University of Washington

You don't know Huskies offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan's life story. But you should

Washington offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan works with players at the first practice of spring football for the NCAA college team Wednesday, March 28, 2018, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)nam
Washington offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan works with players at the first practice of spring football for the NCAA college team Wednesday, March 28, 2018, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)nam

Bush Hamdan has worked in four of the Power 5 conferences, coached an NFL MVP and is now a Pac-12 offensive coordinator — all by the age of 32.

The Washington Huskies' offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach is more than a rising star in the coaching ranks.

He's possibly the only coordinator of Middle Eastern descent among Football Bowl Subdivision programs. There's a chance Hamdan, who is half-Pakistani and half-Palestinian, might be one of the first -- if not the first -- coordinator of Middle Eastern heritage in college football history.

But who exactly is Bush Hamdan?

"Nobody's ever really asked me that," says a surprised Hamdan with a smile. "I guess I'm a guy that has been fueled by a very average college playing career, if even that."

You get a more complete picture about Hamdan by asking those who know him best. Gibran Hamdan, a former NFL quarterback who was briefly with the Seahawks, has watched his younger brother make sacrifices because of his drive of what he described as "the pursuit of progression."

Huskies coach Chris Petersen depicts his protege as a "remarkable young guy" when he played for him at Boise State. And in that time, he's watched Hamdan grow into a man who has taken that "it factor" from many years ago and parlayed into a promising career that's seen him accomplish a lot in a short amount of time.

"When you think about it, he's been grinding for over 10 years, moved how many times? This has not come easy for him by any stretch," Petersen said. "I mean, he's moved nine times in 11 years. He's been single. His whole life has been football for 10 years. That's all he's thought about.

"People think 'Oh, here's this young guy' but they do not understand the sacrifice and what he's done to get himself in this position."

Born in Kuwait, football in US

Hamdan was born in Kuwait City, Kuwait, but the family moved to the United States when the Gulf War broke out only a few days after they had already gone to their vacation home in San Diego.

The Hamdans are a successful family. His father, Latif, is a nuclear scientist. His mother, Laila, became a business woman who built a mini-empire in the cosmetology industry. Gibran was a two-sport star at Indiana, who also owns a luxury men's fashion line while serving as a graphic artist/illustrator in addition to being a photographer and a consultant among his other talents.

Hamdan said his father got another job with the U.S. government working in Washington, D.C., and he spent the rest of his childhood in the area.

"I don't totally know if I was meant to get the opportunities to grow up in this country or not," Hamdan said. "I know when we were in Kuwait, my folks had put my brother and me in British schools to learn English with hopes of one day being able to live in the United States permanently."

Football came into the picture when Gibran's high school team lost their starting quarterback, Hamdan said. Gibran, who is 6-foot-4, was approached by the head coach about coming out for the team. It led to Gibran getting a football and baseball scholarship to Indiana.

"All of a sudden, football is kind of intriguing to me," Hamdan said. "Starting my ninth grade year at Bishop O'Connell High School, I started playing football as well as baseball."

There was more to Hamdan's high school experience than sports. He was a high school freshman on a day they were running the mile, and while his class was outside, they saw smoke billowing from a building about 10 miles away.

The day was Sept. 11, 2001 and the building was The Pentagon.

"Obviously, that had a huge impact on me my whole life. You're always the brunt of those jokes and all those things just by the nature," he said. "Part of that is, you just go with the territory. You can't react to that stuff. It is what it is. I just use that as a strength from the standpoint of whatever it is, just going with the flow and never over-reacting to that stuff.

"Keeping my head down whether comments are made, not made and staying focused on my work."

For much of Hamdan's life, he's been the only person who looks like him whether it be in a meeting room or other college football circles.

But as he put it, he would not change that experience at all. He said it helped him understand that adapting to different surroundings is one of the avenues he could use to be successful in life.

He said the only time when he ever felt like he fit in was when he and his mother took a vacation to Dubai. Hamdan said it was the first time in his life that everyone around him looked like him.

"When I felt like I was in Boise, the black guys would go, 'Is Bush black?' The white guys were like, 'Is Bush white?'" he said. "Somehow in all that, even my brother and I, all we knew our whole lives was you better fit in with everybody. You better know who Kanye is and you better know the Nas album.

"But at the same time, if Green Day's coming out with an album, you better listen to them and you probably gotta go to a Kenny Chesney concert in Boise."

