Petersen outweighs his words with deeds
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Friday morning’s final pre-Fiesta Bowl press conference with the coaches provided at least a slight glimpse into their personalities.
While both offered mutual respect of the other’s program, it was easy to see that Washington’s Chris Petersen was content to allow James Franklin the majority of the speaking time.
At one point, after Franklin rambled along on the elements that he predicted would decide today’s matchup — which weren’t much different than any game — Petersen offered agreement, saying, “Ditto.”
The two shared a laugh.
A few minutes later, while Franklin was extolling the greatness of Washington defensive tackle Vita Vea, Petersen provided a tongue-in-cheek interruption, saying, “That’s all coaching.”
Clearly, though, Petersen’s work as a coach cannot be understated.
Just as Franklin has been at the wheel of two of the great rebuilding jobs ever — first in making Vanderbilt competitive in the SEC and then turning a Penn State program wrecked by scandal into part of the College Football Playoff conversation for two straight seasons — Petersen has an even more impressive resume.
His four years at Washington have produced a 37-15 record, including 22-4 in the last two seasons with a 2016 appearance in the CFP playoffs when the Huskies nosed out Penn State.
He got the Washington job after incredible success at Boise State when he went 92-12 in eight seasons, making him the hottest coaching prospect in the country.
Petersen’s winning percentage (129-28, .822) is second among active coaches behind only Ohio State’s Urban Meyer (176-31, .850), and his 61-5 record (92.7 percent) in his first five seasons as a head coach ranks fifth, ahead of such legends as Knute Rockne, Barry Switzer and Bud Wilkinson.
Franklin said, “(We’ve got) tremendous respect for (Peterson) and what he’s been able to do in his career.”
Boise State’s most remarkable victory during Petersen’s tenure came with a stunning upset right here in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl when the Broncos used a couple of trick plays — a hitch-and-pitch to force overtime against the Oklahoma Sooner and a statue-of-liberty to beat them.
Then, with the cameras still on him, the player who scored the winning touchdown, Ian Johnson, seized the moment by proposing to his girlfriend, Boise’s head cheerleader, in the end zone.
It was one of the more memorable moments in not only Fiesta Bowl history but college football history, and, 10 years later, Petersen is still asked about it.
His response Friday: “It’s interesting, after the game went down, we really tried to spend a lot of time moving on from it because that’s all anybody wanted to talk about.”
What he’s more gratified about is the fact that little Boise followed that with a victory in its next Fiesta Bowl three years later (2009) to cap a 14-0 season in which the Broncos finished No. 4 in the country.
“Everybody likes to talk about that first Fiesta Bowl,” Petersen said. “I was maybe more proud of our second Fiesta Bowl win against TCU — TCU was really, really good, but nobody spoke about it as much because there wasn’t wedding proposals and all kinds of crazy stuff going on. But they were both really awesome times to be at this site and this game.”
Having played quarterback at the University of California-Davis, Petersen, 53, has spent his entire career on the west coast — all except for one year, 1992, when he was on Paul Hackett’s staff as quarterbacks coach at Pitt.
He considers that stop an important brick in the foundation of what has become an outstanding career.
“Paul Hackett happened to be a UC Davis guy,” Petersen said. “I didn’t think I was going to be a coach, even though I was coaching at Davis. My dad was a coach, and that was the one thing I knew that I was definitely not going to do in life was be a coach. (But) after coaching for a while, I kind of made a decision if I’m going to do this I really need to leave, because Davis to me was the greatest place to be, and all those coaches stayed there forever, which was awesome. But I really felt if I needed to do this, I needed to go.
“And coach Hackett gave me an opportunity to get out and see some other things, and it was a tremendous learning experience. I probably learned as much in that year, that short time I was there, so it was awesome. And I really appreciated my time there and grew tremendously as a coach and a person.”
Neil Rudel covers Penn State from the Altoona Mirror.