Brian Murphy: Can Harsin continue the 'Boise State way'?

bmurphy@idahostatesman.comDecember 12, 2013 

“The way he watches film, the way he talks about offensive football, he’s kind of a mini-Coach Pete,’’ former Boise State center Jadon Dailey said in 2007.


Bryan Harsin has his dream job. The Boise State football program has the most Bronco candidate possible to lead it post-Chris Petersen.

And we'll all soon have an answer to the most pressing question moving forward: How special is Boise State?

The entire premise for hiring the 37-year-old Harsin — a Boise native, local high school football star and former Boise State player, assistant coach and offensive coordinator — is that Boise State is special.

It's based on the belief that the formula for the Broncos' amazing success over the past eight years can be replicated only by someone who knows the ins-and-outs of Boise State football as well as anyone outside of Petersen. And Harsin was once referred to as a "mini Coach Pete."

And it's based on the belief that only a Boise State man can keep the program rolling — or, perhaps more accurately, return the Broncos to their previous undefeated heights.

"We hear time and time again from current and former players and coaches that the Boise State system is unique in its discipline, rigor and innovation — on the field and in the classroom," Boise State President Bob Kustra said in a statement announcing Harsin's hiring. "And Coach Harsin knows and understands the Boise State way as much as anyone."

Boise State fancies itself a perennial top-25 program with a national reputation bigger than its non-BCS status and a special relationship with ESPN. The past eight years (and conference realignment) have cemented the Broncos as one of the best teams outside of college power conferences, making it an extremely attractive job.

Yet Boise State just hired a 37-year-old coach with one year of head-coaching experience, a 7-5 season at Arkansas State, which went 10-3 in 2012. It hired a coach who was the offensive coordinator at Texas for two seasons, during which the Longhorns went 9-9 in Big 12 play.

Boise State hired a coach who wasn't being mentioned for any other jobs in the country, and will pay a $1.75 million buyout to Arkansas State for the privilege of doing it.

Yes, Harsin enjoyed tremendous success as Boise State's offensive coordinator. Yes, Harsin comes highly recommended by Petersen and former Boise State players. Yes, he's worked his way through the ranks, impressing with his offensive creativity and his attention to detail. Yes, he turned around Texas' offense and landed an FBS head-coaching job at 36.

But if not for Harsin's Boise State-laden résumé, would he have even gotten a second thought for the job?

Boise State hired him under the assumption that there is a "Boise State way."

Recent history has given them reason to believe that. And the past hires — in-staff promotions for Dan Hawkins and Petersen — have worked out beyond anyone's wildest imagination.

Now Kustra and Athletic Director Mark Coyle are expecting history to repeat itself.

When Petersen was promoted from offensive coordinator to head coach in December 2005, the Broncos' slogan was "Keep It Rollin'."

"The Ascension Continues" is the new slogan, the inference that there is something bigger and better out there post-Petersen.

"Bryan played a key role in the development of the football program as an assistant for 10 years at Boise State, and we look forward to his leadership as we continue the ascension of Bronco football," Coyle said in a statement.

Where can the Broncos climb? Petersen won two Fiesta Bowls and took the Broncos to within last-second missed field goals of the Rose Bowl and, likely, BCS National Championship Game in a five-year period. There's not much mountain left.

And you thought replacing Kellen Moore was difficult?

There is a tendency to go with what's familiar — no matter whether you're hiring football coaches in Alabama or Idaho, electing politicians or deciding who to sit with at the elementary school lunch table.

Boise State has staked its football reputation (and, in some ways, its incredible growth and rise as an institution) to the notion that the Boise-born and Boise State-bred Harsin's familiarity will translate into continued success.

It's a big bet on a simple question: How special is Boise State?

Brian Murphy: 377-6444, Twitter: @MurphsTurph

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