With the first day of fall camp just four days away, Washington Huskies coach Chris Petersen joined John Clayton on 710 ESPN on Thursday morning to discuss the upcoming season. It was a wide-ranging conversation, and worth a listen. You can listen on the link, and read the transcript of the interview below.
(On being ranked 18th in the preseason coaches poll) “Those preseason rankings, to us, are just a bunch of nonsense. They would have us all over the board, and it really just doesn’t mean anything, and I’ve kind of said that for a long time. Let us go to work. Let us play some games, and then we can talk about some of that stuff. And usually, not many people talk about it once you get into the middle of the season, because there’s so much more to talk about at that time. We’re into rankings when the season’s over. We think those are important. So we’re just kind of in that part of the season where the pros have just started, the colleges still haven’t, so we’re still kind of talking about preseason rankings, which, we’ll see at the end of the season how right or how wrong people were.”
(On how he feels about his team heading into the 2016 season) “We feel good about our guys, we do. We really like ‘em. I think they’re a good group of kids that are really about working hard, they’ve improved, they’re a pretty unified group, I think. So we feel good about all those things. I think the one thing that maybe people in the west realize, but I don’t think people realize (in) the rest of the country, is really how good, how much parity there is in the Pac-12 right now. I knew that before coming to Washington, but it was just extremely validated being here the last couple years. On any given night, you truly need to bring your A-game, or else you’re going to get beat. That’s hard to do. You wouldn’t think it is, but every week, to play your very best, and if you don’t, that other team has their fastball? You’re going to get beat.”
(On the Pac-12 getting more respect compared to the SEC and other conferences) “I would hope so, because we all have a bunch of coaching buddies that have been all over, and there’s some back east, and those guys realize how balanced and how competitive, top to bottom, this league is right now. It’s never been more competitive, in my opinion. Since I (for) over 30 years have been paying attention to the Pac-12, it’s never been more competitive and more balanced. So I think it’s important that everybody does know that when you’re going to rank teams and pay attention to who should do what in the postseason.”
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(On what UW has to do to catch up to Stanford and Oregon) “Well, I think the two things are, they have a lot of history of winning and plying in big-time bowl games. They’ve done it recently, and they’ve done it for a while, so that’s, I think, their advantage. Those kids and those coaches, they know what it looks like and what it feels like and how hard that is. And I think the rest of us are trying to catch up there. but I think really, we don’t really focus too much on those guys. It’s just really about ourselves and we know we have to get better, we have to build more skill around here. I mean, last year, our kids, we were proud of them, we battled hard, we improved. But really at the end of the day we just weren’t good enough. We were in just about every game, we had chances to win at the end, and we didn’t, and why not? Well, we just really weren’t good enough. So now we’re just going to see if from what we’ve done in the offseason, fall camp, if we’ve taken a step and we’re better than we were last year. That’s still to be determined, but we do like our guys, we like their focus and their work ethic and those type of things.”
(On the defense being so good last year, somewhat unexpectedly) “The thing that was nice about that, everybody focuses on those kind of star, marquee names and players, and rightly so. But I think what had happened is we had some good young players here that didn’t have a lot of attention, and we recruited some pretty good young players that hadn’t played, so no one really knew about that. That’s why we kind of shake our head a little bit about the preseason prognosticators. Last year, we were going to be the last-place defense in the league with all the great players that we lost, and our defense happened to be the best, stat-wise, in the Pac-12. It’s just so hard to know in college football what’s going to happen. we’re dealing with these kids that are 18 and 19 and 20 years old, and so much can happen in a year, good, some not so good. There’s just so many unknown things. That’s what happened to us last year. There was a lot of unknown that people didn’t know about, and the kids really stepped up, played with a chip on their shoulder and improved each week.”
(On playing last season with a freshman quarterback) “We were pleased with Jake (Browning). It’s so hard at any position to come into this league and play as a true freshman, let alone at that quarterback position, because it doesn’t matter what style of offense you run, it could be an option offense, but if you don’t have a really good quarterback, a really big-time guy, you’re not going to win games. So we feel good about Jake. He did a good job for being a first-year player. But we don’t want to have any ‘buts,’ and as we move forward, he’s not a first-year player. He’s got a bunch of experience. And I think from spring ball, he’s taken the next step, and continues to impress and improve. And I think the key is getting everybody around him to take that next step and improve their game. If they can, we’ll score more points, which is no question what this team needs to do, is score more points.”
