It was a few seconds past 5 p.m. Monday in the Rush Tower lobby of the Golden Nugget downtown. Boise State football coach Chris Petersen and his Arizona State counterpart, the soon-to-be-unemployed Dennis Erickson, were smiling for the traditional photo one always sees before bowl games, the one with the team helmets and the trophy in the foreground. At least this time, the showgirls stayed home.
The motorized camera shutters had just started to whir when a strident voice, coming from somewhere behind velvet ropes put up to keep guys with strident voices from interacting with the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas coaches and their quarterbacks, shouted “Hey Petersen, go to USC, baby.”
It used to be Chris Petersen’s name only came up when a job at one of the Bowl Championship Series schools was actually vacant. Now, even fans of storied programs that already have a high-profile coach, or Lane Kiffin as coach, think Petersen would make a wonderful replacement.
I asked Petersen about that during the only 25 minutes that he and Erickson would be available to the media in the run-up to Thursday’s game. He said he is happy where he is, doesn’t mind scraping ice from his windshield and thinks Boise State is an excellent place to coach football, so long as the Broncos get to wear their all-blue uniforms.
If you’re reading, Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson, I think that last part was intended for you.
Lon Kruger talked as if UNLV would be his last stop, too, but that was before Oklahoma sent $16.6 million over seven seasons sweepin’ down his plain.
But I think Petersen was being sincere, that he may be the new LaVell Edwards, who went 7-4 in his first year as head coach at Brigham Young in 1972 and then spent 28 more seasons there.
The avuncular Edwards won 257 games and lost only 101 at a second-tier program that he turned into a reasonable facsimile of a first-tier program. When he was through, the football stadium had 64,045 seats and they were all filled, so they named the place for him.
“I don’t know about any of that,” Petersen, 47, said about building a program, or at least taking it to the next level and then staying around to admire it. “All I know is that Boise is a good place and we like it there, and we’ve got a really good administration that keeps pushing the envelope. And we’re getting better.”
He was talking about finances, fancy weight rooms and whatnot named for well-heeled boosters. Stuff you need to compete nowadays unless it’s basketball season and your name is Butler.
“I think that’s what all coaches want, a chance to recruit really good kids,” said Peterson, who was born in Yuba City, Calif., and played quarterback for UC Davis two years after Ken O’Brien played quarterback there. “And really good kids want to come to a place where they see a bright future, where even though we’ve been good, (the financial commitment) is not gonna stay status quo. And we have those things at Boise.”
Petersen’s record at Boise State is 72-6 over six seasons, which is freakin’ amazing. Yes, some of those wins came at the expense of San Jose State and Idaho, which is literally small potatoes. But the Broncos also have beaten Georgia and Virginia Tech and Oregon twice and Oregon State twice under Petersen’s watch. And Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, where, of course, Petersen blew Bob Stoops’ mind with a couple of gadget plays a Pop Warner coach might draw up in the dirt.
Chris Petersen likes Boise State, and Boise State — which has torn up his contract twice in six years — likes Chris Petersen. His base salary is around $1.6 million, and I hear he now has a vote on the Idaho Potato Commission board of directors. I’m assuming he also has a cabin or two on a lake up there.
Dan Hawkins, Petersen’s predecessor at Boise State, could have had the same deal. But he left for Colorado of the Big 12. He was fired during his fifth season in Boulder. Hawkins took the Broncos job after Dirk Koetter left Boise for Arizona State of the Pac-10. Koetter was fired after his sixth season in Tempe.
There are worse things than being a big fish in a small pond that will get a little bigger when Boise bolts the Mountain West for the Big East in 2013. Whereas big fish that leap into big frying pans sometimes wind up being dinner, or studio analysts for ESPN.
Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.