SEATTLE — Almost three hours after he was introduced as Washington’s new football coach, Chris Petersen walked side by side with his wife, Barbara, away from his fourth-floor office and through a lounge inside the new Husky Stadium operations center.
He held her left hand with his right as they headed slowly toward a set of elevators.
Moments later, the Petersens were in an elevator alone. Just before the door shut, one UW staffer standing outside asked if they needed assistance.
Petersen held the door open, then waved the staffer off.
“We’ll be fine,” he seemed to say.
The sentiment seemed to sum up the day, if not the direction of the UW program.
“I couldn’t be more proud to be standing in front of you today,” Petersen, 49, said in his introduction. “It comes down to a gut feel in your heart and stomach, and I felt this is where I needed to be.”
The abrupt departure of Steve Sarkisian on Dec. 2 blindsided UW players, shook its coaching staff apart and sent its administrators on a four-day hunt for an established successor.
One week later, one of the most coveted coaches in college football stood in the middle of the team’s vast recruiting lounge, with its vaulted ceilings, its views of Lake Washington and its two-sided fireplace. The room was packed. The first, and the warmest, reception came from the four bare-chested fans standing in the back with purple letters spelling out “PETE” on their bodies.
“Coach Pete” liked that, laughing and pointing at the quartet before the news conference began.
The Huskies, almost universally, liked what they saw in the former Boise State coach.
“He just exudes genuineness,” UW athletic director Scott Woodward said.
“A dream hire,” UW associate athletic director Jennifer Cohen said.
“He will bring a great foundation to this program,” added former UW coach Jim Lambright, “and he will win.”
UW President Michael K. Young gushed about the high graduation rate of Petersen’s players at Boise State. Indeed, one recent study showed that Boise State and Rice were the only two universities whose graduation success rates for football players was better compared to student-athletes overall.
The graphics flashing in and around the stadium reminded visitors of Petersen’s on-the-field resume in building Boise State into a BCS darling: a 92-12 record in eight years as the head coach there … two BCS bowl victories … the only two-time winner of the Bear Bryant Award as the national coach of the year … and 8-2 record against Pac-12 teams, including two victories over Oregon, with the only two defeats coming against UW.
“People keep asking me, ‘Why now? You’ve been at Boise for so long now,”’ said Petersen, wearing a dark blue suit and a purple checkered tie. “Two things that keep coming to mind are timing and fit. It was just time. Every place kind of has a shelf life; sometimes it’s very short, sometimes it’s very long and sometimes it’s in between. It was just time.
“We’d done some really good things there and for me to take the next step as a coach and as a teacher — as a person, to grow — I needed to take that next step out of that comfort zone there.”
Petersen and his family were in Boise for 13 years, including his five seasons as a “mad scientist” offensive coordinator, as one of his former bosses called him.
He was asked Monday if this would be his last coaching job.
“You know how hard it was for me to leave Boise?” he said. “I know this: Life always changes. I didn’t take this job to go anywhere else. That’s not even something that has entered my mind, ever. This is where I want to be.”
Marques Tuiasosopo will coach UW against Brigham Young in the Dec. 27 Fight Hunger Bowl. Woodward said he expects what’s left of the rest of Sarkisian’s staff to assist in the bowl preparation, and the game itself. Petersen said he plans to be around the team during bowl practices, but he wouldn’t be involved much.
His immediate priorities will be recruiting and assembling a coaching staff. The latter, he said, already has kept him up at night.
He would not confirm any reported changes or additions to the staff (The Idaho Statesman reported he was bringing defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski with him to UW), but he hoped to have a staff in place by next week.
His bigger-picture priorities will be getting Washington back to a place it hasn’t been in a while — the top of the Pac-12 Conference.
“I know this: My job just got harder,” he said.
Before the end of his news conference, Petersen — a former Oregon assistant — was asked about the Ducks, and if he would beat them.
The new coach laughed.
“We have to start that already?”