Don't be Afraid of a little Smoke in the Back of the Bus

Certain things rankle us Husky Half Brains. Throughout Steve Sarkisian's 5-year tenure at Washington, athletic director Scott Woodward repeatedly said he preferred building things incrementally and doing things the right way. Then when things went awry, like the Huskies leading the nation in penalties, Sarkisian would counter with: "Penalties don't matter that much", before adding that infractions were a product of "playing fast and loose."    

So it opened eyes yesterday to see new coach Chris Petersen bench star cornerback Marcus Peters for his costly unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. The move left Petersen's torched secondary even more vulnerable in this non-conference game. Fortunately, the Huskies managed to sustain Eastern Washington's passing attack and win 59-52.  

“I’m just not into stupid penalties,” Petersen said afterward. “It’s not even an issue whether the guy’s going to play or not if they don’t conduct themselves right. If you don’t play like we want you to play, you’re not playing. It’s not even a decision for me; it’s easy.”

The character and fortitude displayed by that act is impressive. What if the Huskies had lost? The barrage of criticism directed solely at Petersen would've been immense.

As it happened, watching the Huskies surrender 52 points and a record 7 touchdown passes to Vernon Adams brought immense frustration, for me as well. I was raised on the Don James brand of football; I prefer a 10-3 win in the rain over the video pinball display we saw yesterday.

But let's set aside the fact that Vernon Adams, Jr. will be a household name amongst NFL fans in the near future.

What's refreshing, besides Petersen's 94-12 career record, are his blunt assessments and refusal to con fans with doublespeak.     

After sub par performances, Sarkisian would often roll out the "This performance was not indicative of the type of team we are." (Translated from Sark-to-English, that meant: "Don't blame me!")

Petersen, however, doesn't offer excuses. “We have to play a lot better,” he said.What we’re doing right now is learning. We’ll be back to work on it Monday.”

When I see the current panic amongst fans, and hear of editorials from other websites calling out Petersen for "blowing up" everything Sark had supposedly built, I just roll my eyes.

Petersen's in the process of washing the Sark stink off the program. Via player development, culture and recruiting.

The current widespread panic made me think of a Chuck Knox story. It applies to players and fans alike.

Knox, for you boof timers out there under 30, was the immensely tough and old school coach of the Seahawks. Before leading Seattle to the 1983 AFC Championship Game, he once coached high school football in Ellwood City, Pennsylvania.

This story comes from when Ellwood City lost a frustrating road game to Aliquippa.

"We lost because we couldn't score from the one-foot line," said former player Karl Florie. "As the school bus was leaving the parking lot, chugging to get up this hill, it started smoking. There was smoke everywhere.

"The kids in the back panicked and shouted, `The bus is on fire! The bus is on fire!' Sitting in the front, Knox never moved. He just turned around and through the smoke shouted `GET SOME BELLY, GET SOME BELLY.'"

"Shoot, I knew the bus was not on fire," Knox later recalled. "But if those boys had some belly, they never would have lost that game. That is still one of my biggest problems, thinking players are not tough enough. Call it a chip on my shoulder, call it whatever. I have never related well to guys who have had it easy, whether it's the naturally talented player who doesn't work, or the rich owner who gives orders without having to know the game.

"At one time in his life, everyone should be forced to get a little belly," Knox said. "Otherwise, how does he know it's there when he needs it?"  

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Derek Johnson's columns appear each Sunday evening.