UW defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski, who faces a tough challenge this week preparing for Alabama, is a fount of football information. But ... funny? The low-key, all-business Kwiatkowski apparently is an aficionado of “dad humor,” much to the delight of his players.

Share story

ATLANTA – Washington linebacker Keishawn Bierria uses the word “genius” to describe his defensive coordinator, Pete Kwiatkowski. Cornerback Kevin King drops in a “mastermind.”

Those aren’t necessarily surprising terms to describe the architect of a Husky unit that has thrived for much of the season, and will be asked on Saturday to stop one of the most potent teams in the country.

But when linebacker Psalm Wooching chimed in on Kwiatkowski at Wednesday’s Peach Bowl media gathering, well, you don’t see it coming.


Washington (12-1) vs. Alabama (13-0), Peach Bowl, noon, ESPN

“He’s just an all-around funny guy,” Wooching said. “At the same time, he knows so much it’s crazy.”

Component post 10247638 could not be found.

OK, being a fount of football information, that we’ll buy. But … funny? The low-key, all-business Kwiatkowski apparently is an aficionado of “dad humor,” much to the delight of his players.

“He loves to throw in those little jokes,” Wooching said. “It’s almost like he’s not humorous, but his dry humor makes him so funny he’s hilarious.”

Elaborating, Wooching said: “He’s not funny straight up. He’s not going to go up there and start making jokes. He’ll say a joke, and everyone will be like, what the … and just start laughing at him, and not with him. He’s hilarious.”

So there you have it – looks can be deceiving. Like when Kwiatkowski was a smallish defensive lineman (6 feet 2, 255 pounds) who earned consensus All-America honors playing for Boise State. One of the quarterbacks Kwiatkowski faced as a sophomore was UC Davis’ Chris Petersen. When Peter­sen brought him back to Boise State as defensive-line coach in 2006, Kwiatkowski told him, “I’m pretty sure I sacked you,” according to the Santa Barbara Independent.

Kwiatkowski clicked instantly with Petersen, bonding personally and professionally. He became the Broncos’ defensive coordinator in 2010, and when Petersen became the Huskies’ head coach in 2014, Kwiatkowski didn’t hesitate to make the move with him.

No doubt Kwiatkowski will eventually get a head-coaching job, boosted by his ever-expanding credentials and the widening respect of Washington’s program. But for now he is completely content as one of Petersen’s top lieutenants (with defensive-backs coach Jimmy Lake officially joining him this year as co-defensive coordinator).

Asked about the roots of his affinity for Petersen, Kwiatkowski was effusive.

“When I first started working for him, just his leadership style,” he said. “How he’s demanding and motivating, but in a very respectful way. As an employee, that’s who you want to work for.

“Then the guys he brings in on the staff, you want an environment where it is demanding, and it’s very competitive, but at the same time, you like to go to work. I can say, I love going to work, not just because of what I do, but who I work with.

“Then how he develops players. The emphasis on the football part is obviously huge, but a lot of the stuff we do with them has nothing to do with football. It has to do with life, and the decisions that are going to help them be successful off the field, whether it’s their education, or raising a family. Those type of things. I always look back, if I was a player and I had that leader, how much different I could have been.”

For now, Kwiatkowski’s focus is on coming up with a game plan to stop an Alabama offense that he says has no apparent weakness, averaging more than 40 points a game.

“Where do I start?’’ he said with a deep breath, when asked to delineate the challenge facing Washington. “The quarterback (Jalen Hurts) is very athletic, breaks tackles, has a strong arm. The offensive line, very athletic, works well together. The running backs, they’ve got three of them they can rotate in so guys stay fresh. They play two smaller ones, and then No. 9 (Bo Scarbrough) comes in, and he’s a big old dude who can pound it.

“Their receivers are extremely fast and athletic. So, yeah. We have a lot of things to deal with.”

Which is where the “genius” and “mastermind” part comes in. Petersen has a reputation as a toppler of giants, dating to Kwiatkow­ski’s first year on his staff, when Boise State stunned Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. He leans heavily on Kwiatkowski to devise the schemes that make it possible, and to make the mid-game tweaks that keep the Huskies humming.

“Any time we’re having problems, the adjustments are there,” Bierria said. “He always has the answer for something, and he always plays on players’ strengths. He wouldn’t send a guy on the blitz if he hasn’t been doing well that game. He always makes good adjustments, not only what we’re seeing offensively, but what we’re seeing defensively, too. That’s just traits of a great coach.”

“He knows how offenses are going to try to beat us, and he can counteract that,’’ added King. “Having a guy like that is game-changing.”

Kwiatkowski is regarded by his players far more as a teacher than a screamer, not surprising with Petersen as his mentor — though as King says, “Everybody has their moments.” Bierria says the sure way to push Kwiatkow­ski’s buttons is to be lazy or unprepared at practice.

“He’s pretty interactive with us on the field,” King said. “You don’t want a guy who’s just going to stand there. He makes us want to get involved, and get better.”

And even have a laugh or two – intended or otherwise.