Brian Murphy: Harsin gets warm welcome, has much to prove

bmurphy@idahostatesman.comDecember 15, 2013 

There were extended hands, eager for a shake or a pat on the back. There were familiar faces, looking for a hug or to deliver a kind word. There were others, too, wanting to tell a story, take a cell phone picture or just reintroduce themselves.

Bryan Harsin is back in Boise State blue and, if the crowd at Taco Bell Arena on Saturday afternoon was any indication, Bronco Nation is ecstatic to have him back.

“Let me just say this right now,” Harsin said in between applause at halftime of the Broncos’ men’s basketball game against Saint Mary’s. “We’re excited about where we are. We’re excited about where we’re going. We’ll embrace our past, but we’re going to attack the future.”

It was exactly the right message for Harsin, a Boise native and former Boise State player, assistant coach and offensive coordinator to deliver.

For a program that considers itself of national importance, the past two seasons (with six combined losses) have been a sober reminder of the Broncos’ place in college football’s hierarchy.

Be perfect or don’t matter.

At least, not nationally. The Broncos, even with their ESPN television deal, were not part of the general conversation.

And so as he did throughout his 13 seasons on the Boise State sidelines, Chris Petersen made the right call.

It was Petersen who took the program to unforeseen heights over the past eight seasons as head coach. But he felt it was time to go — for him, for the program, for everyone.

After watching a reinvigorated Petersen take the helm as top dog at Washington and seeing Harsin’s “fourth-and-1” mentality in his first few days in Boise, it’s hard to disagree with Petersen.

He remains, as usual, one step ahead of everyone else.

The next coach won’t be walking into the same juggernaut that catapulted Boise State onto the national stage.

Boise State has not won an outright conference title in four seasons. The Broncos have not won more games than they did in the previous season since 2009 and their second Fiesta Bowl victory. The success over the past eight years would be the envy of 95 percent of college football programs, but there is only so much living in the past a program can do.

Embrace our past, Harsin said. He is a big part of it.

Attack the future, Harsin said. He is a bigger part of it.

“They’re going to get new juice in that program and that’s what they need,” Petersen told the Statesman about the Broncos after he took the Washington job.

Boise State Athletic Director Mark Coyle was looking for the same thing — a bolt of energy, a rush of enthusiasm, a sense of urgency.

He knows (or, at least, he should) that the Broncos’ place is tenuous, that the accomplishments of 2006 and 2009 and the Kellen Moore era are great for the trophy case but won’t do anything else to help the Broncos get to where they want to be.

In Harsin, Coyle thinks he’s found his man. Harsin has said all the right things in his first days on the job. There is work to be done.

Harsin can stop a wide receiver in his tracks with an icy glare. He can also bring a crowd of more than 8,000 to laughs with his wit.

“Thank you Mark for getting it right,” Harsin said Saturday, “getting the right coach in here.”

That will be determined on future Saturdays.

On this one, though, Harsin showed — and the cheering crowd agreed — that he could very well be just what the Broncos need.

Brian Murphy: 377-6444; Twitter: @MurphsTurph

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