First-year coach says assistants, players key to team's success

Idaho StatesmanJanuary 7, 2007 

Boise State coach Chris Petersen won't hesitate to tell you his greatest accomplishment in his first year as a head coach.

Hiring his coaching staff.

And his assistants won't hesitate to tell you the reason their chemistry was flawless in 2006.

Petersen.

The assistants say they are a reflection of their boss — humble, caring, hard-working, competitive, personable.

"Coach Petersen is a low-ego guy and he surrounded himself with low-ego guys," assistant head coach Sean Kugler said, "and those type of people work well together."

So well, in fact, that Petersen worked his way into the NCAA record book.

He is the first Division I-A coach since 1900 to win 13 games in his first season as a head coach. He was not named WAC Coach of the Year — that honor went to Hawaii's June Jones — despite a four-game improvement in the Broncos' record.

Petersen did land on several national coach of the year lists.

He is popular with players, who enthusiastically embraced the decision to hire him to replace Dan Hawkins after last season.

"When we needed a break, he gave us a break," sophomore tailback Ian Johnson said. "When we needed a little more intensity or a kick in the butt, he gave us a kick in the butt. He seemed to find the remedy for everything we needed. … A large part of this (undefeated) season, if not the whole thing, is him."

Petersen, true to form, doesn't want the credit.

He considers himself more caretaker than trailblazer — even though he took the Broncos to their first perfect season, first Bowl Championship Series appearance, first win over a ranked BCS-conference opponent and first season-ending Top 10 ranking.

Petersen likes to credit predecessors like Lyle Smith, who built Boise Junior College into a powerhouse; Dirk Koetter, who coached BSU from 1998 to 2000 and worked with Petersen at Oregon; and Dan Hawkins, who coached BSU from 2001 to 2005 and hired Petersen as his offensive coordinator.

Petersen also credits one of the youngest coaching staffs in America, including 30-year-old coordinators Bryan Harsin (offense) and Justin Wilcox (defense).

"I just feel like I'm a small part of it," Petersen said. "Truly I mean that. The (assistant) coaches, they do all the hard work, and the players. I just get water dumped on me."

And he wins.

Petersen went 19-3 in two years as the starting quarterback at Division II UC Davis in California.

His coaching career includes successful stops at UC Davis, Portland State and Oregon. He also coached at Pittsburgh for one year.

Boise State is 66-11 since Petersen arrived in 2001.

"He's been ready to be a head coach for years," Portland State coach Tim Walsh said last spring. "... He's a 5-foot-10›-inch quarterback, and he set records as a quarterback.

"All he's ever been is successful."

Never more so than his first season as the head coach at Boise State.

Petersen expertly handled his players' mental state — keeping them focused despite escalating hype.

Every time the Broncos faced a perceived threat — Oregon State, Utah, Nevada, Oklahoma — they put together spectacular performances.

They blew out the first three of those opponents and led Oklahoma 28-10 in the Fiesta Bowl before a bad hop on a punt turned the momentum.

"The guy prepares like nobody in the business," BSU quarterback Jared Zabransky said. "It's just incredible. When he was the offensive coordinator, he was such a grinder."

Petersen expects, and gets, the same effort from his assistants.

He trusts them. They admire him.

"I always thought there would be some bump in the road along the way, but there hasn't been anything," defensive line coach Pete Kwiatkowski said. "The environment and the culture is so relaxing. People aren't afraid to make mistakes or to be aggressive, whether it's playcalling or how you coach. (Petersen) lets you do your deal."

To offer story ideas or comments, contact reporter Chadd Cripe at ccripe@idahostatesman.com or 377-6398.

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