Many schools for many years tried to lure Chris Petersen away from Boise State. Oregon did not four years ago. He's now leading Washington into Friday's Pac-12 championship game.
There is a new king in the North, and Chris Petersen’s Washington Huskies don’t look like they’ll be going away anytime soon.
Gone, now, is Oregon coach Mark Helfrich, who was fired Tuesday, 24 months after leading the Ducks to a Pac-12 title, 23 months after a national championship appearance, and 22 months after signing a hefty five-year contract extension. Oregon will pay Helfrich an $11.6 million buyout to not coach there.
The Ducks, having lost to Washington, Washington State and Oregon State in the same season for the first time since 2002, are in a tailspin and this, of course, is cause for much giddiness around Seattle. Order restored and all that, right?
The Huskies, meanwhile, just won their first Pac-12 North title and are preparing for the Pac-12 championship game against Colorado on Friday night.
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A win will (almost certainly) deliver Washington a berth to the College Football Playoff … and the Huskies will (almost certainly) open 2017 ranked among the nation’s top three.
Washington’s dramatic reemergence in the North no doubt played at least a small part in Helfrich’s undoing.
At the same time, the Huskies have been preparing to lock up Petersen to a long-term contract extension. The goal? To keep him in purple and gold for the rest of his coaching career.
That, it seems clear, is what Petersen wants.
If he had wanted to go to a big brand school — Texas or USC or LSU or wherever — he would’ve gone long ago. Many programs for so many years tried to lure him away from Boise State, before he finally came to Seattle three years ago.
It was just four years ago that Oregon had a coaching vacancy … but was the rare program in that situation that did not try to woo Petersen.
And if it had?
Petersen probably would be coaching in Eugene right now.
The Oregon job, according to a source close to Petersen, is one Petersen would have strongly considered after Chip Kelly left for the NFL in January 2013.
Petersen was the Ducks’ wide receivers coach from 1995-2000 — former Oregon QB Joey Harrington endorsed him as one of the five best coaches he’s ever been around — and it was during that time that Petersen befriended another young offensive assistant.
Petersen and Helfrich have been close ever since.
When Kelly left following the 2012 season, the Ducks were committed to a succession plan and promoted Helfrich from within. Oregon never seriously considered Petersen at that time.
After Helfrich got the head-coaching job, Petersen, then still at Boise, sent a text message to his friend: “Congrats,” it read, “and condolences.”
Fast forward to Oct. 8, in Eugene’s Autzen Stadium, and in the moments after the Huskies’ 70-21 victory over the Ducks, Petersen genuinely felt sorry about the beating he had leveled on his friend. Already, speculation had been swirling about Helfrich’s job security. That speculation went into overdrive after that night, and Petersen surely sensed it would.
Who do the Ducks turn to now?
They will want someone who brings credibility and stability … someone respected up and down the West Coast for his coaching chops and quality of character … someone who can reenergize the fan base and quickly close the gap in the North.
They will want someone like Chris Petersen.
They had their chance. Send your condolences.