Monday afternoon, while standing in the middle of Pike Place Market, Tevis Bartlett told a story.
Roughly three years earlier, the former Washington outside linebacker and Wyoming native was walking with a teammate in downtown Seattle. Their Huskies had recently secured a spot in the College Football Playoff, compiling a 12-1 record to simultaneously conquer the Pac-12 for the first time in 16 years. The duo was draped in UW gear. So, yeah, they got noticed.
“It was like every 10, 15 feet,” Bartlett said in a phone interview, with a laugh. “People were saying, ‘Go Dawgs!’ or, ‘Thank you for bringing us back to the glory days and the Don James Era.’ I think there’s so many people that, when they think of Washington football, that’s what they think of (the Don James Era).
“But Coach Pete brought us back to prominence.”
For Petersen, “prominence” translated to 54 UW victories, three New Year’s Six bowl games, two Pac-12 titles and the aforementioned College Football Playoff appearance, in six seasons. It translated to three consecutive top-25 recruiting classes as well. It translated to six consecutive Apple Cup triumphs over Washington State, the most recent of which came last Friday. It translated to nearly unprecedented program success.
Which is what makes Petersen’s abrupt departure so surprising.
Monday, UW announced Petersen will step down following the Huskies’ upcoming bowl game. Defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake will succeed him as head coach, while the 55-year-old Petersen will remain with the athletics department in an advisory role.
Naturally, the news was met with widespread disbelief — and not just by the fan base.
“I actually first saw it on Facebook and was like, ‘This is fake,’” said Bartlett, who’s visiting Seattle this week after attending the Apple Cup. “I went to ESPN and it was the first thing on there.
“I’m super happy for Coach Lake. I think he deserves it. He’s a great coach. I think he’ll do a great job. But I’m definitely a little bummed out that Coach Pete stepped down.”
Likewise, former UW quarterback Jake Browning told The Times in a phone interview Monday that “I didn’t see it coming at all. I think everybody was caught off guard by it.”
Bartlett added, “I did see some of my former teammates this morning, and they were just as shocked as everybody else. I don’t know if anybody saw it coming.”
Perhaps it’s fitting that Petersen — long known for his trick plays — fooled just about everyone with his announcement. But, besides surprise, the other constant reaction Monday was appreciation.
“I have a notebook full of notes from team meetings and speakers he brought in and just things that we all talked about while I was there,” Bartlett said. “They’re little life lessons, to really big life lessons, to really how to be a man. Some of the best times in my life were spent while he was the head coach.
“Obviously, our success on the field and in the classroom and all the accomplishments we had as a group while we were there can be attributed to him.”
Added Browning, UW’s record-setting starting quarterback from 2015 to 2018, “He was consistently himself. He was the same guy who recruited me out of high school and he was the same guy who said good-bye on Senior Night, and stuff like that is not as common as you’d like it to be in college football. I always appreciated that about him. He was always straight with me and he always had everybody’s best interest at heart.”
Of course, that sentiment isn’t specific to Bartlett and Browning. Monday, the Petersen appreciation posts poured onto every available social-media platform.
Former UW running back Myles Gaskin: “Salute to a real one. The man taught me much more than the game of football.”
Former UW linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven: “The four years I spent playing for this man were the best of my life. There is no one else like him.”
Former UW wide receiver Dante Pettis: “I could write a book on what this man has taught me!!! Can’t thank you enough for what you did for me CP!! Changed my life, pushed me to be the best version of myself on and off the field … always love!”
Former UW tight end Drew Sample: “I wouldn’t be where I am today without this man, he believed in me before I truly believed in myself. He played a huge role in my life both on and off the field and college football won’t be the same without him.”
Current UW offensive lineman Nick Harris: “Took a chance on me when NOBODY else did. Thank you Coach Pete for everything.”
Current UW offensive lineman Troy Fautanu: “Never will I forget all the tools you have provided me with to use on and off the field. Nothing but love for this man right here. Thank you Coach Pete!”
Current UW offensive lineman Jaxson Kirkland: “Extremely thankful to have been coached and mentored by the best in the business. Coach Pete taught me what it means to be a real man! Thank you for everything Coach.”
There were more — from current players, former players, parents and prospective recruits. But for Petersen, it seems, a decision has been made. And football might not ultimately define the coach’s future.
“I think he’s someone who values his life away from football,” Browning said. “He’s got a pretty balanced life. With some coaches, all they know is coaching. He’s definitely not one of them. He has a good family life and all that, and I’m sure he was thinking: ‘Is this worth it to me?’
“Part of it I’m sure was how comfortable he is with Lake. I know he thinks very, very highly of him, and it’s Lake’s time to take over.”
Of course, UW alums had plenty to say on social media about that, too. Current Green Bay Packers cornerback Kevin King tweeted, “Woooah this is crazy, (because) we all know Pete’s the Goat. But Laaaaaaake?!!?! Beast!!”
“He’s a great teacher. He’s always had a great vision,” added Bartlett, a standout UW linebacker from 2015 to 2018. “We talk about the standard all the time: it’s the best you’ve ever done. That’s our standard at the University of Washington. I think he has that kind of vision for the future.”
The best UW has ever done? That’d be a national title.
Now, all Lake needs to do is bring his vision to life.