Chris Petersen has always worked according to his own schedule.
During eight seasons as the head coach at Boise State he brought the Broncos into the elite of college football, never in a rush to land the next big job despite being courted constantly by higher-profile schools.
When he finally decided to jump to Washington in 2013, Petersen realized he needed a new challenge and Boise State needed a new voice in charge.
And now after six seasons leading the Huskies, 14 overall as a head coach and more than 30 years in coaching, Petersen has decided it’s time to step away.
“I’ll be a Husky for life, but now is the right time for me to step away from my head coaching duties, and recharge,” Petersen said.
Petersen unexpectedly resigned at Washington on Monday, a shocking announcement with the Huskies coming off a 7-5 regular season and bound for a sixth straight bowl game under his leadership. Petersen will coach the Huskies in the bowl game, his final game in charge of the program he helped grow back into national prominence.
Then Washington will be turned over to defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake, who is being promoted and tasked with continuing the Huskies run of success over the past six seasons.
There will be no coaching search. Simply a succession plan that’s seemed to be in place for several years while Lake was being sought for other jobs around the country.
The surprise is the timing.
The school said Petersen, 55, will move into a “leadership advisory role” within the athletic department. Petersen has been one of college football’s most successful coaches over the last two decades, going 146-38 combined during his time at Boise State and Washington. With the Huskies, Petersen has a 54-26 record, won two Pac-12 titles and took Washington to three New Year’s Six bowl games, including an appearance in the national semifinals in 2016 and last year the school’s first Rose Bowl trip since the 2000 season.
Petersen was also unbeaten against rival Washington State.
“It has been a privilege and a professional dream fulfilled to be part of this world-class institution,” Petersen said. “I will forever be grateful, honored and humbled to have had the opportunity to coach our fine young men on Montlake for these past six seasons. I thank each of them, as well as our coaches and administrative staff for the incredible commitment they’ve made to Husky football during my tenure.”
Petersen was finally persuaded to leave Boise State in 2013 after growing the Broncos into a national powerhouse. He was Washington’s chosen successor to Steve Sarkisian, drawn to the school by the history of the program and the opportunity to test himself on a bigger stage — while not leaving the comfort of a region he had spent most of his professional career.
Within three seasons, Petersen had Washington playing Alabama in the Peach Bowl for the right to play for the national title. While the Huskies fell short that day, it was a major accomplishment for a program that less than a decade earlier had gone through an 0-12 season.
Washington was expected to be a contender in the Pac-12 again this year, but struggles to replace several key players on defense and an inconsistent offense led to a subpar campaign. The Huskies’ 31-13 win over Washington State last Friday turned out to be Petersen’s last home game.
“Chris has been transformational for not only our football program, but our entire athletic department,” athletic director Jen Cohen said. “It has been such a privilege to watch how he has been so committed to the development of our young men, not just on the field, but more importantly off. I can’t thank him enough for his service and leadership, and I look forward to having him stay on staff in a leadership advisory role, so he can continue to impact individuals across our department and the entire campus.”
Petersen, Lake and Cohen are schedule to speak at a news conference Tuesday.
Lake, 42, has turned down several other coaching opportunities in recent years and has seemed to be the hand-picked replacement for Petersen. Along with veteran defensive coach Pete Kwiatkowski, the duo have been the architects for a Washington defense that’s been among the best in the country in recent years and developed a long list of NFL draftees.
Lake’s contract covers five seasons and starts at $3 million, escalating to $3.4 million for the 2024 season, according to a memorandum of understanding from the school.
“I’ve been dreaming of this opportunity for as long as I can remember and I can’t think of a better place to do it than in the world-class city of Seattle and at such a prestigious university with a rich football tradition,” Lake said. “This wouldn’t be possible without the mentorship of Coach Petersen and I would like to thank him for everything he has done for me, as well as Jen Cohen for entrusting me with this opportunity.”