I've been thinking for weeks about how to approach today's article. Here I am already a dozen words into it and I have no idea how this is going to turn out, but I can tell you that I've been looking forward to writing it.
Perhaps the ardor that I'm feeling at this moment is the parallel to feelings of elation and optimism that most Husky fans are experiencing with today's opening of fall camp. Collectively, none of us know exactly where the Chris Petersen story is going, but we all sure as hell are looking forward to the ride.
The opening of Chris Petersen's era at Montlake officially closes one of the most tumultuous eras in Husky Football history...and I'm not just talking about this past offseason (although we'll get to that in a moment). To really understand the full context of the meaning of this day in Washington Football history, we have to go back. Way back.
It was August 22nd, 1993. Almost twenty years ago to the day. Here was the statement:
I have decided I can no longer coach in a conference that treats its players and coaches so unfairly. We have suffered for nearly 10 months from media character assassination. By looking at the penalties, it appears we are all guilty, based in large part upon statements of questionable witnesses.
Those, of course, were the words of Don James when he resigned from the last football job that he would ever hold and turned the reigns of his program over to his trusted assistant and lifelong Husky, Jim Lambright.
Although those words foreshadowed the dark days ahead, it wasn't the resignation of Don James alone that so violently sidetracked the program. It was the abandonment of support from the upper campus that ultimately doomed what Don James had invested so heavily in to build. Consider the words of then UW President William Gerberding:
Whether one considers the penalties imposed by the conference to be appropriate or fair is a matter of individual judgment. I do not.
This betrayal of trust effectively poisoned the UW football head coaching job in the eyes of the football coaching world. While UW may at one point have been considered a "destination job" by any amongst a myriad of super-star coaching candidates, that perception was torched in one grand moment of infamy for the Gerb. His words effectively ushered in an era where desperate hires (built, sadly, on the backs of some of the most loyal Huskies that ever were) were complemented by desperate chances taken on questionable players. Bad decisions were piled on top of bad decisions and were accentuated with several bad breaks. From Lambright to Gilby and from Neuheisel to Willingham ... every lever that whatever administrator was pulling to right the course of Husky football seemed to break off in their hands.
Sure, there were some good times along the way - Marques Tuiasosopo and the 2001 Rose Bowl victory the most obvious - but those were wholly consumed by the worst of times. We all know what those were: the blowout loss to Miami in 2001, the Nevada game in 2003 (UW is an all time 0-1 vs Nev), the 10 year streak to Oregon and the O-fer season in 2008 are all included in that list. But the misery wasn't limited to just the field. Off the field we witnessed more than a few dark moments. The bad administrative hires, the torching of recruiting relationships, the shutting out of long-time boosters, the police blotter situations with players, the complacency as other programs (read: Oregon) invested in their programs, and the tragic injury and eventual passing of Curtis Williams are amongst the worst of them.
Even the hiring of Steve Sarkisian, the bright-eyed mastermind who mentored the vaunted pro-style offense during Pete Carroll's glory years at USC was met with some skepticism amongst Husky fans. It wasn't so much that UW fans doubted the man's potential or his skills ... but, damn, was he the best that new President Mark Emmert and AD Scott Woodward could do? Had our program fallen so far that a rookie head coach who had flirted with a position coach role for a bad NFL team was the premier choice available to restore the luster to the UW football brand?
He was and, to an extent, he did.
But Sark left behind his own drama - drama that occasionally played out in this very fan forum. This drama is rooted in the dichotomy of his accomplishments and the incompleteness of the job that he began. While the UW fan base embraces the elevated state in which he left the program, it still grapples with the compromises he made in local recruiting, the "seven win" legacy of his on-the-field-performance and the awkward way in which he departed. Most fans are appreciative of Sark, but the vast majority of us have not experienced any head coach leaving UW for another job, much less another P12 job. That still stings and, for better or for worse, his decision to break-up with us is a key moment in what will become Washington's football past.
But, that was the past. All of that ends today. The shackles of the UW's last two decades have finally been broken and discarded. An incompetent administration has been replaced by a unified and motivated leadership team. Decrepit facilities have been fully restored and re-integrated into the most beautiful setting for college football in all the land. Fans and boosters have been invited back into the program and are becoming re-invested. Recruiting relations in traditional pipelines are now fully under repair. And, for the first time in decades, a giant-amongst-his-peers professional will pick up a whistle and man the sidelines as the Head Coach for your Washington Husky Football program.
This was meant to be a preview piece, and I apologize that 1000 words into this I have yet to mention a player's name, analyze a position or call out a favorite formation. I simply cannot escape the significance of today. Of course, I realize that none of this matters to Chris Petersen. When he takes the field today, he'll be much more focused on the details of his agenda - the practice routine that is scheduled out to the individual minute, the positioning of recording devices to optimize later film review, the fair allocation of reps to those players who are duking it out in key position battles at offensive guard, running back, tight end, defensive secondary, kicker and quarterback.
Chris Petersen and Culture Change
Chris Petersen inherits an amazing opportunity to focus on the more sublime elements of program strategy as he inherits a good situation at UW.
When he's not consumed with the details of the camp moments immediately in front of him, I'm sure Coach Petersen occupies his mind with those other football matters of importance. Recruiting, of course, never stops. Media obligations and the "branding" of the program that he wants to build is always a challenge. Even thinking through the significance of the new College Football Playoff system and the elements of program management, in particular scheduling, that require updates in strategy are probably top of mind to him.
I'll go out on a limb here and guess that Chris Petersen isn't concerning himself with where he stands in the overall legacy of UW Football as I've articulated it here (thank you, Captain Obvious). That's fine by me. I'm a blogger. I'll do that for him.
When the Huskies take the field today, for the first of two practices, they'll be focused on their task at hand - getting ready for a tough Pac 12 season. But you, as a Husky fan, have the luxury of contemplation available to you. Whether you are an old Husky fan who happened to be a young person the last time a Washington program had such a sanguineness about it or you are a young Husky fan who has never experienced optimism in any authentic form, do not let the purport of today pass you by. For the first time in decades, the Washington program is not just in good hands, but it is in adept and adroit hands.
Today is the first day of next great era for our program. Welcome back, Husky Football.