SEATTLE — From all corners, the reaction to Washington’s new football coaching hire — overwhelmingly positive reaction, this time — seemed to circle back to the same common thread.
The Huskies got Chris Petersen to leave Boise State? Really?
Petersen, who guided Boise State to a 92-12 record, two undefeated finishes and two BCS bowl victories in eight seasons, was announced Friday as UW’s replacement for Steve Sarkisian, who left Monday to coach at USC.
“Coach Petersen’s success and record are extraordinary, but even more impressive is the man himself,” UW athletic director Scott Woodward said in a statement. “His integrity, work ethic and character make him an outstanding fit and leader of our student-athletes at UW.”
Surprised? You’re not alone.
Petersen’s name has been connected to a handful of different coaching opportunities in the past — UCLA, USC and Stanford among them — but he’s spurned all advances since taking over as BSU’s coach in 2006.
So Jim Lambright, UW’s coach from 1993-98, speaks for many when he says: “I didn’t know whether he was ever going to leave Boise.”
“Chris has always intrigued me with what he’s done and the way he’s won, and I think he’s a wonderful choice, and even more makes me believe he loves being here in the Northwest,” Lambright said via telephone. “It’s hard to beat a guy that wins 90 percent of his games.”
Well, 88.4 percent, to be exact. Now Petersen will try to replicate that success on a grander, more challenging stage, stepping into the Pacific-12 Conference after spending the past 13 seasons at BSU, first as offensive coordinator from 2001-05, then as head coach after Dan Hawkins left for Colorado.
“I felt like it was just his time, as if he outgrew something,” said Seahawks safety Jeron Johnson, who played at Boise State from 2007-10. “He’s been their head coach for eight seasons? Time for him to take it to the next level. Even with the playoffs coming in, UW is still in the Pac-12, it’s a good conference. Went 8-4 this year? It’s not like they are doing bad. I feel like he can really improve UW.”
This will be Petersen’s second go-round in the conference; he was Oregon’s receivers coach from 1995-2000.
“From what I know of him and his abilities as a coach, and the kind of person he is, I think he’s a great fit here,” said prominent UW booster Ron Crockett, president of the Emerald Downs race track in Auburn. “I couldn’t be more pleased.”
Petersen has his reasons for leaving, of course. UW is reportedly set to make Petersen the highest-paid coach at a public school in the Pac-12. CBS Sports reported Friday afternoon that Petersen agreed to terms on a 5-year, $18 million contract that will pay him an average of $3.6 million per year. That’s compared to the $2.575 million Sarkisian was scheduled to earn in 2013, and the roughly $2.15 million Petersen was paid by Boise State, according to USA Today’s coaching salaries database.
UW did not confirm the contract figures, though they likely will be released when Petersen is introduced during a Monday press conference. Petersen must pay a $750,000 buyout to Boise State for breaching his contract there. He will not coach the team in its bowl game.
A former college quarterback, Petersen comes with a reputation for recruiting lesser-known prospects and developing them into productive college players. The most notable example is Kellen Moore, who was overlooked by bigger schools as a quarterback at Prosser High School, then set most of BSU’s career passing records during a four-year career in which he won 50 games and lost only three.
There surely will be questions about Petersen’s ability to compete against Oregon, USC and UCLA for four and five-star recruits, but Lambright believes Petersen’s recruiting connections in the area are strong.
“With the names of the key coaches, the high-school coaches, the recruiting in California, Idaho, Montana, Canada — all of the surrounding prime areas where if there’s going to be a recruit — he’s had some experience,” Lambright said,
Lambright also called Petersen an “innovator.” His offenses tend to feature trick plays and unique looks.
“He’s a guy that’s out originating these throw-the-ball-around-forever and see if you can slip somebody out here and there,” Lambright said. “He comes up with great ways of taking advantage of weaknesses or seeing if a defense has given weaknesses that he can surprise you with.”
USC supposedly pursued him before hiring Sarkisian, but Petersen withdrew from that search, with some reports indicating that he didn’t feel USC — or Los Angeles — was a good fit.
He apparently felt differently about Washington. Woodward flew to Boise on Thursday night, met with Petersen for roughly 90 minutes, according to local reports, and flew home.
UW said Petersen, a native of Yuba City, Calif., agreed to the terms of the contract that night, but wanted to sleep on it and discuss it with his wife before making the decision official on Friday morning.
“I can’t think of a person who’s part of the program who would say this is a bad hire,” Crockett said.