Huskies coach Chris Petersen met with reporters on Sunday afternoon for the final time before the team’s Monday departure to Dallas. UW faces Southern Mississippi on Dec. 26 in the Heart of Dallas Bowl at the Cotton Bowl stadium.
Here is everything Petersen said on Sunday, including an update on the search for a defensive line coach and a breakdown of the promotions given to assistant coaches Jimmy Lake and Bob Gregory.
(Feel like it’s time to leave?) “Yeah, it’s gone kinda quick. We haven’t had a bunch of practices - we had two good ones, just got done with finals. But they were two good practices and we’ll travel tomorrow, get back into polishing everything up.”
(Sounds like you went live more, tried to get more energy going) “We definitely don’t want to go through the motions. You get late into the season and you get into a routine, you cut practice down and games are physical, and so we’ve had more time to heal up. You need to change things; it’s not business as usual. So practices have been a little bit different, just trying to get really good work than just going through the motions.”
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(Sounded like you guys were having fun out there today) “Just competing. Just a little two-minute drill. I don’t think anybody wants to run extra, so they were playing hard.”
(What’s the practice schedule like?) “It’s pretty much a normal game week. Monday is usually our day off, so we travel. Then Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday we’ll do some things on the field. Friday (Christmas) is kind of a walk-through type day and then Saturday we play - so it lines up well.”
(Doing some other fun things in Dallas?) “So we have enough planned, and we do. We have a couple of events. And the one thing we’ve kind of learned through the years is - if you have a bunch of things, it’s distracting. It wears the guys out. So you pick and choose your spots, and when I look at the schedule it looks just about right. They’ll have some fun, but we’re going down there to play a game and try and play our best. And to do that we need it done a certain way.”
(What is the biggest thing you learned from last year’s bowl game?) “I think you can work hard and still go out and get hit right in the mouth if you don’t show up to play your best football of the year - that’s what I think. Last year, Oklahoma State had more of an edge, played harder and it showed up on the field. I know this; Southern Miss is a good team. I mean, a really good team. When you watch all their tapes and what they’re doing…there’s a reason they are ranked and all these categories across…offense, defense, everything. So we’ve got our hands full. So we better go play our best game. I really wish that we probably could have played this game a week after the Apple Cup, because we were in a good rhythm. But now that’s kind of all out; we haven’t played real football for a long time. There’s no easing into this. We’ve got to be ready to play and play fast and right from the get-go.”
(How can you flip the unknown factor of each team to your advantage?) “I think the one thing that’s good is that we’ve had time, and our guys are pretty smart guys in terms of when they watch tape they can see good players and good teams. They’ve had a chance to do that and say, ‘This is a good team we’re playing. This is a real good team’. I know their motivation to play us, so I think it’s a good matchup. You’re going to have two teams playing really hard and we’re going to have to play our best football. And that’s what I hope we can do. I think we were playing our best ball as the season ended. It’s hard to jump right back into where you left off, but we need to do that to have a chance against these guys.”
(Some players said they’re looking at this game as the first game of next season) “I look at it like this is the last game of this season, and we’ve had a lot of struggles through the year, and a lot of good struggles, a lot of growth. And I think the last couple games, the kids have played really well. We all know this is the final, final game, and it won’t be fun if we don’t play our best football. It won’t feel good. It felt terrible last year. And hopefully we’ve learned from that.”
(What was the thought process behind Jimmy Lake’s promotion and Bob Gregory taking over special teams?) “We’ve got some spectacular coaches, I really think. I think the results speak for themselves. That side of the ball is just really interesting and special, one, how they all work together. I think it starts with Pete Kwiatkowski, just does a great job with all of those guys and they all like to coach together. But it’s not any one guy’s final decision or show. I think Pete at the end of the day calls the game, but he gets tremendous input from all those coaches, and certainly in that pass game, it all comes from Jimmy Lake, and they just work really well together. And I’ve said this, it’s like we’ve had a few coordinators on that side of the ball. So I think the promotion for Jimmy is well-deserved. He’s a really, really good coach and it’s well deserved and it’s fitting. I think with Bob Gregory going to special teams, he knows how we do things. It’s more than just scheme on special teams – it’s how we practice, how we teach fundamental football. I think Bob is one of the best coaches around as well, and I think we need to do more with him, and I think this is an opportunity to do that.”
(Did you have some other teams come at Jimmy Lake with job offers?) “We have guys coming at all of our coaches. When you have good coaches, they’re going to come try to get them. So what we’ve always said is we try to take care of them as much as we can. We try to make this job one of the best jobs they’ve ever had. But with that being said, we’re always about helping guys achieve their goals, so if there’s a job that fits what they’re all about and that’s really what they had in their sights, just like Coach Choate being a head coach in Montana – that’s what we want to help them do.”
