College football coaches throughout the country—and Washington’s Chris Petersen is one of them—are totally paranoid about losing any sort of competitive advantage.
They’ve made practice off limits to the media, withhold all pertinent information on injuries or position changes and speak in a language so full of deflections you wonder how they turn on their game faces on Saturday.
One thing these football leaders can’t control is the crossbreeding of programs and sharing of intimate football relationships that could come back to bite them on game day: Take Washington and California, for instance.
When the Golden Bears’ Justin Wilcox and Petersen shake hands before Saturday’s game in Berkeley, they won’t be introducing themselves. They know each other well. Wilcox is a former Huskies defensive coordinator. Wilcox is Petersen’s former defensive coordinator at Boise State. There’s more, much more.
Wilcox’s quarterback coach is Marques Tuiasosopo, the former Huskies quarterback, quarterback coach and interim head coach.
Wilcox’s linebacker coach is Peter Sirmon, a former UW linebacker coach and father of Huskies freshman linebacker Jackson Sirmon.
In his second season with the Bears, Wilcox represents the third former UW coach to turn up as the head man at California, joining Leonard “Stub” Allison and Keith Gilbertson.
Allison served as Washington’s head coach in every way in 1920—no kidding, in football, baseball and basketball—and emerged as the Cal football leader from 1935 to ’44. He coached the Bears to their finest season in school history, beating Alabama 13-0 in the 1938 Rose Bowl and finishing 10-0-1, and then he got fired after suffering through five losing seasons over six.
Gilbertson was the Huskies’ reputable offensive coordinator for the 1991 co-national championship team when Cal hired him away. He lasted four seasons, going 9-4 in 1993 but endured three bad years and got canned. Gilbertson resurfaced as a reluctant Washington head coach in 2003 and 2004 after Rick Neuheisel was fired and he was let go himself following a disastrous 1-10 campaign, and he’s now a UW pregame radio talk show host.
The Huskies have a long line of former coaches, both head guys and assistants, who have come back as opposing head coaches. Here’s a breakdown of how they fared:
Stub Allison—A one-year UW coach (he was 1-5 in 1920) and a Huskies assistant coach the season before that, he faced his old school nine times and won just three of them. Even his 10-0-1 California ballclub in 1937, known as the Thunder Team, finished in a 0-0 tie with the Huskies.
Jimmy Phelan—He coached the Huskies for 12 years through 1941 and got fired after a 5-4 season. He rebounded at St. Mary’s and returned to Seattle in 1946 and ’47 to play the UW, winning the first one 24-20 and losing the rematch 26-6.
Darrell Royal—Another single-season leader at Washington, Royal coached that team to a 5-5 season in 1956 and then bolted for his dream job at Texas. He hosted the UW and his coaching successor Jim Owens near the end of his hall of fame coaching career and beat the Huskies 35-21 in Austin in 1974.
Bert Clark—A seven-year Owens assistant, Clark joined cross-state WSU in 1964 and went 1-3 against Washington. His worst loss (27-9) came against his best Cougars team, which was known as the Cardiac Kids and finished 7-3 in 1965. His only win over the Huskies (9-7) was engineered by his worst team, which struggled to a 2-8 season in 1967 and got him fired.
Gary Pinkel—The former Washington offensive coordinator left after sharing in a Rose Bowl season and took his first head-coaching job with Toledo in 1991. He unwisely agreed to schedule the Huskies in his first season at the helm and lost 48-0 to the eventual co-national champs. He survived that nasty afternoon by later becoming a highly successful coach at Missouri.
Keith Gilbertson—The jovial coach went 0-for-3 against the Huskies and his former boss Don James after becoming the Cal head coach, losing 35-16, 24-23 and 31-19. He returned to Washington as offensive coordinator for Neuheisel.
Chris Tormey—A five-year UW assistant for Don James and Jim Lambright, Tormey came back to Seattle in 2003 as the head coach at Nevada and pulled a stirring 28-17 upset over a Huskies team coached by Gilbertson. It wasn’t enough for Tormey to survive a 6-6 season and a subsequent firing. He returned as a Huskies assistant for a second stint for Neuheisel after failing to land the head coaching job when Lambright got fired.
Rick Neuheisel—Six years after he got dismissed as the Huskies coach for betting in an NCAA basketball tournament office pool, Neuheisel took over at UCLA in 2008 and lasted four seasons before getting fired again. He went 1-2 against the UW, winning 27-7 and 24-23 before losing the third meeting 24-7.
Steve Sarkisian—The five-year Huskies coach walked away from his rebuilding project to take the USC job in 2014. He lasted a season and a half before getting fired for problems related to alcohol abuse. His last game came against the Huskies and Petersen his UW successor in Los Angeles, and he lost 17-12. He was fired four days later.
Justin Wilcox—Three years after leaving for USC with Sarkisian and bouncing around, Wilcox joined Cal in 2017. His sixth game brought him face to face with the Huskies in Seattle, and it didn’t go well. The Bears lost 38-7. Wilcox gets his opportunity for payback in Berkeley on Saturday.
For Washington, this football season is one full of friendly fire. Once they deal with Wilcox, the Huskies host Oregon State two weeks later—and go up against former offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith, in his first year as head coach trying to revive the Beavers.