In the aftermath of Chris Petersen’s bombshell announcement that he’s stepping down as Washington football coach following the Huskies’ bowl game, Mike Hopkins had one overriding thought.
“Good for him,” the UW men’s basketball coach said. “If he’s happy, then I’m happy. Period.”
But then if you know Hopkins, there’s always more. When asked about his relationship with Petersen, Hopkins called the UW football coach a friend and a mentor.
And yet, Hopkins expressed remorse and regrets that he wasn’t able to make a closer connection with the man he called “a legend.”
“I’m kind of sad in the sense of I want to pick his brain on (things),” Hopkins said. “The last couple of years it’s been hard to spend that time.
“When you have a guy that wears that type of cloth, you want to pick his brain you want to do everything you can to learn from him and grow. I’ve never seen a guy who runs the program the way he runs the program and the type of person that he is. First-class all the way.”
When Hopkins, the former Syracuse assistant, took the Washington job two years ago, Petersen made the newcomer feel at home in Seattle.
During a Seattle Times story earlier this year, Hopkins described their first meaningful interaction at the Pac-12 annual spring meetings when Petersen spotted him sitting alone in the cafeteria.
“I’m a fish out of water, right? I’m walking in. I don’t know anybody,” Hopkins told Times reporter Mike Vorel. “You’re kind of like the new kid in school. You’re looking around for where to sit. So I got my breakfast and I go to this table and everybody’s looking at me like I’m an alien. I’m sitting there by myself.
“Next thing you know, it’s his awareness. Coach Pete was at a different table. He walked over, sat next to me, made me feel comfortable. He’s a guy who was aware of, here’s a fish out of water, sitting over to the side, flopping around, trying to gasp for air. He recognized it and came over. He cares.”
From there, a genuine friendship began between the two California natives who guided the most powerful athletic teams at Washington.
Hopkins, who spent the previous 22 years working for Jim Boeheim, saw similar personality traits between Syracuse’s Hall of Fame basketball coach and Petersen.
“I don’t think people in the area understand that Coach Pete is one of the greatest coaches in the history of college athletics,” Hopkins said of Petersen, who guided the Huskies to a pair of Pac-12 titles, a berth in the College Football Playoff and compiled a 146-38 record during his six years at UW and eight at Boise State.
Hopkins immediately took interest in Petersen’s “built for life” philosophy and preaches similar concepts to his players when talking about self-sacrifice and giving to others.
“Coach Pete has taught me so much about culture and his beliefs,” Hopkins said. “If I was ever making a decision, I would call him. Especially, my first year I would say ‘Hey coach, what do you think?’ And he would just give me basic philosophical advice. He was just always there.”
Petersen’s resignation caught everyone by surprise, but Hopkins, the two-time Pac-12 Coach of the Year, wasn’t entirely shocked because he understands the toll it takes to guide a program that perennially contends for conference championships.
“If you’re a competitor, it’s 24/7 to be good at it,” Hopkins said. “And he’s done it at the highest level. What’s his winning percentage? Like 80 percent (actually 79.3).
“To do that (over 14 years) is incredible. That’s consistency. It’s drive and competitiveness. Look, it’s a hard job. Everybody is different. Coach Pete is pretty calculated. He knows what he wants and what’s important to him and his family. I think that’s really cool that he’s able to make this decision.”
Petersen, 55, is just five years older than the 50-year-old Hopkins, but the UW men’s basketball coach said he’s not planning on stepping down anytime soon.
“If I’m lucky enough to make it as long Coach Pete, then maybe I’ll be able to see the finish line,” Hopkins said smiling. “But I feel like I’m just getting started.”