(What will be hard to replace about Jeff Choate on special teams?) “It’s not just special teams. When a coach kind of has that ‘it’ factor – when we hired him way back when, he coached the running backs. He’s coached three different things for us, so it doesn’t really matter. He can coach whatever. He recruits the right type of guys. He recruits with passion. He does everything with passion. And so it’s not just special teams. He just carries that mindset over into that phase of football. It’s always hard to lose a guy like that, but I think the University of Washington can attract the best of the best, so we’re excited as we move forward to fill that position.”
(Rumors about new D-line coach – will there be an announcement on that?) “Soon. I know how things go around here, and things get out really fast and all that, but sometimes my hands are tied in terms of when we announce things and all that. But we’ll get it out as soon as we can.”
(Did you want to make that hire as soon as possible?) “Our plan’s always as soon as possible, because there’s no secrets anytime, anywhere around here. But it’s not always on my timetable.”
(With Lake a co-DC, do you anticipate any changes to how those responsibilities are divvied up?) “It’s always about growth around here and how we can give guys more responsibility. Those guys have a nice rhythm to their side of the ball in terms of how they do things, but we’re always looking to tweak things — to not just make it the same, even when it’s really good. So we’ll continue to look at that.”
(Bush Hamdan said you were the reason he got into coaching …) “I hope he doesn’t put that on me (smiles). That’s not a nice thing to do. … We have such a history with Bush. I’ve said this for a long time: Some of the things we did over at Boise State, the way that program changed, the culture changed, was because of a lot of guys, but he was one of the main guys that changed that program in my mind. And he wasn’t even a starting player. The things he was all about, how he was as a ‘team’ guy, the respect that he commanded. So he’s that type of person. He’s gone through different travels (to) improve his coaching craft, and it has just all the lined up that he is really ready to do this job, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to have a guy that I have that history with, that I trust that much, being on this staff.”
(Was it a slam-dunk decision to promote Hamdan?) “You’re always trying to consider all options and you want to do the very best thing for this program. And, like I said, I think we can get the best of the best here at Washington, and when we sat back and really analyzed the whole thing, the best of the best in our opinion was sitting right there in our meeting rooms every single day.”
(Considering his past experience, were you surprised you were able to hire him as a quality-control coach earlier this year? He said this was probably the only staff he would have come to in that capacity) “I almost didn’t even make the call to him when we had this. But I know he has family here and that was really the only reason I did that. Because I wasn’t even sure this would be the right thing for him. I was kind of torn on it; he was a coordinator at (Davidson) and that’s tremendous experience, and I know he liked it there. So I was kind of middle of the road. When I reach out to one of our guys, I want it to be a good thing for them … is this going to help him grow? And I think it did in a lot of ways. So I’m glad I made the call.”
(On how Bush Hamdan’s roles on game day will change) “Game days everybody is in a pretty good rhythm. And really what had happened, coach Pease when we started a series would give the play to the quarterbacks and away we go. Bush (Hamdan) will do that now. Other than that there’s not a whole lot that’s different. Game day we have things pretty dialed in and guys have different roles and those things. It’s not going to be much different.”
(On how the receivers have responded to coach Hamdan) “I think it’s been good. I think any time you just get different energy in there it’s going to be different, which is really what I was hoping for. Just a spark of some sort. So I think all the practices we’ve had have been good. At the end of the day it’s not about practicing good and that’s one part of it. It’s about playing good. I’m anxious to see these guys play and compete hard. It’s about building skill. It’s about competing hard. It’s about playing with a smile on your face. And I’ve seen that out of those guys out there so I’m excited to watch them play.”
(On the seniors) “Yeah, same thing for those guys. This is an important game for both teams. Everybody knows that. Everybody wants to send their seniors out in a positive fashion and everybody wants to finish their season as a group in a positive fashion. That’s why I think you see a lot of tight, hard-fought bowl games. You can see in the little that we’ve had, some teams might start faster than others. But then at the end of the game it’s a pretty good game. These are important games to the programs.”
(On Azeem Victor’s playing style) “I love how Azeem (Victor) plays. He plays the game like it needs to be played. And I mean that with the passion, but I also mean he’s a good fundamental football player. He’s a very physical guy. He sees the blocks quickly. He’s one of those guys that – you know, he’s a young player. And so we’re always educating all of our guys on certain areas of the field we have to be really smart, quarterbacks, those type of things. When guys play for the right reasons and with passion we love those guys.”
(On if he felt a need to defend Azeem Victor for some heat he received for a few of his hits) “No. There are things that happen out there that are going to be split-second decisions. We’re not into dirty football or paying attention to the head, so stay away from it and shoulder tackle. All these things are on going around here. Our guys get that and know that. Now it’s a fast, physical, violent game. We just have to continually practice at that speed. So much of it is instincts and reaction. You don’t even have time to think. We’re trying to build those instincts into our thinking skills. And I think he’s made great progress.”
(On non-football activities this week) “We’re going to do Star Wars, a little golf, a little JKF. Yeah, we’ve got a few things going.”