Shhhh! Coach Chris Petersen doesn’t want to hear about how good his Huskies could be
Washington coach Chris Petersen is too busy making sure his Huskies are making the most of every spring practice to be distracted by how good they might be next fall.
To be a football coach in spring football is to be in a state of nearly constant ambiguity — and fretting already comes naturally to this profession.
“One side makes a play, the other side, you’re looking at it (like), really?’’ said Washington Huskies coach Chris Petersen on Friday. “It never feels smooth. It feels good, because we don’t have to win tomorrow.”
As he should be, Petersen is worried about all the intricacies of the here and now. Today’s practice reigns supreme. Yesterday is irrelevant. Tomorrow is a distraction. It’s a mindset that all the best coaches live by, and Petersen, with a week still to go in spring drills, is seizing upon every teachable moment.
“We always like spring ball,’’ he said. “We like the good. Really like the good. We even kind of like the bad and the ugly sometimes, too, so we can learn.”
Much to his chagrin, however, an unwanted intruder is trying to sneak into Husky Stadium, and Petersen is ever vigilant for its presence. No, it’s not a spy from Oregon or Stanford. It’s that ugly scourge — mounting expectations.
Their arrival shouldn’t be surprising. The Huskies are one of the few Pac-12 teams with an established returning quarterback in Jake Browning, whose growing assurance is readily evident in drills.
They have a running back in Myles Gaskin who rushed for 1,302 yards and 14 touchdowns last year as a true freshman, including 181 in Washington’s Heart of Dallas Bowl victory, while averaging 5.7 yards.
They have 15 total starters back from a team that won its final three games by an average of 31 points. They have the core returning from a defense that was the best in the Pac-12 last year. And they have the elusive big-play threat back in the fold with the return of wide receiver John Ross III after missing last season with a knee injury.
That’s the sort of rèsumè that’s bound to capture attention from pundits. But just the mention of the nice things that are starting to be said about the Huskies’ potential – such as the dreaded words “Pac-12 North favorite” — makes Petersen’s visage tighten, his face turn sour, his words scornful.
That’s not going to help today one bit, and it threatens to compromise tomorrow. So Petersen is on a vigil to silence the hype, or at least to make sure his players tune it out.
“What are the nice things?” Petersen asks rhetorically. “Because we were 7-6 last year? I’m trying to figure that out. I don’t pay attention to that. And if our team does, we’re in deep trouble.
“We haven’t done anything. If we pick up where we left off, we haven’t done anything. We need to make significant strides, and that is to be determined. So to me, that’s all outside noise that distracts these kids from what we’re trying to get done.”
And it’s just another topic on the long list of learning points that Petersen is hoping to imbed in them, long before the arrival of games that count.
“We talk about the culture, the mentality, 24/7 around here,’’ he said. “So it’s really important. In the world we live in, one of the biggest things that they have to deal with day-in and day-out is outside influences. And you’re part of those.”
I’m pretty sure he was talking about the plural “you,” meaning those of us whose job it is to report about his team. I’d have to think, though, it’s a more palatable annoyance than having everyone raging about how bad you’re going to be.
Petersen’s defensive coordinator, Pete Kwiatkowski, is on board, too. He talks about having his players see the broad view when they’re on the field, but put on blinders when it comes to anything but the task at hand. And that includes the growing acclaim for a unit that looks stout in every aspect.
“Your preparation is going to take care of what you want and do down the road,’’ Kwiatkowski said.
He did, finally, allow himself to acknowledge a feeling of excitement over the potential of the Huskies’ defense.
“Oh, yeah, I’m excited for sure,’’ he said. “Just having guys for two years that know the verbiage. The trust is there, the communication. We’re not trying to teach them what this word means, what that word means. For the most part, that’s all there. ...
“So, yeah, I’m extremely excited. We have a lot of guys coming back. I think they’re going to have that edge, that chip, they need to play, practice and prepare with. Should be a good summer for the guys.”
It should be a good fall, too. But let’s keep that our little secret.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146