Murphy: Boise State’s athletic director in charge of replacing Petersen

bmurphy@idahostatesman.comDecember 7, 2013 

Hired in 2011 to turn Boise State’s football success and popularity into dollars, Athletic Director Mark Coyle now must pick a new coach to sustain that success and popularity.

Just two years into his tenure, Coyle — a first time athletic director with a background in marketing and fundraising — faces the most important decision of his Boise State career and one that will likely determine how long it lasts.

Football coach Chris Petersen’s departure for Washington means Coyle has already failed in his first mandate with the Broncos.

“My No. 1 goal is to keep Chris Petersen at Boise State University,” Coyle said at his introductory press conference in December 2011.

He was able to hold onto Petersen for two seasons.

While it’s unfair to pin Petersen’s departure on Coyle — it appears Petersen was simply ready to move on to a new challenge with an enormous pay raise in one of college football’s best conferences — it certainly falls on Coyle to pick up the pieces.

That’s not the same job he signed on for.

His job was to parlay the Broncos’ fame into fortune.

“It’s becoming more and more important for us to find a way to take the Bronco Nation on the road, so to speak. Get that national fan base that we have developed to not only to turn on the TV set, but when they turn it off, to get the checkbook out,” Boise State President Bob Kustra said when Coyle was introduced. “That’s how to build that national brand and image.”

Now his job is to make sure the Broncos stay relevant in football.

It starts and ends with this hire.

One poor hire could unravel all of Boise State’s sustained success at a time when the Broncos’ place in the college football landscape is already slipping.

The power conferences are pulling away from the Mountain West financially and competitively, a gulf that Boise State has remarkably covered (and then some) throughout Petersen’s brilliant run.

With the gulf between the sport’s haves and have-nots widening, the Broncos can’t afford any more slippage. This year’s 8-4 season resulted in smaller crowds at Bronco Stadium, less recognition and zero of the national buzz that had marked the Petersen era.

And the next head coach won’t have two Fiesta Bowl titles to buffer any criticism.

Normally conversational with the media, Coyle has gone into hiding in recent days. He left the stands in the second half of Thursday’s men’s basketball victory, when the Petersen news began breaking. There are indications he (and Kustra, who I expect to have big influence on this hire) have formulated a short list already, one heavy with Boise State ties.

Coyle’s relevant hiring experience is practically zero, whereas former Athletic Director Gene Bleymaier had a track record of notably great hires. Coyle has made two promising below-the-radar coaching hires in his first two years at Boise State.

First-year soccer coach Jim Thomas led the Broncos to 13 wins, tying a program record, and the finals of the Mountain West tournament.

First-year track and cross county coach Corey Ihmels — the 2011 and 2012 Big 12 coach of the year — guided the Broncos to their first top-25 rankings in school history. Boise State placed runners in the national meet for the first time since 2006.

The Broncos don’t have a special TV deal with ESPN because of women’s soccer or cross country. They have one because of Petersen.

The difference between hiring coaches in low-level women’s sports and picking a football coach is much larger even than the gulf between Petersen’s salary at Boise State and Washington.

An athletic director’s legacy is defined by football hires.

Not only will Coyle’s legacy be shaped by this choice, but the Broncos’ football future hangs in the balance as it hasn’t in a while.

No pressure, Mark.

Brian Murphy: 377-6444, Twitter: @MurphsTurph

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