New Washington defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski spent a combined 16 years on the coaching staff at his alma mater, Boise State, where he was a Division I-AA All-American defensive lineman in 1987. He spent the past four years as Boise State’s defensive coordinator on Chris Petersen’s staff, and he now takes over a defense that finished sixth in the Pac-12 in total defense in 2013 and fourth in scoring defense.
UW will hold its first spring practice on March 4. Kwiatkowski previewed the spring and reviewed the Huskies’ first recruiting class of the Petersen era during Q&A with The Seattle Times this week.
Coach, I have to say, I’m quite proud of myself — I don’t even have to look up how to spell ‘Kwiatkowski’ anymore. But would you mind pronouncing it for us one more time, please?
“Yeah, it’s ‘QUIT-cow-ski.’ I’m fine with ‘Coach K.’”
You’ve been part of the Washington staff now for about seven weeks. What have you learned about UW and what has you most excited to be here?
“Just working with the kids. We’re able to meet with them a couple hours a week, so we’re just getting to know them, teaching them and then watching them work out in the weight room and when we’re doing our conditioning stuff. Just seeing how receptive and how bright-eyed they are about wanting to get better.”
What’s been the most challenging part of this transition for you? Do you feel settled yet?
No, I won’t feel settled until the family’s over here and we figure out where we’re going to be living and all that type of stuff, from a personal standpoint. [His wife and three daughters will remain in Boise until the end of the school year.] From a job standpoint, the coaching part of it has been putting in what we’re trying to do defensively, recruiting, making sure we’re on top of our guys academically — it’s the whole process of what we need to do besides just the football part of it and balancing all that. We’re trying to teach the fundamentals so we can hit the ground running when we start up (with spring practices) in a couple weeks.
Coach Petersen described the recruiting process as awkward, particularly recruiting against Boise State. What was the recruiting process like for you in this new position and in a new environment, and how did that compare to what you did for so long at Boise?
“The process is the same. You can tell who’s a good player by watching the video. Trying to get to know the kids on a personal level and what makes them tick and what motivates them and that type of stuff is really the hard part of recruiting. Because at the end of the day, you feel like you have an idea (about a recruit’s makeup), but you really truly don’t have an idea until you get them on campus and you’re able to work with them. As far as recruiting against Boise State, it was difficult. But it goes back to the relations component — we’d built relationships with these guys. Yeah, there is no other word for it than ‘awkward’ or ‘weird.’”
The defensive backs needed to be a priority for this recruiting class, and you guys addressed that by signing seven of them. How many of those guys need to come in and contribute right away?
“I would anticipate anywhere from three to all of them contributing. We’ll obviously have a better idea of that when we start working with them, but just looking at who’s coming back and who we got in the program, those (freshmen) are going to have to play, that’s for sure.”
How much film study have you done of the UW defense from last season, and what’s your analysis?
“I’ve watched just about all their cutups. The thing that stands out is there’s good team speed and we’re just extremely excited to be able to work with them this spring and get them going with our terminology. Some of the stuff they did in the past will carry over, and some of the stuff we didn’t do at Boise and they do here will carry over. That’s the fun part of coaching — being able to put it all together and get your guys to learn and execute it all.”
Anyone in particular jump out at your from the guys coming back?
Cory Littleton is always showing up (on film.) Hau’oli Kikaha is always showing up. Marcus Peters. Those three that jump out off the top of my head. Their position coaches are always commenting about those guys.
You’ve said your defensive schemes won’t be much different from what the Huskies have been running the past couple seasons. Do you expect that to help in the transition with the players, or do you plan to throw a lot of new wrinkles at them right away?
“We’ve been pretty multiple (in coverages). We’ll play quarters, we’ll play Cover 3, we’ll play man-free, we’ll max cover with a three-man rush. And then we have pressures (blitzes). All the concepts are similar, but the terminology that we’re comfortable with will be new for the guys. Some of it will be the same, but most of it will be different.”
How are you approaching spring ball? Anything specific you hope to accomplish — or are you still in the getting-to-know-you phase with most of these guys?
“It starts with the fundamentals of playing defense, and that’s block protection, tackling, running to the football, pursuit, leveraging the ball, leveraging the blocks. The fundamentals are always emphasized, but they’re really emphasized in spring ball and in fall camp settings.”
Do you sense the players are eager to get on the field and prove themselves to the new staff?
“Oh yeah. We were here less than week and guys were already coming in to our offices — guys like John Timu and Shaq Thompson, asking for playbooks and plays. They wanted that stuff right away. All these guys are working hard and doing a great job of learning our way of doing things.”