SEATTLE — In his most recent visit to Husky Stadium, Chris Petersen came away on the short end of a 38-6 outcome.
But even as the University of Washington was handing him a lopsided defeat in the 2013 season opener, Petersen — then the head football coach at Boise State University — was awed by the beautiful new stadium, the gorgeous lakeside setting and the noisy passion of the home fans.
“Let me tell you, that’s one of the reasons I’m here,” Petersen said at a Monday press conference introducing him as Washington’s new head coach. “When you walk into this stadium, this beautiful environment, there’s not a better one in college football. And if you pack it with these passionate people in purple, holy smokes.
“I was very, very irritated, to tell you the truth,” he admitted with a smile in recalling that Aug. 31 game. “But deep down I really liked it because that’s what college football should be all about.”
What Washington has to offer, and what Petersen hopes to embellish with some great coaching in the coming years, “is college football at its finest,” he said.
Monday’s press conference came exactly one week after previous coach Steve Sarkisian announced he would leave Washington to become the head coach at USC. UW athletic director Scott Woodward immediately began a replacement search, and from the outset Petersen’s name was at the top of the list.
“We talked to a number of people,” said Woodward, speaking by telephone from Louisiana where he is attending to a family matter. “But Chris was the first person we offered the job to.”
Woodward and Petersen initially met last December when Washington and Boise State played in the Las Vegas Bowl. Woodward said he came away from that conversation “just blown away. … He exudes genuineness. As soon as you grasp his hand and look him in the eye you feel like, ‘This is a real guy. This is someone I could do a deal with.’
“He is,” Woodward said, “a class guy who runs a class program with an impeccable record and impeccable integrity. He’s our type of guy and our type of coach.”
Shortly after Sarkisian’s announcement, Woodward and Petersen spoke by telephone “and there was mutual interest very quickly,” said Woodward. He then flew to Boise, presented Petersen with a memorandum of understanding for a five-year, $18-million contract with additional financial incentives. After discussing the deal with his wife, Barbara, Petersen formally accepted the offer on Friday.
Petersen was in Seattle over the weekend and met his new team for the first time. “I was so fired up,” he said, “I wanted to get after it right there.”
Though he was born in Yuba City, Calif., and played quarterback at nearby UC-Davis, Petersen has spent all but the first few seasons of his 27-year coaching career at schools in the Pacific Northwest, including 13 years at Boise State where he was the head coach for the past eight seasons.
“I’m a Northwest guy … and I’ve admired (the UW) for so long,” he said. “As my career went on, to come here and compete against the Huskies was always such a tremendous challenge. … I’m so excited to be here on the other side of the field and see what we can do.”
If Petersen was long on enthusiasm for his new job Monday, he was short on certain specifics. Among them, the makeup of his coaching staff for the coming season. It seems likely that some Boise State assistants will follow him to Seattle, just as it is probable that some members of the current UW staff will stay on.
Petersen no doubt has most of those names already in mind, but on Monday he sidestepped the question.
“We’re still working that out,” he said. “In the next week or so a lot of things are going to happen and play out. We don’t have an exact plan, so it’d be premature to talk about that.”
For now, then, the futures of defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, and defensive line coach and premier recruiter Tosh Lupoi are unclear. Both have been asked to join Sarkisian at USC, but both are still under contract to Washington, though they have buyout clauses — $1 million for Wilcox, upward of $400,000 for Lupoi.
Three UW assistant coaches followed Sarkisian to USC — Johnny Nansen, Keith Heyward and Peter Sirmon. In addition to Wilcox and Lupoi, four other UW coaches are waiting to learn their futures — Eric Kiesau, Dan Cozzetto, Jordan Paopao and Marques Tuiasosopo.
As for any Boise State coaches coming to Washington, “we have a plan lined up, but it’s not set in stone,” Petersen said. “And like I said, I think we’ll just let that play out.”
The Huskies face BYU in the Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco on Dec. 27, and Tuiasosopo has been named the interim coach for the game. Until then, Petersen expects to stay out of the way.
“I’ll certainly be around for some of the practices,” he said, “but I don’t want to be that dark shadow (in the background). These guys have done a great job this season and I understand as well as anyone how tough it is on these kids — what they’ve been through in the last week and a half — to lose their coach. That’s not easy. That’s not fun for anybody.
“I want to be around here for help and support. But this is their team and they need to finish the season off right. So I’m not here to coach that game. But once it’s over, we’ll jump in and get after it.”
As he looks ahead, Petersen said he expects to emphasize recruiting in Washington because “that’s where it starts, without question. … And I think we’ve got a great shot at keeping some of those great players right here.”
Regardless of where they come from, he added, future Huskies will be “great character kids, awesome football players, and interested in (getting) a world-class degree.
“We’re going to play smart, fast, physical and unified football, no doubt about it,” he said. “And I can’t wait to start implementing some of those things around here.”