Just last week, Washington head coach Chris Petersen rocked the college football world with the news that he was stepping down from his post.
Losing a “rare” and “elite” coach like Petersen wasn’t going to be easy but the University of Washington had a plan in place to soften the blow.
Sitting two rows from newly appointed head coach Jimmy Lake last week at the press conference and listening to him, one quote really stood out.
“The uncommon unity that is all the way throughout our building will continue,” Lake said. “You know, I’ve coached for a number of different teams at the pro level and college level, and I’ve never been on any tighter team than a Chris Petersen coached football team,” Lake said.
Such a powerful and profound statement from the person who is tasked to lead this “glorious football program,” as Lake described it.
One of the biggest things Washington Athletic Coordinator Jen Cohen did during this process was mitigate the sting of Petersen’s decision.
What occurs when a coach decides to retire or take another position, is the angst and uncertainty from the fan base, as to who will be the next coach.
When former Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian decided to chase his dream job at USC after the 2013 season, the fan base was panicked.
Yes…the abrupt exit was partly to blame, but more so was the question on everyone’s mind as to who would replace him going forward.
That week felt like an eternity to Dawg fans, which wasn’t a fun experience, but in the end the Huskies were able to land a more accomplished and talented coach in Chris Petersen.
Petersen’s “Built For Life” program, preached to his players on a daily basis, has a vital element to it – “loyalty.”
He has taught the players to be loyal to the University, the football program and also to their teammates, with whom they compete with every day.
While Petersen’s coaching staff has instilled this character element into their players, they have also led by example as well.
Before the start of the 2018 football season, a structure shift would take place on the defensive side of the ball.
Many thought to themselves, why is this needed when the defense is already playing at an elite level and shutting down opponents.
At the time, Lake had long term goals and aspirations to become a head football coach someday and lead his own program.
In order for Lake to be seriously considered for head coaching jobs, he needed to follow a progression, which included being a defensive coordinator.
The value of Jimmy Lake to the Washington Huskies Football program was inevitable and everyone close to the Huskies knew it.
He built such a talented and dominant secondary as the defensive backs coach, that some gave it the moniker of “DBU!”
Lake has showed his coaching prowess on the recruiting trail as well, where he is known as an “ace”, and evidenced by the talented players he has landed and sent to the NFL.
With Lake entertaining offers from other programs for defensive coordinator positions all around the country, an act of “selflessness” and “loyalty” took place.
Enter Pete Kwiatkowski!
At the time, Kwiatkowski was the defensive coordinator and “signal caller” on game days, of a defense that he helped build into powerhouse.
When hearing that Lake might leave the Huskies for other positions to align himself properly for a head coaching job, Kwiatkowski showed his loyalty to the program.
He approached Petersen and pitched him with the idea of relinquishing his play calling duties over to Lake, so he would stay at Washington.
It is extremely rare for a successful coach to do that in this day and age; that type of loyalty all stems from the culture that Petersen breeds on his staff.
“You have to be around Kwiatkowski to find out how unique and special he is! A guy that’s as good as anybody in the country to say, “Yeah, I don’t care about calling the game; I just want to coach ball and be around good guys.” How many guys say that and really mean it? Those are few and far between,” Petersen said last year.
If this “all about the team” move wasn’t initiated by Kwiatkowski back then, who would we be talking about right now as the head coach of the Washington Huskies?
Once the Huskies finish the season with the Las Vegas Bowl, Lake said he would focus his attention on solidifying his coaching staff. Something tells me that Kwiatkowski will get the same reciprocal loyalty from Lake and be tasked as the top defensive coordinator and “signal caller” once again.
The loyalty among the coaching staff didn’t end there as Petersen himself was the next one to jump on that train.
Anyone that heard Petersen’s press conference last week knew that resigning as head coach wasn’t an easy decision for him.
“If I thought this was going to set us back and not move us forward, I would have never done this at this time. Like, I wouldn’t do that to this program,” Petersen said.
