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Penn State Coaching Search: Chris Petersen Profile

An interview with One Bronco Nation Under God blogger Drew Roberts on Chris Petersen's tenure in Boise.

Boise State coach Chris Petersen has been a hot commodity on the coaching market as his Broncos have become players on the national stage in recent years. The Yuba City, Calif. native is a robust 72-6 in his six seasons at Boise State and is a winner of four conference championships and two Bowl Championship Series games.

To this point, though, Petersen has dodged many attempts by schools to lure him away from Idaho, most recently turning down an offer from UCLA last week that would have paid him him nearly $4 million per year to replace the fired Rick Neuheisel.

Nevertheless, the Allentown Morning Call's Mark Wogenrich is reporting Petersen is near the top of Penn State's wish list in its search to find a replacement for the legendary Joe Paterno, fired on Nov. 9 in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.

Today, we take a look at Petersen's credentials and qualifications with Drew Robers of SB Nation's Boise State blog, One Bronco Nation Under God and get his opinion on whether they 47-year old would be willing to up and leave for Happy Valley.

Generally, how do Boise State fans feel about the job Chris Petersen has done? Is there a consensus, or are there competing opinions?

To say that Bronco fans are happy with Chris Petersen would be a huge understatement. In fact, I've yet to talk to anyone—even opposing fans—that have anything bad to say about the guy. He's 72-6 as the head man, donates to charity, spurns "better" jobs routinely, has won two Bear Bryant coach of the year awards and may or may not walk on water. You'd be hard-pressed to find competing opinions, and that's probably why his name comes up yearly whenever a big-name coaching vacancy materializes.

What has his team's offensive identity been at Boise State?

Most people would say that Boise State runs a lot of trick plays...but this really isn't the case. They gained some notoriety for running some trick plays, but that's more because they ran trick plays effectively than because they ran a lot of them. Boise State, believe it or not, runs a pretty balanced offense that tries to use the run to set up the pass. They've been blessed with an amazing QB that has put more focus on the passing game lately, but have had a 1,000 yard rusher in 3 of Kellen Moore's 4 seasons under center...so there's that. They also like to jump on teams early with aggressive playcalling, 2 point conversions, and no-huddle offenses. Frankly, the offense would probably have led the nation in scoring the last few years if Petersen hadn't routinely pulled the starters in the 3rd quarter. So, I guess Petersen has "benevolence" as one of his traits as well.

What has his team's defensive philosophy been with the Broncos?


The defensive philosophy really changed in 2008 when then-DC Justin Wilcox made the move to a 4-2-5 base D. Since then, the Broncos defense—which was pretty good, but overshadowed by the offense—has really taken off. The Broncos, since '08 have utilized two linebackers, a LB/S hybrid or "nickel", 2 safeties and 2 CBs (often 3 CBs) and large-bodies in on the interior D-line and speed rushers at the ends. They'll sell out to stop the run and swarm to the ball very well. In 2010, under new DC Pete Kwiatkowski (former D-line coach), the Broncos got more aggressive with their blitzing and ended up leading the country in sacks. The change to the 4-2-5 was probably brought about because the Broncos were facing so many option attacks, but when the players remain disciplined and injuries haven't mounted...the D has been another bright spot on the team.

How would you rate Petersen's quarterback development in Boise and why?

Fantastic. In Dan Hawkins final year (2005) the Broncos had some big problems with quarterback play, as junior Jared Zabransky was benched numerous times throughout the year. In 2006, after Pete took the reins, Zabransky found his game again—leading the Broncos to an undefeated season and big win over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. The following year, Petersen handed the reins to senior Taylor Tharp who went on to have another impressive season under center. Then, in 2008, Petersen made freshman Kellen Moore the starting QB and Moore only went on to become the winningest QB in NCAA history...so I suppose that Petersen has done a pretty good job with the QBs, although I'd certainly give Bryan Harsin (now with Texas) some of that praise as well. 

What is Petersen's approach to recruiting and how would you rate his efforts?

