University of Washington

‘He’s been that guy.’ Chris Petersen saw early coaching potential in Cal’s Justin Wilcox

Washington head coach Chris Petersen and California head coach Justin Wilcox meet after the game. The Washington Huskies played the California Golden Bears in a football game at Husky Stadium in Seattle, Wash., on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017.
Washington head coach Chris Petersen and California head coach Justin Wilcox meet after the game. The Washington Huskies played the California Golden Bears in a football game at Husky Stadium in Seattle, Wash., on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017. jbessex@gateline.com

Washington head coach Chris Petersen never tries to talk people into joining his profession. Between the long hours and the intensity, it’s not a job for just anyone. If the passion isn’t there, he said, it will show in the results.

But Petersen does take notice of players who show certain qualities: Unique and smart and always on top of their game. Players he knows will be successful no matter what path they choose. And then if they also happen show an interest in coaching?

“My antennas go up,” Petersen said.

Even then, there are no guarantees.

“It’s hard to know because playing and coaching (are) completely different,” Petersen said. “Everybody wants to keep playing and you kind of settle for the next best thing, which is about 100 rungs down from playing. There’s no substitute for playing. And so you coach, I guess.”

When Petersen and UW face Cal on Saturday, one of his former players will be standing on the opposite sideline. Golden Bears head coach Justin Wilcox was a defensive back at Oregon when Petersen was the wide receivers coach.

Back then, Petersen thought Wilcox might have coaching potential. Now, he’s just one of Petersen’s former players that successfully made the transition.

“Certain guys you’re around you always know, ‘OK, whatever this guy decides to do he’s going to do it really well,’” Petersen said. “(Wilcox has) been that guy.”

Two years after his Oregon career ended, Wilcox served as a graduate assistant at Boise State when Petersen was offensive coordinator. He then moved onto Cal, where he was the linebackers coach from 2003-2005.

When Petersen took over as Boise State’s head coach in 2006, he hired a 29-year-old Wilcox as his defensive coordinator. Wilcox was young, and it was his first coordinating job, but he was Petersen’s first choice from the very beginning.

“That speaks volumes right there,” Petersen said.

When it comes to hiring former players, Petersen prefers to have them coach elsewhere before returning to his staff. That’s the road Wilcox took. So did UW offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan, who played quarterback under Petersen at Boise State. He coached at six different schools before landing with the Huskies the first time in 2015.

“I think that’s healthier,” Petersen said. “I think they need to go see how someone else does it and then maybe appreciate some of the things we’ve been trying to do with them. … And then you get them back, which gives them a different perspective.

“Not that we have all the answers by any stretch, but that there is a different way to do things and be successful. And that’s how you build your philosophy.”

Injury updates

Petersen said he’s “still hopeful” running back Myles Gaskin will play against Cal. Gaskin was injured against Oregon and didn’t play against Colorado.

After saying Monday that tight end Hunter Bryant was getting close to returning, Petersen said Thursday Bryant was “getting closer.”

“We plan way in advance,” Petersen said of Bryant’s eventual return. “So much of that comes through the doctors and you try to project and then you’re planning and tweaking your plan a you go. And you want to make sure you’re doing right by him.”

Linebacker DJ Beavers hasn’t played since Auburn and Petersen called his injury “a frustrating one.”

“If a guy is going to be out as long as he’s been out, we’d say that from that,” he said. “And we thought he was going to be back in a couple of weeks but he just hasn’t healed like we all thought he would.

When Beavers was first injured, Petersen said UW didn’t think it was as significant as last year. Beavers missed all but five games in 2017 after suffering an injury in fall camp.

“We’re kind of right back to where we were,” he said. “It’s frustrating. And that’s why it’s hard to comment on this stuff sometimes because we think we’re going to get a guy back and we don’t. And then we think we’re going to get a guy back and we do. So we do the best we can. Hopefully, we’ll get him back before it’s all said and done.”

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