Chris Petersen spent 30 minutes with the Idaho Statesman on Tuesday and talked openly about his sudden move to Washington, his interest in USC, potential recruiting conflicts between Boise State and UW, emotions that were shared during his final meeting with Boise State players, why he won’t coach in the bowl game and challenging Bronco Nation to grow as a fan base.
Petersen was hesitant to pursue the Washington job at first — reached through people he knew, but not directly by the Huskies — but later decided he was interested, he said. He heard little for a day or two and was told the process might move slowly.
“All of a sudden, it went fast,” he said.
Washington Athletic Director Scott Woodward flew to Boise on Thursday night, interviewed Petersen for 90 minutes — their first conversation about the job — and reached an agreement on contract terms with him.
Petersen formally accepted the next morning — after news reports first surfaced that he was Washington bound. He posted a 92-12 record in eight seasons at Boise State and was the offensive coordinator for five years before that.
Here is the bulk of our interview:
Q: These changes are so sudden — how does it feel to be a Husky?
A: That’s how these things go. That’s the one thing that I do know over time just by seeing other things. There’s no easing into anything. It’s “this is what we’re doing now.” In the interview process, there’s really no secrets or anything like that. When the decision is made, it’s just full speed. The thing that you feel bad about in the whole thing is how hard it is — it’s hard on you, there’s no question about it, and your family — but it’s hard on everybody else. It’s hard on the staffs on both sides. It’s hard on the players on both sides, and that is tough, and that’s hard. And that’s probably another reason that I’ve always been so hesitant to do something like this, because I know. People don’t know how hard this is, unless you’ve been through it and really understand. But everybody will get through it and you hope everybody is going to be better for it at the end of this process.
Q: When regular people take a new job, they give two weeks notice, their co-workers throw a party. Is it hard not having that closure?
A: That’s how it is in this business. In fact, if you take two weeks and you do it like that, it’s much worse. You can’t do it like that. It needs to be done quickly and decisively and fast to really help everybody move in the direction they need to move.
Q: What went into the decision to not coach the bowl game?
A: Being through it before (in 2005, when Dan Hawkins took the Colorado job but coached the bowl game). It’s not fair to the players. It’s a total distraction. So I think that helps them win, me not being there.
Q: What are you going to remember most about your 13 years at Boise State? What are you going to miss most?
A: Well, that’s an impossible question to answer in terms of what I’ll remember the most. That’s the place we spent really the most of our life in any one place, and certainly adult life. That’s really all we know. So you can’t narrow it down — you’re going to miss the people the most, without question. We’ve got really good friends there. Everybody says it — that’s why you’re there — it’s just a great place to live and the people are awesome. The Boise State situation was so good. (President Bob Kustra and Athletic Director Mark Coyle), they were unbelievable in terms of trying to get us everything we need to compete at the highest level possible. They were just so good to me and good to the program.
Q: If I remember the story correctly, doesn’t (former Boise State coach) Dirk Koetter owe you a punch in the face for leaving Boise State?
A: You’re probably right. You’re probably exactly right. But I think staying 13 years and certainly eight as the head coach, he probably would hold back on that punch and probably say, you probably need to take another step in a different direction to help yourself grow.
Q: There were reports last summer that you told people around you that you were looking for a change. True?
A: Completely and totally false. Not even kind of true.
Q: Did it catch you by surprise that you had those feelings now?
A: Absolutely. Without question. And it caught me by surprise when I became the head coach (at Boise State), because I hadn’t thought much about it at all. In some ways, my hand was forced when Hawk was going, and then I had that opportunity presented to me. My first reaction was, no, I’m not going to go do that. Then I started thinking about it and there was some excitement and trepidation and all those things that come with it. But that caught me off guard way back when and certainly when I started thinking about this, that caught me off guard, too, going, OK, maybe this is time. Because that hasn’t happened to me very much.
Q: You said you were hesitant at first with the Washington job. Did it just take some time for those feelings to hit you?
A: It’s a gut feeling. You can’t put it down on paper and make these things rational or not. This is an unbelievable situation for me, and I think Boise was an unbelievable situation. They’re both good. So when you list out pros and cons and all that kind of stuff, it’s really not about that because they’re both good. It’s how you feel. I think it comes down to that gut decision about this is what I need to do. You have to put your anxiety to the side. You just don’t want to not make decisions because you’re scared to get out of your comfort zone. I would have a hard time looking at myself in the mirror at the end of the day if that’s what it was all about.
Q: On Sunday morning, Dec. 1 — going into the USC interview — did you think there was a good chance you were leaving?
