As Washington head coach Chris Petersen strolled into the Don James Center, everyone focused their attention on the beloved man.
Heading towards the podium, Petersen couldn’t even sit down without breaking out into a boisterous laugh with Washington athletic director Jen Cohen and newly appointed head coach Jimmy Lake.
There was an obvious sense of relief on Petersen’s face, as if the weight of the world had been lifted off of his shoulders.
During the press conference there was a moment when Petersen was asked when he started to contemplate not coaching anymore.
An interesting response from Petersen stuck out above all others, that many people would have never thought would be the case.
“I think one of the things that hit me was after the Rose Bowl a year ago, having a couple months to reflect after that” Petersen said. “How much I did not appreciate that game like I should of – you work your whole life to get there and I didn’t really appreciate the week and the game like I need to! As a kid growing up looking at that game and I think that was one of the things that hit me loud and clear!”
In one of the most pointed, powerful and telling statements of the day, Petersen shared with everyone when the warning signs first started.
What was refreshing about hearing Petersen speak was he was finally able to let everyone in without being distant and guarded.
Many have fell in love with Petersen’s charm, personality and charisma throughout the years, despite him keeping his distance from the media.
A certain aura and invincibility has followed Petersen throughout his career, with the amount of success and character that is attached to him.
Yesterday, there was no line drawn in the sand with the rest of us on the other side. Petersen spoke from his heart and wanted everyone to know why!
At times this season while covering Petersen, he didn’t appear happy and things just seemed to be a little bit different than most years.
Were there enough warning signs to think that he would step down after the season and walk away from what he built at Washington? Simply put, NO!
In most people’s minds, like the “people in the room” following the beat, we could see Petersen coaching another 3-5 years and then riding off into the sunset to do something else.
Now in retrospect, going back and analyzing the season, Petersen had made remarks and references to how grueling and grinding the job really is.
One person who he was envious of was Arizona State head coach Herm Edwards who took a long time away from coaching and then came back to the profession.
As Petersen pointed out yesterday, he doesn’t know if he will return to the coaching ranks at some point and give it another shot.
Right now, his focus is on bettering himself and getting himself right before he can fully give the best version of himself to others.
“My whole plan is to get rested, to get recharged, and to get redirected. The one thing I know is that I’m not ready to do nothing. I’ve just got to figure out where all this energy and this passion and inspiration goes – and I don’t want it to be on the football field,” Petersen said.
Petersen pointed out that he has been coaching for 32 years straight and has not had a break. It’s the only thing he has ever known.
He grew up in a football household, as he was the son of a football coach, which is where he began his journey with the sport.
Anyone that knows anything about Petersen knows that he is the most “selfless” human being around, which is why he is so elite.
The man’s life and career is grounded and molded from helping others before himself, which is why he is synonymous with excellence.
At certain points this season, the camera would pan in on Petersen and that “joy” that has been so deeply rooted just wasn’t there.
Many will just dismiss it as a 7-5 record and that losing isn’t fun, but if you carefully heard his presser yesterday, that wasn’t the case.
The “joy” from within wasn’t there and it had nothing to do with coaching, but rather had everything to do with Petersen himself.
A driven coach who finally reached a pinnacle of his career with the Rose Bowl game, and he couldn’t even enjoy the event!
Even though Petersen said that he made the decision a few days before the Apple Cup game last week, it’s quite evident that the seed was planted almost a year ago.
In the world of Chris Petersen, everything he does is calculated and has a purpose! He is meticulous to a fault and is always two steps ahead of everyone!
With the urgent need for him to find balance and happiness in his life, he walked away from it all, to “get himself right” moving forward.
Petersen knew that in order to make the Washington Football program a championship caliber program, it would require an effort and energy that he just can’t give right now.
The man is “burned out,” plain and simple, and the anxiety and stress that comes with that just isn’t a fair tradeoff anymore for Petersen.
What shows Petersen’s class and integrity is him walking away, which is a benefit to everyone involved and not just himself.
Many coaches that are feeling the same way as Petersen, with the rigors of being a head coach, would hold on for themselves.
They would “hang-on” to collect a paycheck and for the glory, stature and image of the position, while battling the inner demons on a daily basis.
Petersen is a rare breed and the University of Washington was darn lucky to have him as their coach for the six-year span.
Instead of cheating the program and the university, he stepped down because he knew that Washington deserved better than what he could offer at this current time.
“It’s one of those jobs that is extremely heavy on the balance of your life,” Petersen said.
That in itself, is the true definition of “selfless,” which comes as no surprise because Petersen is just wired differently than most people.
He is secure in his legacy and he doesn’t need large sums of money, fame and notoriety to validate his life and his career.
If Petersen never steps foot on a football field again, his legacy is forever cemented and established as a true champion.
Now with Petersen changing course and finding his happiness with his new journey, he can now enjoy his family anytime he wants.
In a rare moment of seeing Petersen emotional; he broke down yesterday and held back tears when talking about his amazing family.
“Like I said, you can’t do this without an unbelievable family!” Petersen said as he glanced towards his wife Barbara who was sitting in the front row.
His need and quest to spend more time with his family was a big piece to all of this, which was enough for him to fight back the tears.
Petersen is ready for the next chapter in his life, which doesn’t currently include football. He will still be around in an advisory role with the University of Washington and he is excited about the next step in his life.
“I’m passionate about excellence! I love being around people that do their job at a high, high level. That’s inspiring to me. I’m passionate about team-building. I’m passionate about leadership, I’m passionate about culture,” Petersen said.
He referenced a quote during the press conference that powerfully made sense of his decision and his philosophy in all of this.
“A man has two lives to live and the second one begins when he realizes he only has one!” Petersen said.
For once, Petersen is taking care of himself and is ready for the next phase of his life after mastering the football coaching profession.
Through all of this, someone gets a husband and a father back, after a 32-year marriage to football.
Leaving in this manner and moving on from the University of Washington for these reasons, is even more powerful than any other way he could exit.
In an iconic moment, after staying to talk with a number of people and the dust had settled, Petersen and his wife were locked arm-in-arm. As they made the long walk across the Don James Center, they both looked at me and smiled!
Ms. Petersen had that giddy grin on her face, as to say that she got her husband back and was extremely proud of him!
Now with the coast clear and new horizons to conquer for Chris Petersen, he can finally take the time to stop and “smell the roses,” which he couldn’t accomplish 12 months ago.
After the bowl game ahead, he won’t have a grueling daily schedule and nobody to answer to but his family.
But wasn’t that the point?!
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