Huskies’ football coach Chris Petersen has UW winning on the field. Off the field, he’s building a unique finishing school for athletically gifted young men.
University of Washington football coach Chris Petersen’s pet slogan is “Our Kind of Guy” — a well-rounded young man with the character to excel on and off the field.
His coaching philosophy may not mean much outside of Husky sports fandom, and the public rightly might be skeptical about a multimillionaire college-football coach playing life-coach guru to unpaid players.
But Petersen deserves a closer look. On the field, he has masterminded an impressive turnaround story. In just two years, he took a middling team and coached it into the Pac-12 Conference championship on Friday and an odds-on shot at a national title.
Off the field, he seems to be building a unique finishing school for athletically gifted young men. His “Real Life Wednesday” sessions for the team are a sort of salon of ideas. He invited a self-described “recovering racist” Episcopal bishop in to talk about race and invited financial planners to help players — most of whom will not turn pro — map out life goals. He encouraged discussions about the Standing Rock protests over an oil pipeline and for his disappointed players to talk honestly about the wrenching presidential election.
“Seventy-five percent of the time he’s talking to the team, it’s about your character. What type of person you should be, you want to be, and just doing the right thing all times,” linebacker Keishawn Bierria said recently. “Life outside football. That’s really what he talks about.”
Petersen has backed up his talk about long-term character with decisions that had short-term risks. In his first year as coach, he sent a message to his players — and to the parents of future recruits — when he kicked a star player, Marcus Peters, off the team for insubordination. “It’s all about the team,” Petersen says. “If your son buys into that, we’ll always have his back. If not … ”
Since Petersen took over on Montlake in late 2013, his teams have posted the third-best academic-progress scores in the Pac-12, behind Stanford and Utah, according to the NCAA’s metrics. There’s reason to believe that will improve: In Petersen’s last full year as coach at Boise State, his players were in the top five in the nation in the NCAA academic-progress scale, just behind Yale.
Petersen is absurdly well compensated, of course, with a base salary of $3.6 million a year. If his team wins the national championship, he’ll earn an extra $1.1 million. And if he starts losing at the rate at which he’s now winning, “Our Kind of Guy” will sound hollow.
Still, Petersen is setting a standard — doing well by doing it right. It’s one more reason to hope for a Purple Reign on Friday.