Bummed in Boise

Then-Boise State coach Dan Hawkins handed Hamdan a redshirt as a true freshman. Hawkins made Hamdan his third-string quarterback in 2005. Hawkins left, Petersen was named head coach and led the Broncos to a 13-0 season the next year. Hamdan was third on the depth chart. He entered the 2007 season battling Taylor Tharp for the top spot, a job Hamdan would lose.

Come 2008, Hamdan was a redshirt senior. This was going to be his year. Instead, he lost the job to true freshman Kellen Moore, who became the most prolific passer in Boise State history.

"That was the hardest thing I ever I had to do in my entire coaching career: Not make him the starting quarterback," Petersen said. "The entire program, the whole coaching staff wanted him to be the starting quarterback. We all did. We had this little, ol' lefty guy out of Prosser, Washington, and we just kinda had this feeling. We thought it was best for the program.

"How Bush handled that whole situation, he changed our program at Boise with how he was with his teammates to the coaches. How he was to Kellen Moore. His reaction to that? He was crushed and all he did was become the biggest leader on the team and in the locker room. It changed everything when people saw him react like that."

Never winning the starting job bothered Hamdan but it did not make him want to walk away from the game. He always had an interest in teaching and wanted to pursue coaching after some of the experiences he had with figures like Petersen at Boise State.

A coach is made

His career started in 2009 as a student assistant at Colorado. From there, he went to Maryland to be an offensive quality control analyst where he worked with Ralph Friedgen and James Franklin. Hamdan then had stops at Sacramento State, Florida, Arkansas State and Davidson before coming to Montlake in 2015.

"The moves. They make you who you are," Hamdan said. "This profession has changed over the years. To be a big-time coach or to coach at a place like Washington, the nature is you gotta be willing to be broke for a long time and make every move necessary and make the sacrifices to work the way we do."

Moving around, while professionally fulfilling, does have drawbacks. Hamdan said it was hard to not having the chance to put down roots or make friends outside of work. The nature of his job means he gets to see his parents about one week a year. Seeing Gibran and his family is a bit easier as they live in the Seattle area.

"That's the toughest thing about it," he said. "But I wanna be clear, man. I love what I do."

Petersen hired him as an offensive quality control analyst at UW and promoted him to receivers coach/passing game coordinator a year later. In 2017, he left to become the Atlanta Falcons quarterbacks coach where he worked with 2016 NFL MVP Matt Ryan.

"My brother is in the pursuit of progression," Gibran said. "He's in the pursuit of development and the pursuit of development and always pushing himself. I think that pursuit in that professional aspect involves pushing the envelope on pushing his comfort level."

Back to UW

The Huskies were in the market for an offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach when Jonathan Smith left for his alma mater, Oregon State. It led to Petersen reuniting with Hamdan as the Huskies enter the 2018 season with high expectations.

Hamdan knows the offense and is beyond familiar with players like fourth-year quarterback Jake Browning and fourth-year tailback Myles Gaskin among others.

Players have raved about Hamdan's return. So have his fellow coaches like Scott Huff and Pete Kwiatkowski, who knew him from when they coached at Boise State.

"It's all about relationships and how people are," Kwiatkowski said. "When he was a player, he was put in some difficult situations. He was always extremely positive, always very helpful, encouraging. You could tell he was smart and sharp."

It has to feel a little weird for those two to now have Hamdan as a peer. Right?

"I guess I laugh thinking, 'Oh gosh. Bush was a player,' but yeah. It's probably no different than it is for Coach Pete than it is myself when I was a player for coach Pete," said Huff, who also played at Boise State. "It's too long ago. I'd probably have to think about it."

Hamdan's ambition has taken him across the nation. So when it's all said and done, what's the next step on the journey?

Even he's not entirely sure, although it sounds like he would welcome the chance to be a head coach some day. All Hamdan knows is whatever happens, he wants to be detailed-oriented and display the sort of work ethic others will quickly follow.

Hamdan approaches his work with precision. To the point he thinks if Petersen were to walk into a quarterbacks meeting, would those details meet is mentor's expectations? Hearing that made Petersen chuckle.

Watching someone like Petersen gives Hamdan a road map. He remarked how his longtime mentor has to handle the demands of the pressure that comes with his power yet manages to be a down-to-earth person who never thinks he's bigger than any one person or the Huskies' program.

"I am here where I am today because of my parents and my professional parents," he said. "That's why the admiration I have for how much Chris Petersen has given to me, how much James Franklin has given to me, how much Ralph Friedgen has meant to me. Now when I am in this role ... I look at some of our graduate assistants and I go, 'Man, I was in that room grinding out that film what feels like yesterday.' "

Ryan S. Clark: @ryan_s_clark
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