Different Year For Dawgs, but Same Game

In the spin cycle lifestyle that is Division-1 coaching, Chris Petersen and Mark Helfrich are two ships passing each other in the night. While Petersen was cutting his teeth coaching receivers at Oregon in the late 90's and into 2000, Helfrich was coaching quarterbacks at Boise State.

Nearly a decade later, Helfrich had found himself coaching up the Ducks' Darron Thomas, where Chip Kelly would eventually hand over the reins to Helfrich full-time in 2013, while Petersen had migrated 430 miles east to Boise to eventually take over the Broncos' head coaching job.

With Petersen's move to Washington, the two will now tangle regularly in the bitter cold of the Pac-12 North Division. The realities of the rivalry bit Petersen hard Saturday night, as his Huskies suffered their 11th-straight loss in the series to UO, 45-20. UW lost to Oregon 45-24 in Seattle the year prior, so it doesn't appear that Petersen packed his Duck repellant, despite the fact that he was 2-0 against them while at Boise.

So in other words, different year - same game. We can all play the 'if' game all day long, but does anyone really think they would have been that much more competitive if Steve Sarkisian was still in charge at UW? I don't think so, and that's more a reflection on Oregon and where they are at than anything related to the purple and gold.

When asked, Petersen pointed to continuity and program building as a big reason why the Ducks have achieved their lofty status as a top-5 national program, and also how that explains Washington's recent high anxiety.

"They’ve had it going for quite a long time," Petersen said. "It’s not any one phase of their program. Their recruiting’s good, their weight program is excellent. They know the offenses and defenses inside and out and that’s where we’ve got to get to, eventually.”

While everyone will point to the always nattily attired Gary Campbell and his 31 continual seasons coaching up UO's running backs, or the veteran special teams prowess of a coach like Tom Osborne, or how Steve Greatwood's offensive line gets everything started for the Ducks up front - or even the continuity of having Don Pellum succeed Nick Aliotti much like Helfich did with Kelly on the other side of the ball - no one talks much about Jim Radcliffe.

Who's he?

Radcliffe is Oregon's guy behind the guy behind the guy behind the guy - yet all those guys completely understand, and acknowledge that he's the most important guy in Oregon's program - and has been for a very long time. Even his own official Oregon biography mentions how overlooked he is! After starting his work in 1985, Radcliffe has been lurking deep in the woods of Oregon's Strength and Conditioning department, all he's done is oversee the Ducks massive transformation from Pac-10 afterthought to Pac-12 relevance - and beyond.

All this experience at Oregon, all that continuity, all that 'been there, done that'. During Radcliffe's stay in Eugene, Rick Huegli, Bill Gillespie, Trent Greener, Ivan Lewis, and Tim Socha have occupied that same seat in Seattle. That's five different ways to build football players, five different ways to slice bread.

Socha came with Petersen from Boise, where he joined as their head strength guy the same time Petersen took over as head coach. The Broncos went undefeated that year.

That's not happening at Washington. The simple fact is, Petersen picked up where Dan Hawkins left the Broncos, just as Hawkins had picked up where Dirk Koetter left it to go to Arizona State. Hawkins brought Petersen aboard in 2001 as his Offensive Coordinator.

Sensing a theme?

In a roundabout way, Oregon's progress under Kelly and now Helfrich mirrors what Hawkins and Petersen were able to achieve at Boise starting nine years earlier. There's none of that happening at Washington right now, despite 9-4 in 2013 - but it could.

Here comes the house analogy: Rich Brooks bought a prime piece of real estate after years of hard bargaining. Mike Bellotti provided the foundation for that house. Chip Kelly proved to be a master craftsman, putting together a structure built to last. Helfrich is now simply accessorizing, adding the details and authentic touches that will keep Oregon's house on the cutting edge of football architecture for years to come.

That house isn't getting razed any time soon.

Many have talked about Petersen in the same breath as coaches like Chip Kelly, and his current 97-14 record is a living testament - but in reality isn't he more like UW's Rich Brooks? Taking the house thing one step forward to what's happening in Seattle right now, Pete is doing to the Huskies' program what Scott Woodward did to Husky Stadium three years ago; he's demolishing the worst looking house in the best neighborhood of college football, and building the foundation for something grand.

The property has already been purchased. Exquisite, awe-inspiring temples to college football have already been built there, but eventually torn down by caretakers ill-suited for the job. National Championships have been housed there, and can be again.

But as we've seen with Oregon's palace, these winning structures are not built overnight. They have managers in place that have cared for their program in various capacities for thirty years - and longer. Helfrich may be the ones with the keys to the front door, but he rarely keeps things locked up anyway. Everyone on the Pac-12 block knows where Oregon lives, and they don't have the stones to enter uninvited.

Case in point: Washington's feeble attempt Saturday to storm the Ducks' castle. After a strong opening gambit, the Huskies never made it past the moat. Oregon is simply bigger, faster, stronger, tougher - and better - than Washington right now. UW's impressive win over Cal the week before was a false dawn.

Chris Petersen called it 'two steps forward, one step back'. But Washington fans would call it eleven steps back, and where are the steps forward?

Petersen can't embroil himself in past shame when it comes to this impressively lopsided rivalry. It doesn't do him any good, and it's simply a sideshow at this point. The gulf in class between the two programs is there for all to see, and all Pete can do right now is built Husky Football up the way he knows how - one nail at a time - and not worry about what's going on five hours to the south.

Eventually those nails will be directed toward putting this ugly losing streak in a coffin - but for now Petersen has bigger problems on his hands. Does he have a quarterback controversy now? It may not matter if Cyler Miles has a concussion. He has an underperforming offensive line to deal with, as well as a running back group suddenly very low on healthy players and a receiving group that has decided not to catch passes. He has a defense full of future NFL stars, yet they can't get off the field on third down.

But these are all roadblocks any contractor encounters as they try and build something that lasts. In the real world, it's never perfect sailing. So while Washington fans lick their wounds and prepare to be inundated with barbs from their green and yellow office colleagues Monday for the eleventh time, Petersen is back at work tinkering - creating a blueprint for his home. Washington's new home.

Does anyone know someone in the Pac-12 Planning Commission to speed up a building permit?

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