Chris Petersen, the University of Washington’s first-year head coach, loves to talk about the importance of having discipline and attention to detail on the football field. They are integral parts, he believes, to building a culture of sustained success.
He hates to deal with such issues away from the field.
Discipline, however, has become nearly as much a part of his job as planning and preparing for Saturday’s games.
“Worst part of the job, without question,” he said.
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The latest disciplinary development reached a boiling point Wednesday night when Petersen dismissed star Marcus Peters from the program, a move prompted by the junior cornerback’s final outburst in a series of standoffs with UW’s new coaching staff.
It’s the team’s most high-profile hard-line incident of the season.
Peters, considered one of the most talented players in the country at his position, had gotten into an argument with coaches during UW’s victory at Colorado last Saturday, sources told The Seattle Times. Peters had another confrontation with an assistant coach during practice Wednesday morning. That evening, during a meeting to try to smooth things over, Peters “blew up” on Petersen and other coaches, a source said.
The coach, finally, had had enough. Peters became the fourth player kicked off the team since April. Petersen has also handed down suspensions five other times to players this year; that’s nine known incidents in Petersen’s first 11 months as the Huskies’ coach.
“It’s unfortunate,” Petersen said Thursday, “but we’ve got certain standards and operating procedures. We’re trying to do something special here. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out (with a player).”
Among first-year coaches around college football, Petersen falls toward one extreme when it comes to discipline. Texas coach Charlie Strong has built a reputation as the hardest of hardliners, booting nine players from the program this year. Strong has also suspended three others.
On the other end of the spectrum is former UW coach Steve Sarkisian, who in his first season at USC has had only one known incident of public discipline. That was an indefinite suspension of defensive back Josh Shaw, who fabricated a story in September about how he hurt his ankles; he said he did it while saving a drowning nephew.
After taking the Huskies job in December, Petersen was stunned, UW insiders said, at the lack of player discipline and accountability within the program he inherited from Sarkisian.
“We’re just trying to do things the best we can and treat each other correctly and be the best team we can be,” Petersen said Thursday. “I hope everybody feels that, and I hope we’re better as we move forward.”
Rick Neuheisel, the former UW and UCLA coach, said coaching transitions are difficult no matter who’s involved, but he said he had a feeling early that the Huskies’ transition could be especially difficult given the differences in the approaches of the two head coaches.
“This is not a shock,” said Neuheisel, now an analyst for the Pac-12 Networks. “I’ve said before that this was going to be (the Huskies’) biggest challenge, going from a coach who was very player-friendly, very lenient in Sarkisian — not that that makes him a bad guy — but he was trying to get good players. And players were supposed to toe the line, and when they didn’t it wasn’t the end of the rope for them. …
“It’s to each his own. All I know is, the coach in the chair has the best facts and knows how best to proceed.”
Petersen, after eight wildly successful seasons at Boise State, has throughout this first season at UW preached that program-building is a process, that it doesn’t happen immediately.
“Chris Petersen was 92-12 when he got there,” Neuheisel said. “When you’re 92-12, you believe the way you do things works. And the way you do things is you’re going to be unyielding.”
At least one prominent former Husky approves of Petersen’s approach.
“I fully support what (Petersen) is doing,” Napoleon Kaufman wrote Thursday on Twitter. “Kids need to buy into the vision or move on! Character counts!!”
The Huskies will be moving forward without Peters, a three-year starter who many have pegged as a possible first-round NFL draft pick.
Peters will remain on scholarship, should he choose to continue pursuing a degree. He did not return messages seeking comment from The Seattle Times.
Peters was suspended by then-interim coach Marques Tuiasosopo for the first quarter of UW’s bowl game last December. He was suspended again by Petersen for one game in September after he threw a sideline tantrum a week earlier against Eastern Washington. That outburst followed what Petersen called a “stupid” personal-foul penalty against Peters, who had head-butted an EWU receiver.
“We’re not going to dismiss a guy because it’s one thing,” Petersen said. “That’s not what we’re in this business (to be) about. But when you feel like it just can’t work, you gotta do what you’ve gotta do.”
Peters, a 6-foot, 190-pound junior from Oakland, Calif., led the Huskies with three interceptions and 10 passes defended this season. He earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors last season after leading the Huskies with five interceptions.
The Huskies were already thin in the secondary even before Peters’ dismissal, having lost two defensive backs to season-ending injuries. They had even asked sophomore receiver John Ross III to help out as a nickel cornerback this week.
True freshman Naijiel Hale will make his first career start in Peters’ place against No. 18 UCLA on Saturday, Petersen said. Two other true freshmen, cornerback Sidney Jones and free safety Budda Baker, have been starting in UW’s secondary.
“You’re not necessarily preparing for something like this,” Petersen said, “but you always need depth. … The kids have been out there working and have really progressed, and we’re excited to see them play.”