Why Chris Petersen believes Washington can have it all

LOS ANGELES -- Most college coaches talk about finding players who fit their program's culture, but few are more steadfast about it than Washington's Chris Petersen.

He built Boise State into one of the nation's best programs with OKG's ("Our kind of guys") -- high-character, ego-free men who fit the team philosophy on and off the field despite not always being the most heralded recruits. He's doing the same at Washington.

The difference is that Boise State, despite dominating the Group of 5 (formerly the non-BCS) and recording two undefeated seasons (to go along with four top-10 finishes), never played for a national title. Petersen guided Washington to the College Football Playoff in his third season. A CFP run instantly enhances a program's profile, especially one that hasn't lived among the sport's kings for many years. Washington, picked Wednesday to win the Pac-12 North Division again, can now compete for more elite-level recruits -- MVP types, even if they're not necessarily OKGs.

But Petersen isn't changing his approach. He doesn't need to.

"There's a perception that you can't win with really good people," Petersen told ESPN this week at Pac-12 media days. "That's, in my opinion, how you do win -- with really good people. I don't get the other way."

To be clear: Petersen's kind of guy is no saint.

"We're not looking for perfect people," he said. "We're not looking for kids who only come from two-parent households. We're not looking for a bunch of Eagle Scouts. We're looking at guys that fit our locker room, and there's a lot of guys out there that do."

Petersen isn't blind to the recruiting landscape, specifically its tendency to elevate top prospects to unprecedented levels. He also sees plenty of celebrated recruits who don't have five-star egos.

Washington's evaluation process isn't perfect, either, especially during the first few recruiting cycles. Some players don a cloak of humility around the coaches. But no one can hide who they are in the Huskies' locker room.

"He's not in the locker room, so you get a freshman who comes in, maybe with some hype around him, and tries to walk in, thinks he's all that, he'll get checked pretty quickly," quarterback Jake Browning said. "Not even just, 'Hey, don't have an ego,' but this isn't high school any more. You're back to the bottom of the totem pole, I don't care who you are.

"On our team, there's no one, really, who has this agenda of trying to seem like Mr. Cool Guy."

Added Petersen: "If a kid is there and it's not fitting, they either get him in line, or we weed him out."

The environment helps reinforce Petersen's values. Washington players have noticed the excitement around the program in the wake of the CFP run. Students are excited, linebacker Keishawn Bierria said, but know the season is not quite upon them. Petersen is known for shielding the media spotlight from his team, and he was glad to escape two days of talking in Hollywood for the comfort of Seattle on Thursday afternoon.

There's also a difference in the post-Playoff glow when it appears a major city, as opposed to an isolated college town.

"That's one of the things I enjoy so much about Seattle -- we blend in real nicely," Petersen said. "In other places, even Boise, Idaho, I didn't blend in there."

Washington's offseason has been decidedly uneventful, which shouldn't be surprising with a roster of OKGs. Browning has spent time studying the semifinal loss to Alabama. He passed for only 150 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions, including a pick-six late in the first half that turned the game's momentum. Although Washington's defense held its own against Alabama, Bierria laments the missed tackles and takeaway chances the unit squandered against the Tide.

The team's summer workouts and focus, according to Bierria, have been on target.

"Just being there, understanding where we were at, just makes us a lot hungrier," Bierria said. "We got a glimpse, a taste. We didn't get that full meal. Guys like me, I want it all. I've got young teammates, they want to win everything.

"The culture is set by Coach Pete, but the tone, that comes from the team."

While Petersen disdains ego, he embraces collective goals. Washington's aspirations never change.

"There's no higher expectations in this country for Washington football," he said, "than what's in our building."