As the Huskies progress in their pre-season training camp it will be interesting to see just how Coach Peterson’s system will prepare this team for their first game. Playing on the road against Hawaii is a long trip but their next three pre-season or non-conference games that will all be played in Husky Stadium. Hawaii will be followed by Eastern Washington, who I remind you beat the Oregon State Beavers last year in Corvallis, Illinois, and Georgia State before they finally open league play, also at home, against the defending conference champions, the Stanford Cardinal. I promise you if they can win all five of those games they will be a highly ranked team. The cool thing is they have legitimate chance of doing so. They have the talent and they have the coaching and the way they rallied together to win over their bowl game against BYU, they especially have the belief in each other.
No doubt the returning players all know they should’ve and could’ve beaten Stanford last year and they did beat Illinois on the road and many also remember they struggled to beat a game Eastern team in 2011 to open the season. The Huskies won that one by only 3 points, 30-27. The Huskies have never played Georgia State.
Now it doesn’t take much football background to know that that is a winnable non-conference schedule especially considering that 3 of the 4 games will be at Husky Stadium in front of 70,000 Husky fans. Still the reality is to take them one at a time and win because you expect to. Washington is the better program in all four games and they will be anxious to prove they have bought-into Coach Peterson’s system.
The University of Washington has had six different head coaches with six different systems in the last 14 years. This lack of continuity has showed in their decade long of recruiting and even though they have finally rebuilt the depth (especially in the line) they are still down in their overall numbers. I will guess that Coach Peterson will add more kids thru the walk-on program and in three years they will have re-built the numbers from under 100 with Coach Sarkisian to around 115-120.
Coach Pete knows how he has done things in the past. He has been a winning head coach at a major football program. He has coached in this league before. He has recruited this section of the country for decades, he has taken lots of teams through lots of training camps and I promise he is probably following the exact same formula for preparation that he has always used.
Much of training camp so far has involved a review of fundamentals, techniques, and individual footwork. Individual periods are just that, they are designed to develop the specific skills required by each position area. Those are complimented by group drills involving the interacting of the various position areas specific to the offense or defense. Then there are all the drills specific to the kicking game of which many apply to simply playing the game such as protecting yourself when running or breaking down to a fit tackle. This fall and the past spring it was obvious that there was a concerted emphasis on all drills before putting a whole unit together be it the offense, the defense, or kicking.
A major factor in the scheduling pre-season practices is called insertion. What do you put in each day in terms of all three phases of the game. Much of that has been already inserted into the team coming out of spring but each day of fall camp the offense, defense, and kicking has added new features and plays and new situations and what they intend to use in those various times in the game. Because you only have three weeks or so to prepare, teams or coaches usually spend about half of their allotted practices inserting as much as possible of their whole system before beginning specific preparation for the first opponent.
What makes Coach Peterson unique in terms of the last 6 Husky coaches is that he has already developed a system of how he does things and his coaches know what to expect as camp progresses. His 92-12 record proves his system worked and he was smart enough to bring 8 coaches with him who had previously used this system. He is also experienced with regard all aspects of the job be it academics, strength and conditioning, recruiting, handling the media, alumni, squad development, team building and all the other aspects of being a CEO for a major corporation. Essentially he knows “how” to make his system work because he has done it before and knows how it works. It is this complete understanding of the job that makes him different from the 5 other head Huskies who have coached before him.
Coach Jim Lambright was smart enough to simply use Coach James’ schedule and system his first year as a head coach. The coaching staff knew what to expect, we already knew the players, and simply followed the already established system. Lambright further benefited from already understanding the Husky culture be it recruiting, PR, but lacked the complete support and cooperation from his administration. Just when he had rebuilt the depth to contender status he was fired even though he had a .664 winning percentage.
Coach Rick Neuheisel had only a few carryover coaches when he took over and he had only been a head coach for a few years at Colorado so he was still establishing his own system. He inherited a deep and well developed team that won him a Rose Bowl before he too was fired. His system was in constant flux over his four years and was in decline when his off the field problems got him fired.
Coach Keith Gilbertson had been a head coach at California but had failed to develop a winning formula. Although he had implemented Coach James’ system at Idaho with great success, he too never had any administrative backing and even though he understood the culture he was plagued by staff turnover and questionable recruiting before being dumped for Tyrone Willingham whose system had failed at Notre Dame and his subsequent losing record of .229 winning percentage ended up being one of the worst periods of football in the history of Husky football. None of the men who followed Coach James had a system that was proven and when Steve Sarkisian took over for Willingham he had no system of his own, had never been a head coach, and changed things as he went along. Being a head coach requires an understanding of the big picture and although Sark proved to be a solid recruiter and organizer he was still trying to figure out his own system when he left for USC.
Coach Peterson knows what he is doing and how and when he wants to do things . He plays it close to the vest and although friendly with factors outside his control, he is almost private about his team. The players he inherited are probably the best group since Neuheisel took over from Lambright. He can thank Sarkisian for rebuilding the Huskies back and he is quick to do that. He knows he has stepped into a bigger stage but has shown caution and reserve in implementing his whole system. The fact that it is a proven system and he has already won with it makes him exactly like Don James in that regard. Both had success at the mid-major level and now he has the opportunity to put it to work at the highest level of college football at a school with a deep tradition of winning and expectations. His understanding of the big picture will simply prove to be the key ingredient to winning.
With just under two weeks of practice left before they play Hawaii it is now crunch time but Coach Peterson will simply keep doing things the same way he always has but will now begin tailoring it to prepare specifically for Hawaii. He will get to implement his “road” system. That is the point, everything the Huskies do, he has already done before. It is the knowledge of the “how” that should benefit the team the most and hopefully results in a successful season.