Why Chris Petersen Was Best Hire of College Football Offseason

Brian Leigh@@BLeighDATFeatured ColumnistJanuary 22, 2014

Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Chris Petersen has spent the past four years playing hard to get, acting the role of the attractive flirt in the corner of the bar, next to the ironic jukebox, leering beneath the fume of the smoky neon light, who always leaves alone at 2 a.m.

It's not like he didn't have agreeable suitors. Alpha males like Stanford, Penn State and USC all reportedly came calling for him, flexing their biceps in deep v-neck muscle tees, reeking of cologne, insisting they buy his next drink.

Each time, for varying lengths, Petersen would let them have their fun, laugh at their jokes and make googly eyes. He'd paw at their arm and play coy. But at the end of each night, he'd quietly slip on his coat and make off without leaving his number, lost into the evening, never to be seen again. He was sand through athletic directors' fingers, something they could touch but never hold.

Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

That cycle came to an end in December, when Washington cracked Petersen's code and convinced him to leave Boise State for Seattle. Jilted by Steve Sarkisian, who accepted the head coaching job at USC, the Huskies fell up into a better coach who was willing to accept their position. But why? Why Washington? Why now?

"I go back to...the timing of things, feeling like I needed to take a step out of Boise to really grow and improve," said Petersen, according to Christian Caple of The News Tribune. "I think it’s really good for me and my family."

It's good for the Huskies, too. There's a reason all those blue-blood teams came calling each winter. Petersen won 84 of his first 92 games at Boise State, John Wooden-esque numbers that included a 13-0 season as a rookie head coach in 2006 and a 14-0 season in 2009.

Petersen's Broncos capped both of those undefeated years with a victory in the Fiesta Bowl. The second was a ho-hum 17-10 win over TCU, but the first was a wild upset over Oklahoma that's been etched into the annals of college football history:

Petersen has more than just a sportive playbook, a flair for the dramatic and stones the size of asteroids. His exploits at Boise included more sedate, methodical statements like the Week 1 win over Georgia in the Georgia Dome three seasons ago.

If not for a missed 39-yard field goal as time expired against TCU in November of that year, Petersen's Broncos likely would have played LSU for the national title. The season before that, when its only loss came on the road against Colin Kaepernick's upstart Nevada Wolfpack, Boise State finished No. 1 in the Football Outsiders F/+ ratings, ahead of eventual national champion Auburn and second-ranked Alabama.

Those turn-of-the-decade Boise teams were no joke.

If that's what Petersen can do with the personnel and resources of a team in the Mountain West Conference, where is the ceiling on what he can do at Washington, which plays in the Pac-12? Buoyed by a new $280 million stadium renovation and some talent returning from a team that won nine games, Petersen is set up for immediate and long-term success.

It's not just about his coaching resume, either. It's about fit. Petersen is hailed as one of the few young offensive savants in college football, but he also brings a defensive system that was tailor-made to fit the Huskies' personnel. Literally.

Former Washington defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, who followed Sarkisian to USC, held the same role under Petersen for the first four years of his tenure at Boise State. The Broncos went 49-4 in that span, and Wilcox helped groom Pete Kwiatkowski, his successor at Boise State and now at Washington, into a coach capable of implementing his system and developing players for the scheme.

October 6, 2012; Hattiesburg, MS, USA; Boise State Broncos head coach Chris Petersen greets defensive tackle Darren Koontz (95) before their game against the Southern Miss Golden Eagles at M.M. Roberts Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook - USA TODAY Spo
Chuck Cook -USA TODAY Sports

"This whole [defensive] system started at Boise when...Wilcox was with us," said Petersen, according to Ted Miller of ESPN.com. "So, there's going to be a lot of carryover with that terminology, with that structure of the defense as well."

"It's going to be as much as the same as you can possibly have it on a brand new staff."

By that token, Washington is getting a rare combination of entropy and continuity. It gets the radical, intrepid playcalling of Petersen and the stability of Wilcox's former protege. It gets a staff that's proven capable of building and sustaining a program, but it only needs the latter.

You can't have too much of something good.

Nestled away from the glare of the bright lights, Petersen can resume conducting business as he prefers. But despite being more off-the-grid, his new school hardly lacks spirit and instead has one of the best, most fearsome fanbases in college sports.

Washington provides circumstance without pomp, a microcosm for who Petersen is as a coach and a person, according to Bruce Feldman of CBS Sports:

The same can't be said for a hire like Charlie Strong at Texas. Strong is a very good coach and an upgrade over Mack Brown on the sidelines, but the stringent media requirements of the Longhorn Network make him a bit of a curious fit in Austin.

The quiet, media-indifferent coach will be exposed to things he's never seen, pressures he's never incurred. That's a variable no one can account for, and unaccounted-for variables equal risk.

Washington was able to eliminate such variables, which makes Petersen a perfect and fairly safe hire. He'll be at a place that's both familiar and different, mimicking the good parts of Boise but refining the bad ones. According to B/R's Adam Kramer, Petersen hasn't landed a 4- or 5-star prospect since 2008.

Washington has landed 25 since 2010.

In Seattle, Petersen will bring to life a hypothetical that we've all spent much time considering: How good would that guy be with talent? Despite having blue-chippers spurn his offers at Boise, he's still had 17 players drafted in the past seven seasons, including six in 2012. He develops talent from the soil, conjures it from thin air and wind. 

Washington athletic director Scott Woodward got the timing right, albeit incidentally. Like any person who plays hard to get, Petersen was seduced by a suitor that didn't try too hard, that didn't plan on having a vacancy to offer, that didn't contrive a way to land him.

Washington was left without a date to the dance, spurned by their old flame, who decided to go with the captain of the football team instead. By some incredible stroke of fortune, the prom queen found that alluring and quickly offered to be its escort. Maybe she had a secret crush on him this whole time. Who knows? All that matters now is that she came.

Petersen was the best hire of the offseason because he wasn't a hire at all. He was a coup, a heist, a thievery in the night. Washington backed into its coach of the present and future; it may have lost some 2014 recruits in the process, but short-term pain is often needed for long-term gain.

Once the Huskies start winning—and make no mistake: they will—those issues should put themselves to rights. If you build it, they will come; if you win games, recruiting takes care of itself.

And who out there knows winning quite like Petersen?

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT


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