Paul Peterson built one of Idaho’s top high school football programs. But after 14 years, the Eagle High football coach handed in his letter of resignation Wednesday, marking his retirement and capping a storied career with the Mustangs.
Peterson led Eagle to a 109-40 (.732) record, eight conference or pod championships and the 2009 state title. The Mustangs have reached the playoffs each of the past 11 seasons, finished as 5A state runner-ups in 2008 and 2011 and had just one losing season under Peterson, his first in 2005.
“He’s done a great job. The record speaks for itself,” Eagle principal Terry Beck said. “He’s been great for the community of Eagle and Star.”
Peterson has considered retiring from football the past couple seasons before pulling the trigger Wednesday. He will remain a health and special education P.E. teacher, and he will continue to coach with Pac-West Baseball, where he’s the executive director.
“I will still be able to get my coaching ‘fix.’ I’m still a coach,” Peterson said. “I’m still involved in sports, but I’m taking one piece of my personal life out of the equation. I’ve got a couple grandkids, and next month my grandson and I are off to Legoland in California. That’s what I want to do.”
The former Idaho State quarterback started his coaching career as a wide receivers coach at Idaho State before becoming Capital’s offensive coordinator in 1987. He then moved to Borah, where he coached baseball and football. He led the Lions’ football program from 1994-97, including their last playoff win in 1995 until Borah snapped that 23-year drought last fall.
Between Eagle and Borah, he retires with a 133-54 (.711) career record on the gridiron.
Football and baseball have remained dual passions in his life. He helped Borah build the first indoor hitting facility in Idaho, then hooked up with Bill Buckner as a private coach in 1994. Peterson has balanced the two sports the past 25 years, teaching hitting lessons outside of football season. He said stepping down at Eagle allows him to spend more time with his family.
“I owe my wife more opportunities in this world because my availability has been so limited,” Peterson said. “Not that my life could ever be classified as work. I do football and I do baseball for a living. That’s not work.
“But I haven’t been home. My wife has allowed me to go live a fantasy. Now it’s time for me to take a different look at all this.”
Mountain View coach Judd Benedick played for Peterson at Capital and had him as a health teacher. Benedick’s and Peterson’s programs have battled for Southern Idaho Conference and state supremacy for years. Benedick said every time he faced Peterson’s Mustangs, he knew he’d get a well-coached, well-disciplined team.
“The Valley and the state is losing a really good football coach,” Benedick said.
Peterson inherited a powerhouse when he took over as Eagle’s second coach in 2005. He followed Mike Glenn, who won state titles in 1998 and 2001. When he first addressed the Eagle High community and told the assembled crowd he wasn’t there to win games, he heard more than a few murmurs from the crowd.
Instead, he focused on teaching his players life-long lessons. He stressed he never could have lasted 14 years without unwavering support from the Eagle community and administration. But his coaching style soon earned him followers, and Eagle continued to rack up wins.
Kevin Plew, the communication director for Eagle’s booster club, said his son hung two pictures on his college dorm room wall. One was a Star Wars poster. The other was of Peterson.
“The thing about Pete that I always liked is he wanted to win, but he wanted to win the right way,” Plew said. “His motto was winning is a byproduct of treating kids right.”
One of the top goals Peterson set for his players came off the field: For them to one day take their children to Disneyland. He said that allowed him to stress the importance of their decisions as teenagers, decisions that could set them on the right, or wrong, path in life.
“I look in the arrest report everyday, and I’ve got former players who get arrested all the time. Some guys screw it up,” Peterson said. “This is a tough world. It’s a tough society. The pressure on today’s kids is out of control. I could sit here and talk for an hour about drugs and alcohol, the word ‘perfectionism,’ the 200,000-pound weights on their shoulders.
“That’s the stuff I really want to talk to people about. That’s what I think I was put on this earth to do.”