The slow, laborious process of culture change is not something that can be quantified during 15 spring practice sessions. It wasn’t going to be unveiled in all its refined glory during a glorified scrimmage like Saturday’s at Husky Stadium.
But rest assured, even though it’s not yet readily visible — and there were just a handful who braved the inclement weather to be witnesses even if it had been — change is happening on Montlake.
Maybe not fast enough to satisfy Chris Petersen. We’re learning that the new Husky coach is not one to blow smoke. He’s not going to gush about the exciting new world to come when it’s still theoretic — a “work in progress,” to use a well-worn phrase in his vocabulary.
“The culture is not going to be changed in two months, three months,’’ he said on Saturday. “They know what they need to do. Our job as coaches is to continue to remind them.”
Naturally, there are the mundane and relatively trivial adjustments that go along with any coaching change, such as the preferred way to stretch, which side of the field to practice offense. Mechanical factors that will come routine with time.
But the success of Petersen’s regime will be determined by the deeper stuff, and whether it translates at the Pac-12 level as well as it did at Boise State.
Not that Petersen is willing to concede the athletic superiority of his new conference. Asked to compare the quality of athletes at UW to Boise, he replied, “Some places, it could be a little bit better; some places, not as good.
“I have a lot of respect for those kids and that place over there. It’s a good program. They have players. We have players here. It’s all about building this program and going forward.”
Already, it appears, Petersen is exhibiting a zealous focus on fundamentals that some say is reminiscent of Don James.
That’s heady praise — the highest possible in these parts, in fact — that will have to be verified in the bright lights of autumn. Petersen was at his most animated Saturday during a three-on-three “gauntlet” drill that preceded the scrimmage portion of the show. His background suggests the Huskies will be tough, and sound, by the time their opener rolls around on Aug. 30.
But the most interesting transformation, and the hardest to yet evaluate, involves more esoteric realms. I asked several players after the scrimmage to cite the biggest change of the Petersen regime, and virtually every one honed in on the same thing.
“They really want us to be a family,’’ sophomore tight end Darrell Daniels said. “They’re big on unity. I really like that system they’re bringing to the team. That’s just going to take us to the next level and win championships. We do everything together. We’re learning to become brothers.”
“They push unity,’’ added senior defensive end Hau’oli Kikaha. “That idea, every day, is always brought home to us. That concept, everybody talks about it, but it’s not really THE focus point of the team. That is what it’s like here with these new coaches.”
Junior wide receiver Jaedon Mickens calls it “the Boise influence that Coach Pete has brought to U-Dub,” and that’s exactly right. One of Petersen’s core beliefs is that chemistry and camaraderie win games. This spring has been as much — or more — about instilling those concepts as any formation or play.
“I think if you’re going to have a really, really good team, talent is not enough,’’ he explained. “Sometimes, talent can even be overrated. But unity and chemistry and those type of things are never overrated.
“I think we’ve all been on teams where we really liked each other and came together and fought hard together and had a great experience; I think we’ve all been on teams that had talent and didn’t do anything. We believe strongly in it, and we’ll always work on it.”
Such notions, of course, are much easier to drive home without the adversity of an actual season at hand. And Petersen still faces the challenge of navigating the potentially treacherous issue of how to deal with suspended players Damore’ea Stringfellow and Cyler Miles, which could test the bonds of Husky unity. Or strengthen them, if deftly executed.
I asked Kikaha what changes Petersen and his staff have brought to the world of X’s and O’s. He laughed and shrugged.
“It’s ball, man. You either get to it and take it away on D, or you protect it on O, and move it down the field. This is not much different.”
Not much different, in the strictest sense. But in Petersen’s world, a whole new ballgame.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146