Petersen has elevated the recruiting at Boise State a great deal since he's taken over the head coaching duties. Boise State still doesn't get top 25 recruiting classes, and often don't even get top 50 recruiting classes, but the kind of kids they target doesn't change. He doesn't care one iota whether a quarterback is 5'8" or 6'5"...they want a kid that can play the position at a high level and be "all in" in terms of commitment. Ten years ago, Boise State was battling FCS schools for recruits and trying to win in-state recruiting battles against Idaho, but in the last five years, Boise State is actually winning recruiting battles against schools from the Big 12, Pac 12, and in some cases, the SEC. The recruiting footprint—for years only touching Idaho, Nevada, and California has grown to include virtually every state in the union—and Canada. I think this has happened because 1) kids like to win and Boise State does a lot of it and 2) Petersen generally doesn't offer student-athletes unless they've had a chance to evaluate them personally, and ideally, had them visit campus. He's very good at evaluating talent and will routinely recruit a player from one position to play another, and he's taken numerous walk-ons into the program and developed them into all-conference performers or even draft picks.

What kind of fit would you see Petersen being with the Big Ten? How do you think he would fare at that level?

I'm not so sure I see the Big Ten as a good fit for Petersen. He coached at Pitt in the 90s and referred to his east coast experience as "like living on Mars"...so while I think he could have success, I'm just not sure he's an eastern kind of guy (and yes, I'm aware that Boise State is poised to join a conference known—for now—as the Big East).

Secondly, I think Petersen could excel at any level of competition really because he's a coach that "gets it". He's not about flash or glamour, but instead is about teaching values to players, on and off the field, and instilling a blue collar mentality in them to make them work for their goals. Petersen doesn't always have the best athletes on the field...but he probably has the smartest and best prepared, and that's why I believe he could compete favorably at any level. 

How does Petersen handle off-field team issues (i.e. academics, legal issues, NCAA rules)?

Petersen is definitely a no-nonsense type of coach. He's benched star players on several occasions for off-field indiscretions, academic troubles, or simply not being "team players". Boise State has maintained a sparkling APR in Pete's tenure and graduates the vast majority of his players. As far as NCAA rules go, all I can say is that he's done the best he can. Boise State got tagged with the "Lack of Institutional Control" ruling over the summer due to incidents involving several sports, but the football allegations were pretty small potatoes in the grand scheme of things ("improper benefits" included incoming recruits sleeping on players couches and getting rides to summer workouts), and you can rest assured that they're highly unlikely to happen again.

Is Petersen prepared to become the face of a program in this kind of turmoil?

I have no idea what Petersen is prepared to do, honestly. If I was an AD of a program in turmoil...I would certainly have Chris Petersen on speed dial, but I'm just not sure he's all that interested in that "challenge" at this point. He seems genuinely happy in Boise, Idaho and his wife and two sons appear to feel the same way. Petersen doesn't care about money as much as he does quality of life and being able to do his job his way. If the Penn State and State College scratched that itch for him, I'm sure he'd make the move...but I also believe he'd have to have become disenchanted with Boise State to make that move as well, and if that's the case right now, he's hidden it very well.

If Petersen passes on the Penn State job, he's probably staying at Boise State forever, right?

Bronco fans would love nothing more than to see Chris Petersen grow old here, but Petersen always plays it pretty straight when asked about that possibility. He says he'll "listen" to any offers, but schools have yet to get to the negotiation phase with him. There seems to be some weird consensus that Petersen would have left for Oregon had Chip Kelly not been selected by Mike Belotti, but I'm not even so sure that he'd do that. He's stated that he has no "dream job" and that Boise State is where he's happy—but just to make the fans go wild with speculation—always adds: "for now". 

Any general thoughts about Petersen and Penn State?

As I stated before...if I were an AD and tasked with finding a replacement for a legendary coach, and amid some turmoil and upheaval...I would definitely give Chris Petersen a call. You'd have to at least give him a call. Whether or not Pete is really "listening" when he's "listening" is a whole other story. After giving Stanford, Florida, and UCLA nothing more than a second glance...I'd have to think that Penn State's chances on Pete are slim. Of course, as a fan, that's largely wishful thinking on my part.

Photographs by dizfunk used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.