A: Yeah. Certainly when I was going to talk to USC. I was extremely serious about that. I’m thinking, OK. But I really hadn’t given it much thought other than that. You’re trying to get through the season and you’re trying to do the best you can so you’re not dwelling on those types of things. And then the opportunity comes up to talk to those guys — I wouldn’t talk to somebody unless I was real serious. That was a situation I felt like I really needed to look at.
Q: You decided USC wasn’t the best fit for you (the job was eventually given to Steve Sarkisian, which opened up the Washington job for Petersen). What made Washington work?
A: That’s a great question. I don’t know. It’s really interesting with the USC thing. I don’t know what they felt, and it’s hard to describe what I felt — it just didn’t feel like it was totally the right thing. But when I spoke to these guys, it did. I know a little bit more about this program just because of some of the connections that I have over here. I felt like I knew it better than the other one. So I felt like I knew what I was getting myself into more.
Q: You’ve had chances to leave before. What felt different this year?
A: I just never had the feeling that it was time. That, yeah, that’s something that I might explore and look into. I just hadn’t had that. This year, for whatever reason, it just kind of felt like that. I said this before, every place has a shelf life and sometimes those are really long and that’s great when it’s like that — that you’re just really feeling like, I still have a lot to do here, I’m excited, I’m energized, this is it, this is the place. Every now and then a new opportunity presents itself and you get excited and think, this is something that I certainly need to look at, if not do.
Q: What was the closest you came to leaving previously?
A: There was one that we looked at kind of hard. We certainly were interested and intrigued by the Stanford situation (after the 2010 season). The timing wasn’t right.
Q: I know recruits ask about your future — what did you tell them?
A: I never, ever told a recruit that I was staying forever or a timeline for any of that. I was just completely honest. We love Boise. We’ve been here a long time. We plan on being here. There’s not something out there where I’m going, if that comes open, I’m going to plan on doing that. I told them the same thing we’ve told them every single year, which was the truth.
Q: There have been some changes in leadership at Boise State. How was your relationship with Kustra and Coyle. Were there any issues there?
A: Absolutely none. That was one of the reasons that made it hard to leave. Those guys couldn’t have been better to me and to the program.
Q: The strangest part about the timing: You just spent all that time perfecting the Bleymaier Football Complex. Now you’re going to go work in one someone else built. Is that a little strange?
A: Yes and no. But again, I feel great that we got that done. That’s the one reason I feel good about this. If I thought I was leaving Boise at a bad time, I would not feel good about that. I think I’m leaving Boise when it’s a really good time. The facilities couldn’t be better. And they’re building another grass field and the team coming back is going to be good. The assistant coaches are paid well. All those things that have taken a long time to get done, I feel good about that, and I think that had something to do with the timing of me leaving. That’s part of it.
Q: What role did money — either for you or the money behind the program up there — play in your decision to leave?
A: Money for me personally, none. I’ve said this before, head coaches already make ridiculous money. That wasn’t going to change my happiness at all. The support, in terms of everything else that supports the program, I think that’s a positive here — there’s no question about it. There’s a lot of support here.”
Q: You said it’s “college football at its finest” up there — is there something better about that situation and playing at a higher level?
A: In terms of recruiting, it can give you advantages. That’s another plus. That’s another thing that is intriguing to me.
Q: I heard you said on the radio that you were handcuffed in recruiting at Boise State. What did you mean?
A: I don’t know if I used those words — I might have. I think we’ve gotten some really good players. I know we have. The track record speaks for itself. Those coaches over there, and again I give credit to the assistants because they’re the ones who do by far the majority of the work, have done a great job in the recruiting process. But I just think some of the resources that are here — I really don’t think there’s a finer football setup, sitting here in these offices, looking out at the stadium, 72,500 (seats), onto the water — this is a hard place to beat. A lot of kids will be attracted to this type of thing and the conference that we play in.
Q: Maybe it’s because we’re all exhausted by December, but you seemed to have a jolt of energy at your press conference. Did you need this?
A: That’s the timing. That’s what I’m talking about. It’s very easy and nice to stay in that comfort zone and certainly I’m out of it now. That gives a lot of people energy. It’s going to be extremely hard work, it really is. You take nothing for granted — nobody knows anything, how we do anything. A lot of that is going to be hard, grinding, tedious work. But in the same breath, it’s also going to be energizing people around here, myself, to get this plan and try to make it work.