(On how good Jake Browning can be) “That’s a great question. I think he’s a pretty focused, pretty driven, really competitive guy that will put the work in to continually get better. I think he’s a really good pocket passer, which is what we always want. He’s not necessarily a runner, but he moves well enough to buy time, to create some space. He gets out of some things where we’re like, ‘how in the world did he do that?’ You wouldn’t think he could be able to do that. So I think that it’s going to be all of these subtle nuances that take a guy from being pretty solid to really good. A lot of people don’t know why, but it’s thousands of reps, being great in the pocket, delivering the ball with tremendous anticipation and doing it with a lot of accuracy. He knows, we know he can get better in those areas, and he is. So we’re excited to see, and I think only time will tell, really, how good he really is.”
(On something specific they would like Browning to improve) “I think one thing that we always kind of try to be fanatical about with our quarterback around is having that strike-point accuracy. There’s a lot of times a quarterback throws balls where the receiver should have caught it, no doubt about it, but when the quarterback puts the ball exactly where it’s supposed to be placed, there’s just – you almost catch it for him. That’s what we say. That ball’s just caught for him, when you put it like that and he doesn’t have to reach, stretch, break stride. You’re going to complete a lot of balls like that. I think that’s the thing, just having the next step of what we would say is strike-point accuracy around here.”
(On where the program is at in terms of establishing philosophy) “We feel really good where our team is right now. I think that coaches are so impatient, and like you said, never satisfied. I thought that we might have felt better about things – it’s so competitive and who knows what happens, but it’s like, we feel like our guys are really on the same page as us as coaches. They really have a chip on their shoulder, all those things. Really thinking like we think as a coaching staff. I thought that might have happened earlier. I think when you come from the outside in, there’s just a lot of different ways people do things, and it takes a while to really get that in people’s blood and DNA of like, this is how it is. I think we’re really pointed in the right direction. It probably has been surprising in terms of like how long that process takes. We were told that by experts in business and coaching and all that, that it’s going to take two years to really get everybody – as football coaches, we laugh and say ‘we’re football coaches, we do things a lot faster than most others,’ but when it comes to those type of things, it’s a process, and it doesn’t happen much faster than that.”
(On what that process was like at Boise State) “Well, the situations were so different for me at Boise, because, being an assistant and having a different focus – I came in there when Dirk Koetter had left to go to Arizona State, and Dan Hawkins stayed to take over, and they really did a lot of the heavy lifting there to get that thing pointed in the right direction. Dan Hawkins had a similar philosophy as Dirk Koetter, so they just kind of parlayed that. It was always work in progress, but we felt good, we were pointed in the right direction and building on that. I was there five years as offensive coordinator before I took over as the head coach. so again, it wasn’t like these major shifts in philosophy thinking. It was just tweaks, like, hey I think we need to do this, and a new burst of energy here or there. so that process was much different, in some ways easier than coming from the outside to somewhere new.”
(On recruiting philosophy and having more NFL players at Boise than UW did during the same period) “That’s a great question, and we took tremendous pride in that. We really did. One, a recruiting philosophy of who we were looking for. And then two, that was our deal to develop kids, not only as players, but as people, and we really thought they went hand-in-hand. So that philosophy really, really worked for us. We haven’t changed our philosophy over here, but we did, we kind of … at one time, not only Washington, but when we were really hitting our stride, we had a lot of guys in the NFL that were lightly recruited or however you want to do it. And we didn’t even really pay attention to that. We never got into the recruiting rankings, we never got into who else was recruiting them. We just thought, do we like this guy and does he like us, and if that answer was yes and yes, then we would recruit him. And then when we got him there, we felt like we got the right guys for us. … We put a lot of thought and a lot of process into the front end, and then when we got those right guys there, we really could develop them, we could help them get really close to their potential. So that was probably as much as anything we took pride in, is really developing kids to play close to the potential that they had.”
