A common debate on the Hardcore Husky message boards has been whether the 2014 season was a disappointment at 8-5. With the maddening loss to Arizona, the struggles of quarterback Cyler Miles, and the tenth straight blowout loss to Oregon, there were reasons to give a thumbs down.
But most fans in Husky Nation seem to see the silver lining. Former UW running back and Doak Walker winner Greg Lewis feels positive. When looking back at the transition from former coach Steve Sarkisian to Chris Petersen, he offers up an interesting example.
"When I was growing up, my mom was extremely strict, and my dad, whom we didn't live with but would go to see, was very loose," Lewis said. "So the contrast from going from one house to the other would be tremendous. My behavior would be impacted. When I was with my mom, I was straight line and did what I was supposed to do. And when I went to my dad's, it was a `when I get around to it [mentality'].
"And at UW it's similar," Lewis said. "When you have a coaching staff that has expectations that say where you're supposed to be and what you're supposed to do while there, when you haven't had that before, it takes some time to adjust. And that will play out not just off the field but on the field too. We're all human, and whenever we're going through adjustment and change, it impacts all the areas of our life. And so I think those kids went through that. And it took some of them longer than others."
Lewis was asked to give an example.
"Danny Shelton, he was already a great player," Lewis said. "But people always said that he takes a play off here and there. But under the new coaching staff, their expectations are that you don't take ANY plays off, not one. And Danny Shelton became the best defensive lineman in the country, whereas before he might have been the best in the country for eight plays out of the game. But this year he was the best defensive lineman for the entire game. The previous staff was more rah-rah, but the expectations were set this year that you play hard every down. And I think he's the most visible example of those new expectations. The expectations were higher than before. Instead of trying to motivate them with yelling and screaming, it was more of meeting the expectations or meeting the consequences. That's what they had to adjust to, and the guys that were ultimately successful like Danny Shelton did it, as opposed to someone like Marcus Peters who wasn't able to adjust to it."
Lewis also cited vast improvement he saw from many players on the roster.
"The coaches aren't just recruiting good players and hoping they get better, but they're actually coaching them in a way that they're getting better," Lewis said. "You can go position-by-position, and there will certainly be debate about the quarterback position. But ([Cyler Miles] got better as we went along. Offensive line was probably the most disappointing part of the team, from an experience standpoint, and where we thought they would be. But by the end of the year, in the last two games, they got guys in the right spots, and they played really well. I think they've got really good coaches.
"If you look at the Eastern Washington game with how every DB on the roster got torched, as the season went on they all got better and better and better," he said. "Budda Baker got much better as the season went on... Travis Feeney used to get a big hit now and then, but by the end of this year he got a lot better. Dwayne Washington, somewhere along the line the light went on for him, and he was looking good. These are all examples of how it looks like we've got really good coaches."
With the Washington Huskies slated to play Oklahoma State on January 2nd in the Cactus Bowl, the season will soon end and recruiting will heat up. Lewis was asked about certain naysayers in the Seattle media who derided Petersen last spring and said the new Husky coach needed to be reminded that he isn't in the MWC or WAC anymore.
"I didn't get those comments first of all," Lewis said. "No coach is going to come in here and go `I'm only going to recruit the same MWC or WAC players and play in the Pac-12 and prove I'm the greatest coach in the world.' No coach is that arrogant. I think coming to the UW gives him the opportunity to recruit at a higher level, but that doesn't mean that he's not going to find guys, like he did at Boise State, that are better than what the recruiting rankings say. Maybe they're from an Idaho or Wyoming, He's always going to keep his eye out, because he has found a number of guys like that ended up playing in the NFL. So if he can find those players he's going to go after them... He is going to find the right guys that will fit his system."
Lewis also cited the ongoing recruitment of Texas prep running back Chris Warren. Warren's father, Chris. Sr., once played for the Seattle Seahawks and Dallas Cowboys, but currently has no involvement in his son's life. But Chris Jr. is now one of the nation's top recruits, and he and his mom live in Rockwall, Texas.
"His mom went to Franklin High School and used to live up here," Lewis said. "When she came up here [on a trip] she said they weren't considering the UW. She had actually been upset that Sark wasn't recruiting her son, and the UW coaches didn't know who he was. I put [current UW running backs coach] Keith Bhonapha in connection with his mom. He looked at the film and saw that he might be the real deal.
"They came up here for a family funeral, and went on an unofficial [visit]," Lewis said. "And Chris Petersen knocked her socks off. She loved him. She said `Greg, that man is awesome. He is going to turn your program around. I was upset about the UW not recruiting my son. I did want to take a cursory look when we came up here. But I'm going to tell you, we're going to consider the UW because of your coach, he knocked my socks off. '"
Warren has reportedly narrowed his choices down to Texas, Texas Tech and Washington.
"So however Coach Petersen lays out for parents about developing them as young men and getting them to the NFL if they have that opportunity and ability, he's doing a great job of it," Lewis said. "I know how she is. And for her to be impressed, the presentation had to be great."