From the archives: Harsin's patience pays off for Boise State

ccripe@idahostatesman.comDecember 11, 2013 

This story originally appeared in the Idaho Statesman on March 24, 2006 as part of a series on the Boise State coaching staff that then-coach Chris Petersen had assembled for his first season. Petersen tabbed Bryan Harsin to be the Broncos' offensive coordinator.

The most disappointing moment of Bryan Harsin's young coaching career might also be the defining moment.

Harsin was passed over for a full-time job on the Boise State football coaching staff in December 2001. He was an offensive graduate assistant at the time.

Then-head coach Dan Hawkins hired Stefan de Vries as his tight ends coach in a close call over Harsin. Later that day, strength coach Jeff Pitman told Harsin "you can´t act like you´re (ticked) off."

"That was huge for me," Harsin said of Pitman´s advice. "It took me about a day, and then I went back to everything we talk about here. I started working hard again, trying to prove myself."

Almost exactly four years later, on the same day that Chris Petersen was named the new head coach at BSU, Harsin became one of the youngest offensive coordinators in the country.

The 29-year-old will call the plays as the offensive coordinator for the first time during today´s first scrimmage of spring ball. The only younger offensive coordinator in the country is 27-year-old Major Applewhite of Rice, according to research conducted by Colorado's sports information department.

Harsin´s career took off seven months after his disappointment, when de Vries was fired for undisclosed reasons.

Harsin replaced him in July 2002 -- after impressing coaches with his reaction to disappointment.

"One of the things we pound to our players is how you handle adversity, and I know that was a lot of adversity for him," Petersen said. "... We were kind of waiting and watching to see how he handled that whole thing, and he handled it like a champ."

Harsin asked coaches why they chose de Vries, a graduate assistant and former offensive lineman from Oregon, over him. They told Harsin, a former Capital High and Boise State quarterback, that he did not possess as much knowledge of the run game as they wanted.

His response?

He spent extra time with offensive line coach Chris Strausser, developing a more complete understanding of the run game and how to teach it.

"I felt like I was getting better," Harsin said.

He worked largely on the pass game in 2002, but shifted to the run game in 2003 for more intensive training with Strausser and Hawkins.

That broad base -- and the dual nature of the Broncos´ tight end position -- set up Harsin to become Petersen´s right-hand man when wide receivers coach Robert Prince left for the NFL after the 2003 season.

Harsin spent the past two season meeting with Petersen on a daily basis to develop game plans and offensive ideas, which made him an obvious candidate to replace Petersen on this year´s staff. Harsin and Petersen brought their own ideas to each meeting, then sifted through them.

Petersen even let Harsin call plays late in a blowout win last year at Bronco Stadium. Harsin called that his "Super Bowl."

"He´s a real positive guy, and a can-do guy," Petersen said. "... He also was a guy who was always thinking outside the box and pushing the envelope."

Harsin's coaching career unofficially began during his playing career at BSU.

He walked on to the team in 1995 under late coach Pokey Allen. Before he was done, he also played for Houston Nutt (now at Arkansas) and Dirk Koetter (now at Arizona State). Hawkins (now at Colorado) also was on Koetter's staff.

Harsin's chances to win the starting job ended with the return of Tony Hilde in 1996 and a broken leg in fall camp in 1997. He later was a backup to one of the greatest quarterbacks in school history, Bart Hendricks.

He became a player/coach.

"Being the backup quarterback, that´s all you´re doing -- watching a lot of tape, kind of game-planning a little bit, and you´re coaching up the other guys on the field," Harsin said.

He took it a step further, frequently suggesting plays to Koetter during the week and on game day. Sometimes, Koetter even used those ideas.

He also asked Koetter during games why he made certain decisions.

"I love players who do that," Koetter said. "It shows that they're into the it."

Harsin remembers one time when he suggested adding a second post route to a play to put the free safety in a pickle. He could double one receiver, but not both.

Koetter used the play, but the pass was overthrown.

"I remember that one because that got me fired up," Harsin said. "... The play was there."

He decided as a senior that he wanted to coach -- he told The Idaho Statesman then that he wanted to "be an offensive coordinator or quarterbacks coach" within five years -- and started his career far from the limelight.

He left Boise to become a part-time offensive assistant coach at Eastern Oregon in 2000. When Hawkins was hired at the end of that season, he told Harsin he could hire him as a graduate assistant in the summer of 2001.

Harsin left La Grande and returned to BSU as a volunteer until the GA job opened.

"He had a great passion to coach," Hawkins said.

That passion isn't lost on the players, who enjoy Harsin's quiet intensity and respect his budding talent.

"He's very personable," said senior tight end Derek Schouman, who played for Harsin for three years. "He taught in a friendly manner. ... He´s a smart guy."

And maybe even a little prophetic.

"He told me once he wanted to be an offensive coordinator before he was 30," Harsin's dad, Dale Harsin, said. "And he made it."

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