As soon as Chris Petersen walked into the conference room at Husky Stadium, finished shaking hands and looked at me, I knew he reminded me of someone.
I was there for a live chat with Seattle Times readers, and as we sat down and began to talk, I still couldn’t figure it out.
Small man, friendly but focused, quick but thoughtful, and straight to the point with his answers. And there’s something about his eyes.
Washington’s new football coach wore a purple Husky shirt and khakis. It was the first time I’d met him, and I still couldn’t place who he resembled.
Petersen seemed a little uncomfortable when the attention was on him, but as soon as he started answering readers’ questions, that melted away. He was all business. He didn’t dodge questions, which rolled in quickly and were answered simply, as if knocking out a game plan for Saturday.
One question was read aloud and I winced and wondered how he’d respond:
Q: How has Cyler (Miles) been accepted by teammates since being reinstated?
He didn’t hesitate. “I’ll answer that,” he said. “Really well. I think they’ve embraced him back into the family and we’re moving forward.”
Now he was rolling. The questions came in faster than we could read them, and he turned to a big-screen TV on the wall to read them himself.
He’s likeable. He’s articulate with a dry sense of humor that came out a few times – when he talked about the media (at least I think he was joking) – and when I mentioned I was a University of Idaho graduate (our rivals are his old team, Boise State). But he quickly got back to the job at hand – answering your questions.
When a question came about Don James, it hit me. He reminded me a little bit of the legendary Husky football coach. I had covered James as a young sportswriter early in his remarkable 18-year run at Washington, from 1976 until about 1984. In the fall of 1981, he would have been 49, the same age as Petersen.
I’m not sure exactly what about Petersen reminds me of the late Don James, because they don’t really look much alike. Maybe it’s their eyes. Maybe it’s their slight builds. Maybe it’s their presence where they enter a room. Maybe it’s the way they go about their business. But there’s something.
I certainly don’t want to draw too many parallels. I’ve only met Petersen once and he has yet to coach his first game for Washington. I’m sure he’ll hate having me draw the comparison. But there’s something there.
Petersen also did something I’m not sure James would ever do. He turned questions around on readers. When someone asked where he liked to eat, Petersen asked for their recommendations (with a funny aside about how he usually throws up on game days,). And he also asked readers to come up with a name for Husky Nation. He had only one stipulation.
“I have a question for everybody out there: I think we need a name for Husky Nation that doesn’t use ‘nation,’ ” he said. “Everybody uses that. We need something new for our brand. Any ideas?”
Readers responded with a lot of suggestions, good and bad.
And then Petersen did something else that I doubt James would have done. He suggested that we have readers run a poll on seattletimes.com and pick a winner.
He smiled when he said it, but I think he was serious. So I’m going to do it. It was obvious he didn’t like any suggestions with his name. So, sorry, no Pete’s Posse.
But at the new Washington head coach’s suggestion, here are six of the best suggestions for readers to vote on. We’ll publish the results soon.
Don Shelton is the sports editor of The Seattle Times, where he has worked since 1987. He previously covered Husky sports for papers in Yakima and Bellevue.
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