Cody Pickett looks back after retirement from football
Like Jake Locker, Cody Pickett had mixed results after returning for his senior season to quarterback the Huskies.
Seattle Times staff reporter
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Cody Pickett will watch the NFL draft next month as a fan.
Having played football most of his life in almost every arena possible — high school, college, NFL, NFL Europe, CFL — he recently decided to hang up his cleats for good at age 30.
The leading passer in University of Washington history has settled in Boise, where he helps run an insurance company and is married, with his first child (a son) on the way in May.
"Things are going good," he said in a phone interview.
He'll also watch the draft with a hopeful eye on Washington quarterback Jake Locker.
Pickett was the last UW quarterback who faced the decision Locker did last year — to leave early for the NFL or return for a senior season.
In fact, there was a brief moment, when Locker was still undecided in the fall of 2009, that Pickett thought about grabbing the phone and dialing Locker.
"I felt like I should call him and let him know that, 'Hey, those senior years can be tricky sometimes,' " Pickett said.
Ultimately he didn't call Locker, and he says he's glad that it looks like Locker — despite a senior season that had some rough moments — will likely be drafted high.
Pickett, though, is the poster child for tricky senior years.
And while he doesn't necessarily express regret, the coming of another NFL draft — as well as his decision to end his playing career — has brought it all rushing back.
"My whole career was great," he said. "I loved it up there. Hindsight is 20-20, and if you could come back and do things a little different you might. But ultimately I wouldn't change it (his decision to return)."
Still, he says, "you look back and think of things that could have happened different."
After throwing for a Pac-10 record 4,458 yards as a junior in 2002 (a mark that still stands), Pickett says he was told he might be taken as high as the late first round if he made himself available.
He says he was also told that only Byron Leftwich and Carson Palmer were rated ahead of him, with Pickett lumped in a group behind that also included Kyle Boller and Rex Grossman.
His father, legendary rodeo champ Dee Pickett, encouraged him to go pro, he says.
But UW coach Rick Neuheisel, Pickett says, told him he wasn't ready and thought he'd be a second- or third-rounder, and that the Huskies would make it to the Rose Bowl if he returned.
Pickett said he also simply liked UW and wanted to stay, all else being equal.
But from almost the moment Pickett recommitted to UW, things began to unravel. Neuheisel was fired in July 2003 for lying about his involvement in an NCAA basketball tournament betting pool, with Keith Gilbertson taking over.
Pickett suffered a pectoral-muscle injury in the second game of the season, against Indiana, an injury he didn't discuss in any detail at the time.
"I was always raised that if you are playing, you are playing," he said. "So I played through a lot of things like that, that some people didn't really know about.
"Against Indiana, I got hit by the safety and my left pec swelled up and was black and blue all through my arm pit. I could barely throw all week in practice. But it was my team. I wasn't about to not play."
Later, he suffered a knee injury in a game at Oregon State that UW won, a week after losing at home to Nevada. He then was knocked out of the second half of a win against Oregon with a head injury.
The saving grace was an upset in the Apple Cup of a Washington State team that came in ranked No. 8. Pickett threw the winning 21-yard touchdown pass to Corey Williams with 1:10 left — one of the most dramatic plays in Huskies history.
Pickett, though, doesn't lay all the blame for a lost 2003 season on the coaching chaos.
"Coach Gilby was great," Pickett said before rattling off a list of other maladies that helped derail that season, including injuries to two offensive linemen. "It was just a combination of things. Kind of when it rains, it pours. But being able to come back and throw that final pass in the corner of the end zone and kind of leave Husky Stadium on a high note, as frustrating as it was, at least (we) made that happen."
But a 6-6 season that resulted in UW's first winter without a bowl (other than probation) since 1978 helped take the shine off Pickett's NFL hopes. He says now the injuries, and the fact that no one talked much about them, didn't help.
So instead of being drafted in the first few rounds after the 2002 season, he was selected in the seventh round of the 2004 draft by the 49ers.
And once there, he was met with more coaching instability and a quarterback carousel. Coach Dennis Erickson, who drafted him, was fired by the 49ers after the 2004 season. Pickett also was asked to play receiver on scout teams and on special teams in games. That earned him a small modicum of local fame, but also, he says, helped derail his quarterbacking career.
"What a lot of people also don't realize is when I finally did get a chance to play quarterback, I hadn't played quarterback," he said. "All through training camp and the first five, six weeks of the season, I was a scout-team receiver, I was a scout-team defensive player and I was playing on special teams. The only time I threw any balls was in warm-ups."
He got two starts in the 2005 season, but notes those came against the Giants and Bears, two of the best defensive teams of the era, which he calls "not the best recipe for success. I'm not trying to make excuses, but that's just the reality of it."
He ended up starring one year in the now-defunct NFL Europe, resulting in short stays with the Texans and Raiders. In 2007 he went to Canada, first to Toronto, where he says, "I had five different coaches in three years," and later to Montreal and Calgary.
Pickett had some success here and there in the CFL, and says he had offers to return this season.
But with a growing family — and other activities filling his days, such as coaching a fifth-grade boys and girls traveling basketball team — he decided to call it quits.
"I've just kind of been bouncing around all over," he said. "It's kind of taken a toll on me."
And finally having some free weekends this fall, he plans to make it back to UW to take in a game. He hasn't been on campus since leaving shortly after the 2003 season. Such a visit might elicit a few more brief yearnings of "what might have been," though Pickett says it's more out of reflection than bitterness.
"I don't want it to sound like a pity party," he says. "But it was just that after my junior year of college, it was hard to catch a break. But I'm totally happy now. Happy with my life and where everything is."
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or email@example.com
|Pickett's career numbers|
|UW (5 seasons)||38-35||1,373||792||42||9,916||.580||53|
|NFL (2 seasons)||6-2||45||18||4||195||.400||0|