(On how that process has changed at Washington) “Our process is very similar to where it was at Boise, in terms of the type of kids we’re looking for. People have asked, is it harder, is it easier? No, it’s not easier. The recruiting process continues to get harder and harder, as everybody knows everybody’s information, because of the world we live in right now. I do feel really good about recruiting to this university. It’s more than just football to us. It’s the power of the degree that these kids can get. It’s the connections they can make in the Seattle area with the unbelievable business opportunities and the phenomenal people that are in medicine and all these things. And we’re really passionate and sincere about that. That’s one of the things we believe, why should a kid come here over whatever school? Well, OK, football-wise, we can talk about that, and everybody makes their stance there, but to me this whole college process should be more than just football, and I think that’s the thing we really get excited about being here at Washington as coaches.”
(On what kind of non-football traits he looks for in recruiting) “We do talk about the wiring all the time. It’s different than pro football in terms of the whole person thing. The academic thing is very important to us. Washington is a hard school. So, does this kid fit us academically? Is he going to be able to not only survive, but and grow and attack this place, academically, or is it just going to be a constant struggled? So that’s important in this piece of who we’re trying to recruit. It doesn’t have anything to do with football, but it has a lot to do with his football life and how that’s going to go. I think the other thing is, the competitive part of things, and these kids that have this toughness and can handle adversity, because the one thing we know, they’re gong to go through a lot of that here. This college process seldom turns out exactly like they thought it was. It can turn out really, really good, and in some ways every bit what they hoped for, but it’s usually different and there’s a lot of setbacks. And are they tough enough and strong enough and have enough grit to them to handle all those things? So those are things that are very hard to figure out. I talked about the academic piece on the front end, but on the back end, what’s their football intelligence and instincts, and that’s another really hard thing to figure out. Those two things are different. How book-smart kids are, and how they’re into the classroom, and how well they learn football and just their natural … they get football and they get spacing. Those are some of the things that we look at that are really hard to figure out, but we are trying to figure out, and play the best odds we can when we recruit kids.”
(On which players have emerged as leaders) “I think that’s the one thing that we really feel pretty good about. I think we have a bunch of guys that are leaders – true, true leaders that are good players, that are good people, that are out and all about their teammates. We have a lot of guys like that. So that’s nice when we kind of feel like these are true leader-type guys that are trying to do the right things and they have the respect of the locker room. We can go down the list of probably 10 to 15 guys, but I think two guys that we didn’t recruit that are here now as seniors that we’re so impressed with in terms of their leadership – because it’s a lot easier when you recruit them and bring them in and raise them from being young and they get what you’re all about. It’s harder when they were here before and there might have been a different philosophy. But I think Kevin King and Darrell Daniels are two seniors that have done a really, really good job of really understanding and getting what we’re all about and buying into it and getting other guys to buy into it. We’re really proud of those guys for really all their off the field stuff they’ve done with their teammates, and we’re excited to see those guys play and see what they can do for their senior year.”
(On what point the team started to ‘get it’ in his first season at UW) “That didn’t happen. and I don’t know if it even happened last year. That ‘get it’ factor is always a work in progress. We can never say, OK, we’ve got it. I always think it’s like, we’re getting it. We’re getting it better. but it’s hard. It’s hard, constant, daily work to get it. And like I said it, it’s not going to happen in that first season, as much as you’d like to think it does. I think when you come from the outside, it’s work in progress. I think that was one of our problems the first year, of not playing to probably as much potential as we had, is we didn’t all get it. We weren’t all on the same page. Which happens a lot. When you come in as new coaches and say, ‘hey, this is how we’re going to lift weights, this is how we’re going to practice, this is how we’re going to run.’ And they’re looking at us saying, ‘well, why would we do it like that? We used to do it like this, and we had success doing it the other way’. And we’re kind of looking at them like, ‘well, how else would you do it? We don’t even know any other way.’ And so it’s hard to mesh that together and get on the same page and then truly believe this is the best way.”