Despite his obvious loyalty to the football program and the University of Washington, Petersen showed his loyalty to his trusted friend.
Throughout Petersen’s tenure at Washington, he accomplished some big time success, that wouldn’t have been possible without the services of Jimmy Lake.
He helped Petersen by helping engineer some of the top defenses in the nation, especially with the elite secondary he handpicked.
Making it to the College Football Playoff, two Pac-12 Championships, three consecutive 10+ seasons, three consecutive New Years Six Bowls and a 6-0 Apple Cup Record, was all made possible by Lake’s contribution to the defense.
It can be argued that the Husky defense bailed out the offense on numerous occasions throughout Petersen’s six year run.
Most importantly, throughout all of this is the loyalty that Lake himself showed Petersen and the University of Washington.
Lake had multiple opportunities to leave the Huskies and climb the coaching ladder to land a head coaching job faster.
Instead of jumping on the first ambitious offer out of town, he stayed loyal to Petersen and stayed committed to his program.
“Being in the culture that he created, where our coaches get along, our players get along…it’s a culture of excellence where we are all striving to be the best version of ourselves and I’ve been on a lot of staffs where it is not that way, and there are a lot of staffs right now that know it’s not that way! And I know I had a golden opportunity to stay with this man and it would take an unbelievable job for me to be able to leave here, and so that was the reason I stayed was because of Chris Petersen,” Lake said emphatically.
When Petersen stepped down, he didn’t forget Lake’s sacrifice and loyalty to him, which is why he became Lake’s biggest advocate!
Petersen stumped Lake to Cohen as the right choice to take over the program and lead the University of Washington going forward.
“Nobody knows how these things go! You don’t know! But if it was ever stacked up to like – ok…this guy needs a chance to roll, I’ve never seen one that’s more prepared and ready that hasn’t actually been in the chair,” Petersen said of Lake.
As Cohen was already a fan of Lake taking over, it doesn’t surprise anybody that Petersen paid it back to Lake for everything he had done for him.
It’s the Chris Petersen way!
“Jimmy’s a helluva coach! Helluva recruiter…we’ve all witnessed it! We’ve seen what he is capable of doing and seen his impact already,” Cohen said.
What really stands out about Petersen this past week is his love for the University of Washington and his proudness to be a Dawg.
“I can’t say enough to Husky Nation! I mean..This is one of the main reasons I came here because of this stadium and the greatest setting and what it looks like on Saturday’s when it’s packed!” Petersen said.
Staying on in an advisory role, associated with excellence and leadership at the University of Washington, shows that he will always be a “Husky” no matter what his job title may be in the future.
Cohen herself grew up an avid Husky fan and became a valuable asset to the University of Washington with her love and passion for the Huskies.
When former Washington Athletic Director Scott Woodward decided to move on to Texas A&M, the president Ana Mari Cauce rewarded Cohen’s loyalty to the Huskies and appointed the well-qualified Cohen to the head position.
While earning her “dream job” position herself through loyalty, Cohen went down the same path and rewarded Lake for not jumping ship on Washington throughout the years.
How did we get to this point of the Jimmy Lake era?
Through a culture of loyalty and trust from the top down, which is the Chris Petersen doctrine!
From Kwiatkowski – To Lake – To Petersen – To Cohen, it was a web of seamless loyalty and a smooth transition!
Husky fans didn’t have to suffer from the “unknown” and “uncertainty” through the process, as this was executed with precision.
The Dawgs have their top man now and by all signs the Huskies won’t skip a beat or be much different than before!
“I’ve been very fortunate to work with this man for eight years and I know the recipe, I’ve seen the recipe and I’m going to copy the recipe,” Lake said!
Lake is setup to succeed and he has all the resources around him with Cohen and his mentor Petersen being close by.
“The Dawg is loyal to the Pack, the Pack is loyal to the Dawg. You will NEVER run alone.”
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