Pettas talks about 'reunion'

The last time John Pettas was in Seattle, Washington, he was in unfamiliar territory. When Dirk Koetter accepted the head coaching position at Arizona State after the 2000 season was complete, the former Sun Devil offensive coordinator suddenly found himself out of work. With the job market scarce, John looked north.

When Washington head coach Rick Neuheisel found out Pettas was available, it was a bitersweet discovery. He was full up on coaches, but having John on staff was just an opportunity too good to pass up, so Rick threw out a suggestion. How about Pettas come up as a graduate assistant?

Graduate assistant? For a former Pac-10 coordinator? Are you kidding me? But Pettas considered the opportunity and accepted the position, working mainly with the wide receivers in 2001. Neuheisel rewarded John's flexibility and desire to stay on the west coast by re-hiring Pettas Monday to fill the spot vacated by Washington's former quarterbacks coach, Steve Axman. Pettas, his wife Lynn and daughters Amanda and Mallory will be once again heading back to the west, this time from Louisville, Kentucky. Last year John was John L. Smith's offensive coordinator at the University of Louisville. But as was the case two years ago for Pettas, he was left out in the cold in a head coaching switch. This time, it was Smith and Michigan State.

Enter Rick Neuheisel. Again.

"Rick and I had been talking all year anyhow, and it was one of those things where he was like, 'If I get the opportunity I'd love to hire you,' and I was like, 'I would love to come back and work if the chance arises,' and it happened," Pettas told Monday night. "I gave him a call in the morning when I knew Ax was leaving and he called me back later that night and we kind of talked it over during recruiting. He was in no rush to make a move, so we waited it out. And when the time was right we pulled the trigger and got it done.

"I'm getting a big pay raise from last time, that's for sure. Last time was one of those situations where I came here, had some fun, made some contacts and it paid off. I also don't have to go to school either. Does that mean I'm a graduate?"

Washington makes sense for Pettas for many reasons. "I hit it off pretty good with Rick and Gilby and everybody," he said. "And I knew I would, because I had known some of the guys from before. Then I went to Louisville as a coordinator and then John L. left to go to Michigan State and Ax left to take a coordinator spot at UCLA and it opened up a slot for me to come back to a place I want to be.

I'm a west coast guy, a Pac-10 guy, and it was a natural fit to come back and work with people I like working with. I also get to come back and work with a lot of the kids I had fun working with from before. It worked out."

With Axman, Bobby Hauck and Brent Myers gone, the faces may have changed, but Pettas is ready to roll with the punches. "I've known Bobby (Kennedy) a few years," John said. "He's a friend of a really good friend of mine at Wake Forest and we actually coached against one another in the Aloha Bowl one year. Cornell Jackson's on the staff and Rick recently hired Phil (Snow) and I worked with both of them at Arizona State. So even though there are new guys on the staff they are guys I know and they are old friends.

"We're calling it ASU north. The sun came out for me today."

Pettas spelled out Neuheisel's expectations. "I'll be coaching quarterbacks," he said. "I'll take Ax's spot and coach Cody up. And I'll probably be going upstairs because that's where I was with Gilby a couple of years ago. He and I worked well up there together. I saw some things that maybe he didn't see and vise-versa. I was able to help him and that fit pretty good. And of course Rick will be down on the field with the rest of the offensive guys, so that's probably how it's going to work."

When asked about recruiting Pettas couldn't answer specifics because the coaches haven't sat down and talked about that yet. But given his history with quarterbacks, namely Jake Plummer, Ryan Kealy, Jeff Krohn, Andrew Walter and Dave Ragone, there's no question John can get the job done when it comes to signal-callers.

In fact, he almost did a job on Cody Pickett during the coaching changeover from Jim Lambright to Neuheisel. "I almost had him at Arizona State," recalled Pettas. "When I was done recruiting Cody to have him come to Arizona State to play for me, I think that was something he wanted to do. But he had made an early commitment to come to Washington and play for Lambo and his parents wanted him to stay and play in the northwest.

"When Lambo was let go I jumped right back on in with both feet to try and get him to Arizona State and he was about an inch away from coming. But finally he chose to honor his commitment, so we didn't get him to come play football for us down at Arizona State. And then, I guess you could say we 'reunited' up here when I became the receivers coach and now I get to reunite with him again as his position coach. We're both looking forward to it."

And what is Pettas' quarterbacking philosophy? "The biggest thing is teaching them both sides of the ball," he said. "I want them to learn as much defensive philosophy as much as our own offensive philosophy. The more defense they learn the more they can anticipate what's going to happen when they see things. So we'll be looking at a lot of defenses, letting them know why they see things the way they do, and why defenses play a cover 2 instead of a cover 3 and why they end up where they are.

"And then just teach them your system, the way Gilby and Rick have implimented it in the past and get them better and more decisive in making decisions. Try and spend as much time as you can doing that."

That decision-making could certainly spill over to the option as well. "That was something that Gilby has employed in the past with (Marques) Tuiasosopo and even the year I spent here we ran the option with Cody a lot until his shoulder went out," John said. But I'm not sure where Gilby is with the option right now. It's certainly something we can teach. I've coached it in the past and run it as a quarterback in college. If that's what Keith wants us to do, we can do that."

In talking with Pettas, it's clear he's happy that his career path has turned once again toward the pacific northwest. "It's good to be back," he said. "As the players told me last time I was here, 'Once a Dawg always a Dawg'. My family is excited about coming back to Washington and we're looking forward to having a fun year and a good year.

"Walking through the weight room, it was great to see a lot of the players and personnel come up to me and congratulate me and welcome me back. It felt good. It seemed like everybody was just as excited to have me back. That's always a good feeling when you know people want you here and you've been led to believe that maybe I did something right the last time I was here. I hope I can continue that way."

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