For about 20 minutes of Chris Petersen’s introductory press conference, the new Washington head coach beamed with confidence, magnetism and charisma. He looked and sounded the part. And if I’m a recruit on the fence, there’s a sense that this is a guy I want to play for.
He was passionate in his answers and seemed prepared to tackle any and all questions thrown at him.
Except this one: Are you going to beat Oregon?
And for the slightest tick on Monday, there was an uncomfortable shift in body language.
“Do we have to start that already?” he quipped to an amused crowd.
Then he paused for about five seconds and offered this: “We’ll be playing hard.”
It might not be the answer diehards had hoped for. After all, 10 straight losses to the Ducks has left even the staunchest of supporters feeling frustrated at the state of the program -- despite its recent trips to the postseason and ascension up the Pac-12 North pecking order.
Then again, what’s he supposed to say? “Hells yeah!” (Of course not, but how cool would that have been?)
But that is the reality of the situation he’s walking into. Washington is a team that is built to win immediately. In some ways, Petersen’s task is tougher than his predecessor’s. Steve Sarkisian took an 0-12 program and built it into a respectable player in the Pac-12 North -- though he was never able to get his team into the elite ranks of the league. For Petersen, there will be no honeymoon. He carries a burden of expectation that Sarkisian failed to meet in his final season.
Petersen’s credentials -- which include two Bear Bryant Coach of the Year awards and a 92-12 record in eight seasons at Boise State -- are nearly flawless.
Though one of those losses came this year in the same stadium he’ll now call home. The Huskies handed Petersen the worst loss of his career, a 38-6 thumping in the season opener. That, he said, was very much on his mind when he decided to accept the Washington job.
“That’s one of the reasons I’m here. I mean that,” Petersen said. “When you walked into this stadium, this beautiful environment, there’s not a better one in college football. And when you pack it with these passionate people in purple, holy smokes. I was very, very irritated to tell you the truth.
“But deep down I really liked it. Cause that’s what college football should be all about. At the end of the day, I can’t wait to win a game in this stadium.”
Petersen laid out his recruiting approach. He smoothly dismissed questions about the makeup of the coaching staff -- which he said hopefully will be finalized within about a week.
He also addressed what role he’ll play as the Huskies prepare to face BYU in the Fight Hunger Bowl on Dec. 27 against BYU.
“I certainly will be around for some of the practices,” he said. “I don’t want to be that dark shadow looming over them. 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 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. They need to finish this season off right. And anything I can help them with. But I’m not here to coach this game. Once that is over we’ll jump in and we’ll start to get after it. But I’m really hopeful they go out and play well.”
It’s clear that Petersen knows what he’s getting himself into. He knows that an entire season simply doesn’t boil down to games against Fresno State or Nevada -- depending on the year. But that every week in the nine-game Pac-12 is going to be a grind.
In their first official news conference, a lot of coaches talk about winning conference championships and national championships. Petersen didn’t do that. Instead he talked about the process. And he believes the process that worked in Boise will work in Seattle.
And if it does, beating Oregon won’t be a question. It will simply take care of itself.