PULLMAN – While fans of Washington and Washington State exchange cross-state jabs at one another over the next four days, the men coaching the Huskies and the Cougars decided to open rivalry week with a different type of game.
Dish a compliment, take a compliment, dish another one, take another one.
“He’s just a great guy,” Leach said of Petersen during a Monday news conference. “He’s a good guy, he’s the guy that the teachers probably always liked and got to school early, got his homework done early. And your parents would occasionally say, ‘Why can’t you be more like the Petersen boy?’ ”
Earlier in the day, Petersen spoke with the same high regard for the man who’ll be opposing him Friday night at Martin Stadium, where the Huskies (8-3, 6-2) and Cougars (10-1, 7-1) will play to determine which team gets a date with Utah in the Pac-12 Championship game at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California, seven days later.
“He just does it his way,” Petersen told local media of Leach. “I think there’s a lot of ways to skin a cat, obviously. I think he believes in his way. I think he’s a really smart guy, and he sticks to the script and he can weather the storm. He just perseveres and comes through it.”
No barbs between the rival coaches approximately 120 hours before the biggest game of the season for both – just pleasantries.
“He’s a fantastic guy,” Leach said. “I can see why parents said I should be more like him. At this point, it probably won’t happen, but I can see their point of view a little bit.”
Under Leach, the Cougars have gone just 1-5 in the Apple Cup, beating the Huskies for their only Pac-12 victory in 2012 on Andrew Furney’s 27-yard field goal in overtime. Toni Pole helped seal the win with an interception of Keith Price in overtime.
But Petersen ensured there wouldn’t be a repeat when he took over the UW helm in 2013, and the former Boise State coach hasn’t lost once to Leach and the Cougars during his rebuild of the program on Montlake.
Petersen is 4-0 against WSU and he’s winning the Apple Cup by a hefty 23.8 points-per-game margin. But there’s no ill will from Leach, who maintains – and continues to build – a relationship with the only Pac-12 North coach he’s yet to beat.
“We’re pretty good friends,” Leach said. “(I) knew him first when he was in Boise, knew a lot of people in common. Didn’t know each other well.”
Leach and Petersen don’t cross paths often outside of the annual rivalry game, but the UW coach rehashed a comical non-Apple Cup encounter with his WSU counterpart during Monday’s media availability.
Petersen, Leach and the 10 other Pac-12 coaches gathered in Los Angelesin July for their annual coaches’ meetings as a prelude to the conference’s media day held a few days later.
Eleven coaches had already arrived when Leach – In-N-Out Burger bag in hand – showed up to the meeting nearly 30 minutes late.
“We were all looking at our watches thinking, ‘This might not turn out good for him,’ ” Petersen recalled. “He walks in with this In-N-Out burger and milkshake and we’re all like, ‘Really?’ And waiting for somebody to say something. He’s just happy as a clam, eating away and we’re like, ‘Why didn’t we do that?’ That’s really the last time I saw him.”
The story is accurate, Leach later affirmed at his press conference, but the WSU coach had an explanation for his tardiness. Leach had been at his home in Key West, Florida, and the cross-country flight to Los Angeles was delayed.
“I hadn’t eaten anything all day,” Leach said, “and if I didn’t get something to eat, I wasn’t going to be any fun to anybody, so I figured it was in my best interest and the other people I’d be around with and associated with, that I got something to eat.”
“It wasn’t entirely unlike Jeff Spicoli in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” when he walked in with the pizza and Mr. Hand says, ‘What do you think you’re doing on my time?’ Well, everyone was there, so I felt like it was our time. So we might as well enjoy some In-N-Out Burgers as long as we’re all there and getting the edification of the meeting.”
The UW and WSU coaches didn’t get much time to mingle at the meeting – “I tried to, but he had his mouth full, so I moved on,” Petersen claimed – but they’ll reunite Friday on the chilly Palouse, with the stakes as high as they’ve ever been.