It takes a good coach three years to win. Husky fans have known that since the Tyrone Willingham era when we first had to really come to terms with how much time is enough to evaluate a coach. Hugh Millen released a statistic showing that coaches who performed as bad as Willingham through his first three years were virtually guaranteed to perform worse than Jim Lambright (.636 career winning percentage). That comes out to 7-8 wins every year in a 12 game season which shouldn't be the goal of an institution which believes in holistic excellence. That definitely shouldn't be an acceptable win total for a fan of Washington. Schools like Maryland, Arizona, Cal, and Rutgers, etc should be happy with 7-8 wins when they can get them – those schools focus on basketball, Olympic sports, and engineering maybe in Rutger's case. A football school, former powerhouse does not accept wallowing in the mediocrity of a .500 conference record and playing in the jimmysbailbonds.com bowl every year. A real football program is annually in contention for a league title, plays in multiple major bowls in a decade, and periodically makes a run for a national title – and the fans demand it.
Examining the coaches who achieve that level of success immediately shows that it doesn't take a long time to turn a program around. The right coach can do it in three years: Pete Carroll, Bob Stoops, Urban Meyer, Nick Saban, etc. (in rare cases, such as Harbaugh taking over a pathetic Stanford program, it can be four – this does not apply to Washington). On the other hand the wrong coach will never turn a program around: Paul Hackett, John Blake, Ron Zook, Gerry DiNardo, etc. This is year three for Coach Petersen so it is time for him to prove he is the right man for the job. 10 wins would be a meaningful win total to demonstrate real progress towards building a champion. To be clear 10 wins is not an arbitrary number – and should only include the regular season. Looking at things from one week into the season Stanford appears to be the only top-tier team we face. That gives us 11 teams that are lower tier competition than us if we have truly arrived. This gives us a loss to Stanford as a quality opponent and one fluke loss because I guess that happens to good teams sometimes? If this team has really reached an acceptable level of greatness, this schedule should be able to yield us 12 wins in the regular season. None the less we have had a lot of 7 win seasons recently and 10 would be a step in the right direction, even if it is generously low. Anything less than that shows Petersen has been unwilling, or unable to fix the critical flaws that will hold us back from being a true contender.
So far I am not optimistic on reaching double digit wins. After one game everything is the same as last year. We have a robust defense, our special teams were solid, and our offense has serious questions.
Our defense may in fact be among the top in the nation which is a great testament to the coaching the defense has received. Kwiatkowski was a great hire by Petersen and that unit has really reached expectations. Special Teams has likewise been upgraded into a competitive group that hasn't been giving up big plays but has been creating their own. Offense, and gameday management in general, has been lacking though. There are too many mistakes from Chris Petersen, which manifests in ways such as clock management. One metric that tries to account for this is College Football Matrix's 'Coach Effect' which scores how well a coach is doing, after controlling for talent and schedule. According to Coach Effect, Chris Petersen cost Washington 3 wins last year. That is an unacceptable detraction due to gameday coaching. That takes a 10 win team down to 7 wins. That takes winning down to mediocrity. You might as well have Steve Sarkisian at that point.
The general gameday management isn't even what worries me so much though – it is the offense. It is a Steve Sarkisian-type of offense in that it tries to be so tricky without having an identity, that it really has no consistency, and rather than relying on executing a solid decision well, it aims to do succeed by doing the unexpected. I have never seen this be an effective strategy and the results have shown it to be ineffective thus far for Chris Petersen and Jonathan Smith. Our offense against Rutgers did put up decent numbers, but instead of coming out and showing we can utilize our star running back to dominate on the line of scrimmage, we were held to 3.0 yards per rush and relied heavily on a few big plays through the air and on special teams. Take away those special teams touch downs, and the three long passes in the first quarter and the final score is 13-13. Obviously we would have played our first stringers more, and deep balls are part of the game (thankfully they are part of ours now) but I would like to see more consistency and sustained drives. Something that shows we aren't just dependent on lucky plays but that we can grind it out if we face top competition. It is week one so maybe the play book is closed off. Maybe we'll see a stronger focus on the run when the need calls for it so Gaskin doesn't get banged up. Maybe Tedford was sitting in the box making notes on all the reasons Smith needs to be fired. I don't really care which of these happens as long as we score points and win games. Based on past results I've seen nothing indicating anything has changed other than John Ross is back (for this year) and MAYBE Jake Browning has gotten better with the deep ball. Until I see more showing we've changed on the offense, I don't see us scoring as much as a good team should. I don't see us winning as much as a good team should. I don't see Chris Petersen proving he is the right coach. Why would we keep doing the same wrong things if he was?
Something that does worry me is the hype surrounding Washington. While it is fun to see people ranking us highly, it feels good on some base level as a fan, it doesn't equate to any wins. While the culture has changed for the better, the defense and special teams are better, the types of losses we have aren't as glaringly abysmal, we aren't there in then win column yet. In the eyes of the administration we may be though. Things that get people hyped up to buy tickets and give the athletic department money are all equal to them – so hype may be equivalent to wins in their eyes. After a top 10 AP ranking I can't see the administration firing Petersen for 1 win, let alone 7. If we lose out this season, excuses will be made about how the perfect season went awry through the fault of no one. We will have Petersen next year and he knows it. What he doesn't know is that even if the administration has given him next year, the fans haven't. This is year 3. This is the year to win and prove he is the right coach. If we don't reach 10 wins this year it is time for the fans to call for a change.