Chris Petersen on Kwiatkowski: "He’s smart, and he just has no ego in this whole thing. And I think those guys are really hard and rare to find."
Chris Petersen has conveniently forgotten his first meeting with his defensive coordinator. It happened on Sept. 14, 1985, before a crowd of 17,654 at Bronco Stadium in Boise, Idaho, a year before that stadium would be decorated with its infamous blue turf.
Petersen was the standout junior quarterback at UC Davis then, and his Aggies were going up against a Boise State defense that featured an undersized sophomore defensive lineman named Pete Kwiatkowski.
Kwiatkowski hasn’t forgotten what happened next. His first sack of the season was a takedown of Petersen, and it aided Boise State in its 13-9 takedown of Davis.
More than three decades later, Petersen on Wednesday laughed at the memory. That is, at Kwiatkowski’s memory. Petersen doesn’t remember the alleged play — only that Kwiatkowski likes to rub it in every once in a while.
“I’d like to see him find the film on that,” Petersen cracked.
Petersen, no doubt, has loved what he’s been seeing from Kwiatkowski’s defense at UW.
The Huskies rank as the No. 1 defense in major-college football and are on their way to leading the Pac-12 in several major statistical categories for the third consecutive season under Kwiatkowski’s direction.
Since Kwiatkowski’s first season as defensive coordinator in 2014, the Huskies’ points allowed has been cut by more than half — from 24.8 points per game in 2014 to 11.1 this season. UW now ranks as the best scoring defense in the Pac-12 since Pete Carroll was roaming the USC sideline in 2008.
“It all starts with Coach K. He’s one of the best coaches I’ve ever been around in my entire life,” UW middle linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven said. “He knows more about football than almost anyone on this staff. I couldn’t even tell you what this would look like without him.”
Burr-Kirven called Kwiatkowski an “evil genius.”
“He spends so much time in the film room, seeing what (the opponent) is doing, and every week he comes out with some new scheme we haven’t seen, some little tweak that gives us an edge that you’re not really going to get from another coach,” he said.
As a 255-pound defensive lineman at Boise State, Kwiatkowski had 15.0 sacks, 24.0 tackles for loss as a senior in 1987. He was named the Big Sky defensive player of the year and a Division I-AA All-American that year.
He returned to Boise State in 2006 when he was named the Broncos’ D-line coach before Petersen’s first season as the head coach there. (Petersen hired him even though Kwiatkowski reminded Petersen about that sack 21 years earlier. “That really irritated me,” Petersen said Wednesday.)
No assistant coach has been with Petersen longer than Kwiatkowski. (UW strength and conditioning coach Tim Socha has also been with Petersen since 2006 and, like Kwiatkowski, is considered one of Petersen’s closest allies.)
“He’s one of those few guys that I’ve been around that all he wants to do is do the right thing for the team and the defense,” Petersen said. “He doesn’t care whose idea it is. … He’s smart, and he just has no ego in this whole thing. And I think those guys are really hard and rare to find, especially a guy that has been really successful.”
Petersen praised Kwiatkowski for his ability to take complex schemes and teach them in a way players can absorb and apply on the field.
“We’re a big believer in, football’s not that complicated,” Kwiatkowski said. “There’s a lot of nuance and detail that goes into what we do, but at the end of the day it’s about striking blocks, getting off blocks, tackling, covering. We try to keep it that simple with our guys so they can play fast. And then the carry over schematically — we have some changeups here and there so offenses can’t dial us up.
“But at the end of the day, it’s fundamental football.”
In Kwiatkowski first season as Boise State’s defense coordinator, in 2010, the Broncos led the nation in yards per play allowed (3.98). The Huskies this season rank No. 1 in that category, at 3.71, the fewest yards per play allowed by any defense in college football since 2011 (Alabama).
“It’s pretty cool to be a part of this,” Burr-Kirven said. “The thing I think is most special about it is, every year I’ve been here we’ve had a good defense, but I think we haven’t gotten complacent with that. I think that’s the biggest thing. It’s easy if you do well to keep doing that same thing, but Coach K, Coach (Jimmy) Lake, Coach (Bob) Gregory — all those guys, they never settle. They’re always looking for that next little advantage we can have. I think that’s the biggest reason we are where we are right now.”
Kwiatkowski sort of shrugs off the compliments that are coming his way. He says he does not need the credit.
“I do not. I honestly do not,” Kwiatkowski said. “I got into coaching because I wanted to stay in the game of football when I could not play anymore. I love the camaraderie with the coaches and the players and obviously competitive in the sense that whatever you do you want to be the best at it and you want to see improvement out of your guys.”
The Huskies’ success the past two seasons has naturally led some to speculate about head-coaching opportunities for UW assistants. Offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith and co-defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake have both been mentioned as potential candidates for the Oregon State job.
Kwiatkowski would seem to be on a similar path, but he also seems perfectly content as a defensive coordinator and in a perfect place with Petersen.
“Never say never,” he said, “but that’s something I’m not chasing. I’m not out there beating the bushes for that type of opportunity (as a head coach). I really like what I do and I like who I work with and work for, and I like the culture of the program. All that stuff means a lot more to me than other things.
“It’s still a success-oriented business. I never lose sight of that,” he added. “You’re only as good as your next season, so that motivates me just as much as all the other things. But working for a guy like Coach Petersen, there’s no question it motivates you in an awesome, positive way. The working conditions are what I want.”