After 13 seasons and attempts by Penn State, Stanford, UCLA and USC – just this week – to pry him from Boise State, Chris Petersen seemed to be a Bronco for life. Then he decided Washington was the job to which he finally couldn’t say no.
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE – For years, programs -- iconic ones from Penn State through Stanford and UCLA, to USC just this week – have wanted Chris Petersen.
In the end, Petersen only wanted Washington.
The 49-year-old powerhouse maker at Boise State, the only two-time winner of the Paul “Bear” Bryant Award as national coach of the year, the owner of 92 wins in 104 games including three undefeated regular seasons in the last eight years, targeted UW as much as it wanted him after Steve Sarkisian left the Huskies suddenly to go home and coach USC on Monday.
By Thursday night, 10 p.m. Boise time, Petersen had agreed to terms on a memorandum of understanding with Washington to become its next coach.
He went home to discuss the deal with his wife Barbara and to sleep on it. Then he made it official Friday morning, telling his Broncos of his decision in a team meeting that people in Boise never thought he’d have.
And just four days after they seemed to be left flailing by a sudden departure, the Huskies have added one of the college football’s most coveted, seemingly untouchable coaches.
The innovative play caller with creative, exciting flair – remember the Statue of Liberty play that won Boise State’s Fiesta Bowl over heavily favored Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl? -- becomes the 26th coach in the 124 years of Husky Football.
Huskies quarterbacks coach Marques Tuiasosopo will lead Washington in its bowl game this month as interim head coach.
On Monday, UW Director of Athletics Scott Woodward stood in front of the Huskies players seconds after Sarkisian walked out of the team meeting room for the final time. He told the hushed Dawgs that he wasn’t going to get him a “good” coach, but that he was going to bring them a “GREAT” one, a man to lead them past the seven- and eight-win regular seasons they’ve had the last four years to championships.
Petersen will bring innovative, dynamic – and fun – play calling to the Huskies’ offense. His teams are known for the wide open and the unexpected. His recruits are known for speed outside, brawn inside and quarterbacks who are maestros of his intricate schemes.
Defensively, Petersen’s hiring seemingly increases the chances of the Huskies retaining highly regarded coordinator Justin Wilcox, whom Sarkisian wanted to take with him to USC. Wilcox was Petersen’s defensive coordinator at Boise State from 2006-09 – though of course now there’s a job opening in Boise that may pique Wilcox’s interest.
So why Washington for Petersen? Why now?
According to those close to the negotiations, the low-key Petersen, his wife and their two boys love the Pacific Northwest culture, its vibe and way of life. It’s why he’s said no to everywhere else. He also doesn’t mind Washington’s new, $281 million Husky Stadium with its 83,000-square-foot football operations center that opened this year. Petersen saw that first-hand at its grand unveiling on Aug. 31.
How grand? On a perfect, 70-degree night in front of packed, sparkling house and on national television, the Huskies gave him his worst Boise State loss since he took over the Broncos in 2006.
The final score was 38-6. The seed was planted.
As negotiations gained momentum midweek, how could Washington be sure it would lead to anything? Petersen had been a top choice of USC until he withdrew from consideration there just before the Trojans hired Sarkisian on Monday. Petersen reportedly felt during talks with Trojans’ AD Pat Haden that the vibe in Southern California wasn’t right for him, and that the way he ran a program didn’t fit with what USC wanted.
In 2010 he withdrew from consideration from the job at Stanford. A year later he turned down a reported offer from UCLA. Penn State was said to have tried three different times to get Petersen to coach it after the Joe Paterno quit coaching in 2011.
So when it became clear this week that Petersen was as interested in the Huskies as they were in him, there was a “wow” moment for both. That’s the moment the rest of college football is having right now.
That feeling cemented to the Huskies and Petersen how this job – on a rising team in a major but not gigantic metropolitan market going to its fourth consecutive bowl and a victory away from its first nine-win season since 2000, with eye-popping, new facilities and a fevered fan base on his native West Coast (Petersen was born in Yuba City, Calif., then set passing records quarterbacking UC Davis) -- was unlike any other he had previously considered.
So Thursday evening, Woodward and UW Senior Associate Athletic Director Jennifer Cohen boarded a private jet bound for Boise. The meeting there lasted about 90 minutes, and Petersen wowed his visitors.
Petersen had agreed to the deal but wanted to sleep on it, and Woodward and Cohen headed back to Seattle.
Petersen got up Friday morning and decided he indeed wanted to lead the Huskies. He called an early morning team meeting at Boise State.
Then UW announced the deal that has all of college football – and most important the Huskies’ locker room -- buzzing.
Monday, the players had come together in the center of their team meeting room after listen briefly in stone silence to Sarkisian, and then for about 10 minutes to their rousing AD.
“We all we got!” defensive tackle Danny Shelton and other veteran leaders yelled.
“We all we need!” all the Huskies shouted back.
Now they have a heralded, supposedly unattainable coach.
“We all we got!” just got all they could have hoped for. And more.