Columns & Blogs

Broncos' Petersen is not playing it safe

In his old offensive coordinator office — recruiting and the hiring of a new staff having taken precedence over packing his belongings and carrying them down the hall — Boise State football coach Chris Petersen is a man at ease.

Sipping a bottled water, Petersen is aware and excited, but unburdened by the challenge of his new position.

In other words, he doesn't look like a man who just wagered his career on red. Doesn't feel that way, either.

But in his first — and potentially, most important — decisions as the Broncos' leading man, the naturally conservative Petersen has shown a willingness to gamble.

Largely ignoring the daily deluge of resumes, more than 100 arrived in the frantic first days after his promotion, the first-time head coach opted for familiarity and comfort over experience when choosing his coordinators.

He tabbed 29-year old Bryan Harsin, the Broncos' tight ends coach the last four seasons, as his offensive coordinator. Then he snagged his first choice for defensive coordinator, 29-year-old Justin Wilcox, the California linebackers coach the last three seasons.

In large and profound ways, these are gambles — a first-year head coach turning over his offense and defense to first-time coordinators, ones who have not yet celebrated their 30th birthdays.

But in Petersen's mind, it's anything but.

"There are no guarantees in anything. But these are as good of odds we could play," Petersen said.

He knows he could have made safer choices. Coaches with years of experience, wrinkles even. Coaches who have made a name, accumulated the press clippings. Coaches in their 50s. Coaches from established powers in the SEC or the Big Ten.

Their resumes were in his hands.

Instead, after determining competence and ability, he opted for coaches who "fit," admittedly an intangible factor not easily discernable from a resume.

So he grabbed Harsin, the guy who has been at his side for the last five years in the coaches' press box. They've seen a lot in those years, enough to cement a strong bond.

And he hired Wilcox, the former defensive graduate assistant at BSU who came highly recommended from coaches Petersen trusts completely.

And he plucked 26-year-old Scott Huff, who played under Petersen for two seasons, from Arizona State to coach somewhere on offense, likely tight ends.

Three new hires. Three young coaches. Three with connections to Petersen and Boise State. All guys he felt comfortable with.

Petersen also kept defensive assistant Marcel Yates and promoted director of football operations Viliami Tuivai to defensive assistant. Neither is older than 30.

If this isn't taking a flier on red, it's not far off.

Who will be the voice of reason, of experience, when the Broncos find themselves in a mess? Who can say this is how we handled this situation in the past?

Petersen, however, is undaunted. He's certain all of his hires are qualified. After all, he was the wide receivers coach at Oregon and had no previous coordinating experience when Dan Hawkins hired him to run the Bronco offense in 2001.

The Broncos hit the jackpot then.

Petersen is convinced he's done the same.

"One hundred percent in my mind. I have no doubt," Petersen said.

And he's looking for four more winning numbers as he tries to fill out his coaching staff.

It's a slow process, even as recruits long to know who their position coach will be. Fit doesn't come from a resume or the schemes uncovered by watching film. Fit takes time.

And Petersen is willing to take as much of it as is needed. He won't rush because, as he puts it, once you hire a coach, he's yours.

Though he hasn't yet, Petersen said it's likely that he'll hire someone he hasn't coached or coached with in filling the four vacancies. But only after the candidate comes to Boise, meets the rest of the staff and passes muster with everyone.

"You really want to make sure it's the right fit," Petersen said. "All it takes is one guy."

One guy to destroy the delicate chemistry that Petersen has tried to build among coaches who spend more time together than they do with their families. One guy to turn what Petersen believes is a winning bet into a loser.

And he's not willing to gamble on that.