The Broncos were 92-12 in Petersen’s eight seasons as their coach, one of the most successful stretches in college football history, which makes Petersen’s return to Boise as Washington’s coach for Friday’s season opener all the more dramatic.
The French dip is gone, replaced by an Idaho Philly the server promises is just as good. Maybe even better.
Here on the corner of West Idaho Street and North 8th Street, in the heart of the city he helped put on the college football radar, Chris Petersen would come to the Fork restaurant and enjoy what he called the best French dip he’s ever had.
Washington @ Boise State, 7:15 p.m., ESPN
“He always laughed at my jokes,” said Cody Meurer, a server who waited on Petersen several times over the years. A new chef recently took over, and a new menu was created.
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Boise State, the mid-major Cinderella program that rose to prominence over the last decade, has moved on from Petersen, too. The Broncos were 92-12 in Petersen’s eight seasons as their coach, one of the most successful stretches in college football history, which makes Petersen’s return to Boise as Washington’s coach for Friday’s season opener all the more dramatic.
Or awkward, as Petersen has described it.
So much of what “Coach Pete,” as he’s still known around town, helped build here is impossible to miss: the dozens of championship trophies on display, the stadium’s towering luxury press box, the new football-operations center.
And then, so much of what he created is less tangible, but worth celebrating just as much. In Boise, Petersen built a winner. He also built a strategy for sustained success within the program and within the players themselves — a strategy he’s trying to instill at UW.
Ian Johnson was a standout running back for Petersen’s first Boise State team in 2006. Now an insurance agent in Boise, Johnson remains a Coach Pete fan, but he will be booing him when the Huskies run out onto the field at Albertsons Stadium on Friday night.
“If you can hear me on ESPN, I’m doing it right,” Johnson said with a laugh Thursday afternoon. “I might get one of those megahorns and boo.”
Around town, Johnson said there are mixed emotions about Petersen’s return, 20 months after the coach left for Seattle. Some here were upset that Petersen never publicly addressed his departure with Boise State fans.
“It’s like that girlfriend that broke up with you and never said anything about it,” Johnson said. “Was it me or was it you?”
Chris Petersen file
Hometown: Yuba City, Calif.
College: UC Davis (1988)
Coaching resume: UC Davis assistant, 1987-91; Pittsburgh (quarterbacks), 1992; Portland State (quarterbacks), 1993-94; Oregon (receivers), 1995-2000; Boise State (offensive coordinator), 2001-05; Boise State (head coach), 2006-13; Washington (head coach), 2014-present.
Favorite movies: “Gladiator” and “Forrest Gump.”
Favorite books: “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln,” “Good to Great,” and “The Slight Edge.”
Still, Johnson said Petersen’s legacy in Boise State is unquestioned. The coach won and he did it “the right way,” Johnson said. The “Built For Life” themes that Petersen has established at UW — trying to mold well-rounded young men — he first formed here. Those qualities, Johnson said, are authentic.
“It’s part of who he is,” Johnson said. “What we’ve done here and what we built here, he mirrors that. Those types of words can fall on deaf ears with young kids if you don’t believe them yourself, if you don’t live them yourself. …
“That stuff is built from the top down.”
From both sides
Skip Hall feels awkward, too. He was probably the only person who was invited to one of Boise State’s practices last month and then invited to a UW practice six days later.
From 1975-85, Hall was an assistant coach on Don James’ UW staff before working as the Boise State head coach from 1987-92. Eventually, Hall became close with Petersen, and it was Hall who served as the initial go-between when UW sought out Petersen for the Huskies’ coaching job in December 2013.
Hall hosted his annual charity golf tournament Thursday outside Boise, with fans, boosters and former players representing both schools, including Johnson and former Husky quarterback Cody Pickett and his father, Dee, a former Boise State QB.
Hall will attend Friday’s game but plans to wear neutral colors. Boise State, he said, is “one of the greatest stories in college football, going from junior college to the Big Sky (Conference) to the Big West to what it is today. It’s an unbelievable story.”
Petersen has said he doesn’t want this game to be about him. “But it is,” Hall said. “He did so much to raise the bar for Boise State football.”
He hopes Boise fans find a way Friday to acknowledge all Petersen did for the program. The dilemma, Hall said, is “how do you express appreciation? When you introduce an opponent, of course you normally boo. But I sincerely hope they will give him the due respect he deserves before the game starts.”
“Awkward for me”
Petersen, for his part, has said Boise State is the last team in the nation he wants to play. Of the 22 players expected to start for the 23rd-ranked Broncos on Friday, 20 were recruited by Petersen and his staff now at UW.
The idea of canceling this game through a buyout would have been “ridiculous and selfish,” Petersen said recently. (A buyout would also have cost the Huskies $2 million, The Idaho Statesman reported.)
“It’s awkward for me; I get that,” he added. “But I’m going to change this for everybody because it’s awkward for me? That’s not my style.”
Petersen is back in Boise, where the results were for so long decidedly one-sided in his favor. It was a sweet run, French dip and all. But the Broncos have moved on, too, and come Friday night the reception he receives from a rabid, sellout crowd figures to offer mixed results.