At the news of Washington’s hire of Chris Petersen from Boise State, we can only wonder: When is Mark Few leaving Gonzaga?
Petersen and Few have long been the most wooed, least-interested-in-leaving coaches in college football and basketball, the Northwest guys who always said no. At least they were, as a combo, until late Thursday night, when Petersen unstuck himself from his long association with Boise State to become the new coach of the Huskies.
It’s a dynamic hire for UW athletic director Scott Woodward, if only because when almost every major job in the western half of the country opened up in recent years, suitors made the obligatory sniff for Petersen’s interest, and Petersen gave the obligatory thumbs-down.
It also poses the question for Pac-12 coaches: Who you gonna outcoach in this conference?
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This is not a league for the faint of imagination. When Stanford’s David Shaw meets Petersen next year, who has the edge in X’s and O’s? When Mike Leach’s spread offense (passing version) meets Rich Rodriguez’s spread (running version), whose innovative skills trump the other’s? When Mike Riley’s Oregon State program knocks heads with Jim Mora’s at UCLA, do their combined coaching chops as ex-NFL head guys and college CEOs make the headsets explode?
It hasn’t always been this way, of course. As recently as a few years ago, many programs were run on the cheap, as costs were rising and Pac-12 marketing efforts were straight out of the Pleistocene Age.
Then came Larry Scott as Pac-12 commissioner, and then came robust new TV contracts reached in 2011 — $3 billion over 12 years with Fox and ESPN. Then, two years ago, came the torrent of hot new coaches, a third of the league roster — Leach, Rodriguez, Mora and Arizona State’s Todd Graham.
Then came the Pac-12 Networks. Now programs are elbowing each other to try to maximize football, which is to maximize profit.
Consider this: USA Today reported this week that Arizona State’s Graham stands to earn $1.2 million if his team beats Stanford for the Pac-12 title and wins the Rose Bowl.
That’s double the $600,000 WSU’s Paul Wulff was making in his final year as head coach in 2011. Is Graham risking too much on an incentive-heavy contract? Not exactly. His guaranteed money is $2.3 million.
We can debate whether colleges ought to be about the business of paying football coaches five times what the university president is pulling down. But it’s inarguable that the cash has put some serious starch in the lineup of Pac-12 coaches.
To me, the most interesting aspect of Petersen’s future at Washington will surround recruiting. At Boise State, his program was renowned for projecting and evaluating and being able to see gems when others saw rocks. Hardly anybody but Petersen wanted Kellen Moore of Prosser, who won more games than any quarterback in NCAA history.
There were places where Boise State could not go — mostly the homes of highest-level recruits — in the same way that Few at Gonzaga has limitations. If that changes, and it likely will, does it impact the keen approach that made it all work at Boise State?
Meanwhile, the Oregon-Washington rivalry just added some juice (given the last 10 years, you could say it needs some). For years, Petersen, an assistant there under Mike Bellotti, was seen as a Ducks coach-in-waiting when the right time came for him.
But when Chip Kelly departed for the NFL last year, the Ducks went next-man-up and promoted offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich. Oregon’s November slide brought no shortage of second-guessing about whether the Ducks, in opting for quick succession with Helfrich, had settled.
That’s only one slice of the intrigue Petersen brings to Washington. He’ll find a lot more every week in his new conference.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org