LOS ANGELES – Even before Chris Petersen took the podium at Pac-12 media day, the Washington coach set the agenda for the Huskies interview session when he told sports radio host Dave “Softy” Mahler that he was suspending quarterback Cyler Miles for the season opener at Hawaii.
As such, Petersen spent much of his time in front of the conference’s assembled media explaining why a single-game suspension was sufficient punishment for the favorite in the competition to succeed Keith Price as Washington’s starting quarterback.
Miles was investigated but not charged after it was alleged that the Colorado native assaulted Seahawks fans following Seattle’s Super Bowl victory over Denver.
The quarterback, who played in eight games last season and started one, was also suspended from all team activities during Petersen’s first spring practice session since coming to UW from Boise State.
The coach contended that missing the practice time was amply punitive in its own right.
“We took I think some pretty hard action, but things were still being decided. He didn’t do anything with us football-wise,” Petersen said. “They do have a brand-new staff teaching this, taking a guy out in that position is pretty tough.”
He also framed the incident as a moment of youthful idiocy, saying, “The age group we’re dealing with is the dumbest age group in America.”
Petersen later said freshman defensive lineman Jaimie Bryant will be retiring from football after an MRI revealed an injury in his back. Bryant graduated from Tumwater High in 2013, but delayed his enrollment at the request of the former UW staff.
The media day setting provided an easy opportunity to compare the new Husky coach with the guy he replaced, USC coach Steve Sarkisian, who addressed the media on Wednesday.
The two are known for different styles. Sarkisian’s youthful energy is a boon on the recruiting trail if not always on the sideline. Even when he is asked a question that he does not want to answer, Sarkisian tries to give a roundabout quote, a way of showing the media he may not like the question but sure doesn’t mind the attention.
Petersen, on the other hand, spent years rebuffing rich schools from large media markets and his favorite thing about living in Seattle appears to be the ability to blend in with the populace when he takes off his purple Nike gear.
While he generally isn’t rude to the media, interviews for Petersen are an obligation rather than an opportunity.
His players have noticed the difference as well, in their short time with the new coach.
“You know, Sark was definitely more laid back and that sort of stuff,” said offensive tackle Ben Riva. “Sark was still meticulous with technique and that sort of stuff – I know he was with the quarterbacks, being a quarterback and coaching them – but I’d say (Petersen) definitely takes it to a new level.”
Whether he also takes the program to a new level of wins likely depends on Miles’ ability to perform well on the field and behave himself off it.
The Huskies return 14 starters from last year’s nine-win team, but had a pair of talented offensive players leave early for the NFL in tailback Bishop Sankey and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins.
They also lose Price, the school’s career leader in touchdowns and passing efficiency.
Unless Troy Williams or Jeff Lindquist has an exceptional fall camp, the season’s fortunes will likely rest on Miles’ shoulders. But a player Petersen described as “behind the eight ball” because of the time he missed in the spring is likely to fall further behind during his suspension.