Q: Your predecessors at Boise State, Houston Nutt, Koetter and Hawkins — it didn’t work out for them at their next stop. You stayed at Boise State longer. Do you feel like you’re in a better position than they were?
A: Absolutely. They didn’t come to Washington.
Q: You said you wouldn’t have left if you didn’t think it would work out well for the Boise State program. Why do you think this will have a positive effect on the Broncos?
A: I totally think that. I believe that 100 percent. Exactly what you’re talking about — me being energized, a burst of energy here — they’re going to get the exact same thing there. They’re going to get new juice in that program and that’s what they need. There’s going to be a lot of things, I know, that will be exactly the same there, but there will be a different spin on them and there will be a lot of excitement and that’ll be awesome for that program, that staff and those players over there.
Q: Was that energy missing for you this year?
A: I don’t think so. I think we worked really, really hard, but I think just changing environments in general gives everybody a shot of enthusiasm. But just because you have that doesn’t mean you’re going to do a good job. I don’t think we were necessarily lacking a spark or anything like that. There’s something to be said for having your process and a way of doing things, and people do know it, so there’s some good continuity there. But I just think in general there will be a new burst of energy and enthusiasm on both sides — and that’s good.
Q: The attendance at Boise State went up 13 percent during your time as head coach and the athletic department budget doubled. Is the program you’ve built here sustainable?
A: Only if the fans continue to grow with the program. You can only do so much with a limited amount of fan base — and our fan base is phenomenal. They’re so passionate, and they’re spread throughout the country. But there in Boise, Idaho, when there’s a home game, that place needs to be packed and they need to be able to take the next step in expanding that stadium if they want to grow that program, there’s no doubt in my mind about that, that that’s what needs to happen. So really the ball is back in Bronco Nation’s court — the people who live there in the Boise area. And it’s hard. I don’t say that lightly, because it’s expensive. The tickets are expensive. It’s expensive to run a top program. And so there’s a sacrifice by everybody to make that happen. But certainly it starts with the fan base, that they want to be there. And the TV thing hurts it, too, because we play those late games, and it’s cold, and they’re on TV. And so, ah, let’s just sit home and watch this. So really for it to continue to grow, everybody needs to continue to pack that stadium and support that team no matter who they play.
Q: Do you expect to take most of the Boise State assistants to Seattle with you?
A: We’ll let that play out. A lot of it has to do with who gets the job over there. We’ll figure that out shortly.
Q: In recruiting, what’s your approach going to be with kids who were committed to you at Boise State?
A: That is always a very awkward situation. We went through it last time with Hawk and we’re going through it now. There’s not an easy way around that. Most of these kids are so connected to me and some of the coaches who will come, that it’s hard. Yeah, they like the universities, but they get connected to the coaches. So a lot of times they want to follow you or they at least want to look at it. We’ll try to operate with as much integrity (as possible) in this whole thing. Kids who want to stay there at Boise, that’s great, that’s a great place. And everybody knows we view it like that. The other kids who are contacting us, it’s hard to say, no, we’re not going to talk to you, when we’ve been talking to these guys for over a year. It will be a tough recruiting year.
Q: If a guy here wants to transfer to Washington, how is that going to work?
A: That won’t happen. Those kids need to stay there. They’re at a great place. They need to stay put.
Q: The players at Boise State came here to play for you and your staff. What was your message to them Friday morning?
A: That they’re going to be playing for another really good staff and they’ll get a great head coach in there and this is an unsettling time and nobody really wants to hear it now, but trust me, in six to eight months, everybody will be better off for it.
Q: What kind of reception did you get from the team?
A: The players were unbelievable. Everybody was in shock. Shoot, I was. Everybody was. But the players couldn’t have been better. I got a chance to talk to most of them before I left the office. And the other guys that I didn’t see, we were texting. I was blown away how awesome those players are.
Q: Were you asked for a recommendation on the next coach?
A: No. Dr. Kustra, Mark, (Senior Associate Athletic Director) Curt Apsey, those guys know exactly what they’re doing.
Q: So who should it be?
A: That is a hard one, I will say that. I know through the grapevine — if they’re talking to the people that I think they are — they’re going to get a great coach, that’s all I know. Which one of those guys, I can’t answer that one. That’s for those guys to figure out. But I know it will be a great coach.
Q: You’re scheduled to open the 2015 season at Bronco Stadium. Will you push to cancel that game, or do you want to play it?
A: I’ll probably take that week off. I’m not thinking that far ahead, for sure — one problem and issue at a time. And that’s a ways away. That wouldn’t necessarily be a fun game for me to go play.