S Skip Hall had to be honest.
It’s not that he necessarily wanted to see Chris Petersen, his close friend, leave Boise State. But when Hall, who coached at both Washington and BSU, received a phone call from UW in December of 2013 asking what he thought of Petersen as a candidate to fill the Huskies’ vacant head coaching position, he didn’t need long to respond.
And the Huskies didn’t need long to offer Petersen the job.
“I just thought it was a great fit,” Hall said earlier this week via telephone from his home in Boise. “Well, of course, all the people in Seattle were happy, and all the people here in Boise were scratching their head.
“There was some shock in Boise, but I think everyone kind of expected that one of these times, he was probably going to go.”
So there he went, to Washington, where in his second season as coach he finds himself preparing for a season opener that he describes, likely accurately, as “awkward.”
It will be awkward for Chris Petersen to stand on the opposing sideline Friday night at Albertsons Stadium. Awkward to scout Boise State this week and analyze game film of players he recruited, players he once vowed to guide through their formative years. Awkward to know that the fans who comprise the sellout crowd — so many of them present during the Boise uprising that Petersen orchestrated — now want his team to lose.
Asked this week to describe what that atmosphere might be like, Petersen quipped: “I think when a game is billed as the biggest game in school history, I don’t think you have to do a lot of describing.”
That might be overselling it a bit, given that during Petersen’s tenure as head coach the Broncos twice went undefeated and won two BCS bowl games (and won another bowl game last season after he left).
But his point stands: this is a big one. It’s unique, too. Coaches leave for new jobs all the time, but it’s not often that a coach leaves for a different school in a different conference and then winds up facing his old team just two years later. Especially after leading the old team to 92 wins in eight seasons.
And it’s not just weird for Petersen. Eight of UW’s nine assistant coaches worked with him at Boise, and six of them were there during Petersen’s final season.
Plus, Bryan Harsin, Boise State’s second-year head coach, was Petersen’s offensive coordinator at Boise for five years, and five of Harsin’s assistants — Marcel Yates, Andy Avalos, Julius Brown, Scott Huff and Lee Marks — either worked or played for Petersen.
Because of those connections, Pete Kwiatkowski, UW’s defensive coordinator, doesn’t try to conceal this game’s significance. He played at Boise. He coached at Boise. He’s in Boise State University’s Athletic Hall of Fame.
“It’s not just another game,” he said. “Because a lot of those guys we recruited, and I went there, and I have a lot of friends that went there. … So from that standpoint, it’s not another game for me. But at the end of the day, it is another game, because we’ve got to go out there and we’re going to play our tails off and compete and see what happens.”
What they’ll see, at the very least, is a Broncos program that still resembles what Petersen built. Harsin was hired at BSU as a graduate assistant under then-coach Dan Hawkins in 2001, took over as tight ends coach from 2002-05, then replaced Petersen as offensive coordinator when Petersen ascended to head coach in 2006.
Petersen’s attention to detail — “the process,” as you’ve heard it described before — resonated with Harsin, and that’s what he most tried to emulate as a head coach himself.
“I found that to be something that I really appreciated about Coach Petersen — there was a way you did things, and a process,” Harsin said. “As a young coach, you got a chance to see it, and you saw the type of success that he had from how he did do things, and I think if you’re smart, you adopted those principles into your coaching philosophy.”
Petersen shows little interest in questions about how the Boise crowd might greet him come Friday night, terming the matter “totally irrelevant.”
“I have so many good friends and there’s so many awesome people over there, and I know that,” Petersen said, “and so the others that would be saying (negative things) — there are a lot of things I think about, but that is not one thing I think about.
“And I get it. I mean, hey — they’re always going to be Boise fans. If Bryan Harsin leaves, they’re going to be down on him. So I get that. They were down on Dan Hawkins when he left (for Colorado in December, 2005). That’s just the nature of that position, and that’s how it is.”
It’s worth wondering. Do the home fans still harbor resentment toward Petersen because he left? Or has time healed those wounds?
Hall visited Petersen in Seattle last week, and spent time with Boise State’s coaching staff recently, too. He remains close to both programs, and as a former Broncos head coach himself (1987-1992), Hall has a particular appreciation for the legacy that Petersen left.
He hopes that rowdy, blue-clad crowd appreciates all of it, too.
“It’s hard, because usually when the opposing team runs out, there’s a bunch of people that like to boo,” Hall said. “I hope that when Coach Pete’s name is maybe announced, somehow, some way, they’ll give him a warm reception. He really deserves it. I think by and large, the great majority of people here understand that, and believe that, and will respond that way.”