The record is average. Literally, right down the middle.
At 6-6, it would seem like this was a down year for the Washington Huskies, who needed an Apple Cup win over Washington State in the season finale just to become bowl-eligible. For their efforts, they’ll take on Southern Miss on Saturday in the Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl.
But make no mistake, 2015 might have been the best year of coaching Chris Petersen has ever done, though he’ll never talk about it. Getting Petersen to brag about himself is like getting a Kardashian to shun the spotlight. So here’s fair warning: The following quotes contain zero chest thumping or self-serving, ego-inflating rhetoric.
“It’s really about the kids,” Petersen said. “They have worked their tails off and they haven’t flinched. Yes, we feel like there were a handful of games we should have won. We just couldn’t get over the hump. We couldn’t execute. The nice thing is you can see the frustration. And trust me, if you’re feeling frustrated, you’re feeling the right stuff.”
Petersen came to Seattle following the 2013 season with one of the finest coaching resumes in America. In his time with Boise State, he was twice named the national coach of the year and won at least 10 games in seven of eight seasons. Twice, his Broncos went undefeated.
So 6-6 in his second year with Washington, his “worst” season as a head coach in terms of record, probably doesn’t do much to move the excitement needle for what’s been accomplished. But it leaves plenty of room for bubbling optimism about Washington’s future.
Since arriving, he’s preached the two “Ps:” patience and process. In his first year, he inherited a team that just said goodbye to a veteran quarterback, a Mackey Award winning tight end and a Doak Walker finalist at running back. They were young in the secondary and lacked experience at most other major skill positions. They went 8-6.
This year, starting a true freshman at quarterback, running back and left tackle, underclassmen on the right side of the line and five more underclassmen on defense, the Huskies made the kind of mistakes you’d expect from such an inexperienced team. But you could also see the growth and development throughout the season.
Inconsistent? Sure. Young teams usually are. But when everything was clicking, it was very easy to see the potential of this group for 2016 and beyond.
“They bought in,” Petersen said. “Even late in the season if we didn’t win, you could still see us growing and get closer. It doesn’t make losing any more enjoyable, but we did get better. You can coach until you’re blue in the face, but if they aren’t going to hear you and buy into what you’re talking about, it really doesn’t matter. I really mean that. Those kids bought in and they kept working and there was never any finger-pointing. They listened and they went to work.”
Defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski, who helped the Huskies to the No. 1 defense in the Pac-12, called it a “toss up” for best coaching job the staff has ever done. He likened this year to the 2007 season – the year after Boise State gained national fanfare for its Fiesta Bowl victory.
“We lost some talent from that ’06 team but were still able to win 10 games the next year,” said Kwiatkowski, who was Boise’s defensive line coach at the time. “But this year is definitely up there.”
The Huskies likely will return eight starters on offense and seven on defense next season. And most of them will be sophomores and juniors. That means Washington could be poised for a serious run at the North Division sometime in the next couple of seasons.
“The key is communication,” Petersen said. “Building a team is hard and painful and frustrating and extremely rewarding. That’s why I always keep going back to the kids. They are the ones who have to listen. But we still have another game and it’s an important one. We need to see if the progression we made toward the end of the season is still there. We’ll see if it’s two steps forward or one step back.”