 or more yards since 2012, most in the conference.

WSU COUGARS OPPONENT THIS WEEK

California Golden Bears (3-3, 0-3 in Pac-12 North)

7:30 p.m. Friday, Memorial Stadium, Berkeley, California, ESPN, 710-AM

Coach: Justin Wilcox (3-3 in 1st year at Cal).

Against the Bears: Cal leads, 46-27-5.

Scouting report: For a third consecutive weekend, the Bears will play a Pac-12 opponent from the Northwest. This will be the first one at home, however. Wilcox and company have to be concerned about the line protection for QB Ross Bowers (124 of 222, 1,437 yards, nine TDs, eight INT), who was sacked seven times Saturday in a 38-7 loss to the UW. And now WSU’s Hercules Mata’afa (4½ sacks) and Frankie Luvu (3½ sacks) comes to town? A positive is since his five-interception game against USC, Bowers has not thrown a pick in his last two games (Oregon and UW).

– Todd Milles, staff writer

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