Chris Petersen on Hamdan, UW's first-year wide receivers coach: "He’s always been one of the best people, one of the most special people."
There’s emotion and reverence in Chris Petersen’s voice. A hint of heartbreak, too.
He’s talking about Bush Hamdan.
“I really shouldn’t say this,” the head coach begins, “because there was a lot of things I felt like happened at Boise State to really change our program and make it unique and different, but there is no doubt in my mind that Bush Hamdan is one of those guys that changed our program and made it unique, by the type of person he was and the teammate he was and what he was all about.”
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“When I think back, there was nobody that I wanted to be a starting player more than him. And to tell him he wasn’t that was …”
He pauses, clears his throat.
“… and how he handled that and what he did for our team — awesome.”
Bush Hamdan never won the job as Boise State’s starting quarterback. Eight years ago, as a senior, he lost out to a freshman named Kellen Moore. All Moore did was go on to win more games (50) than any quarterback in college football history.
“I guess I’m fortunate to say that that was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to go through in my life,” Hamdan said this week.
He is 30 now and in his first season as Washington’s wide receivers coach and passing-game coordinator, having been reunited with Petersen. It’s been a vagabond existence for Hamdan to get here — with seven coaching jobs at seven schools in seven years — and the hard lessons learned as a career backup in Boise have carried him through each stop, and past every potential stopping point.
“He’s always been one of the best people, one of the most special people — just as a person. He gets it,” said Petersen, now in his third season at UW after leaving Boise State. “Even more so as a guy on our staff, he is in such a unique place in terms of his age and experience, that he gets us and he gets me and what we’re all about and he gets the kids. So it’s really good.”
Gibran Hamdan, the oldest of the two Hamdan boys, was in seventh or eighth grade when he picked up a football for the first time. Some other boys were throwing a ball around the back of the school, and Gibran soon realized he could chuck it farther than most of the others.
That was the Hamdans’ introduction to football. Little brother of course wanted to do everything big brother was doing, and Bush fell in love with football too. Their parents never knew much about the sport — still don’t, really.
“And both their kids turned out to be quarterbacks and involved in the most American sports there is currently,” Gibran said. “It’s a fascinating side story to all this.”
Gibran and Bush’s mother, Laila, is from Pakistan. Their father, Latif, is Palestinian. He originally came to the U.S. to study at the University of Illinois. He’s now a nuclear scientist who works for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in Maryland.
Gibran was born in 1981 in San Diego. Bush came along five years later. By then, the family had relocated to Kuwait. In 1990, when Iraq invaded Kuwait to spark the Gulf War, the Hamdans lost their home — lost everything. They were fortunate to be on vacation in San Diego when the Iraqi invasion began. They never went back.
“When you’re a kid, you don’t really know. I look back on it and I think about what my father and mother persevered through,” Bush said. “When you get older, you start to really appreciate the values your parents give to you. And I start to think about what I’ve gone through (in football) and it’s not even close to what they’ve had to deal with to keep us going. …
“We were probably one of the last flights out of Kuwait. I don’t try to make it more dramatic than it needs to be, and I get that I was very young — but we were very, very blessed. Very blessed.”
The family eventually settled in Gaithersburg, Md. — part of the greater Washington, D.C. area — and Gibran went on to win the starting quarterback job during his senior year at Indiana University. In 2003, he was selected in the seventh round of the NFL draft by Washington’s NFL team and became the first person of Pakistani descent to play in the NFL.
“The day my brother got drafted by (Washington) … my dad was on record saying, ‘Yeah, he still needs to get a real job, though,’” Bush said. “Then they told my dad my brother’s contract and my dad said, ‘Well, maybe not.’”
Gibran bounced around in a well-traveled pro career. Playing for the Amsterdam Admirals, he was the MVP of the NFL Europe. He was also a backup for five NFL teams, including stints with the Seahawks in 2005 and ’06.
When Bush was engaged in hard-fought quarterback battles at Boise State in 2007 and ’08, he leaned on his brother.
“He’s been a huge inspiration for me,” Bush said.
Even as the backup QB, Bush was named a Boise State team captain both of those seasons.
“It was definitely a challenging time for him,” Gibran said. “But it truly revealed what he’s now known for in the coaching industry, and that’s his integrity and his really high moral compass. He’s also really self-aware, and all those things he learned specifically in the processing of losing the job to Kellen Moore. …
“Looking back, it doesn’t say that much about his football ability, considering that Kellen was a four-year starter and the most prolific college quarterback ever. But it taught (Bush) some things he’ll have for the rest of his life — and his players now are going to benefit from all that.”
By all accounts, Hamdan has fit right in with the Huskies.
“He’s loose,” said junior receiver John Ross III, now working with his third different receivers coach in four seasons. “He’s kind of younger, so he understands us more. He’s hands-on, fun — and funny.”
Already, Hamdan has coached at just about every level of college football, and in just about every corner of the country. His resume looks more like a wayward tourist’s travel itinerary:
2009: Colorado, student assistant
2010: Maryland, quality control coach/intern
2011: Sacramento State, tight ends
2012: Florida, wide receivers
2013: Arkansas State, co-offensive coordinator/QB coach
2014: Davidson, offensive coordinator/QB coach
2015: Washington, offensive quality control
His cross-country move from offensive coordinator at Davidson to the Huskies’ offensive quality-control coach last year was unusual — most would view the entry-level role at UW as a step down — and Hamdan said he wouldn’t have done it for anyone else but Petersen. He appreciates the close relationships of the coaches on the UW staff, and spoke highly of offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith.
“Jonathan Smith is one of the best people I’ve ever had the chance to work for,” he said. “Just how understanding he is; he’s consistent. And when you have that day in and day out, you know people trust you to do your job and it’s a good environment.”
It was a “weird” feeling, he said, to start a second consecutive season at the same school this year, and he hasn’t totally set down roots in Seattle. He’s still a bachelor, and he’s still content to rent, knowing the nature of the coaching business means his next move just might be right around the corner.
Best of all, Seattle has been a family reunion for the Hamdans.
Gibran and his wife, Jenny — the granddaughter of former Minnesota Vikings coach Bud Grant, who was a mentor to Pete Carroll — settled in north Seattle after he retired from football. Bush loves being close to his nephew, 2-year-old Pendleton, and 4-month-old niece, McLaren, and Gibran has transitioned from football to a career as a clothing designer. His company, Alial Fital — his parents’ names spelled backward — has endorsements from many of his former NFL teammates, including Matt Hasselbeck, and a showroom near Green Lake.
Bush has no excuse to not be the Huskies’ best-dressed coach.
“Sometimes,” Bush said, “I just have to pinch myself. For me, to live in a great place like Seattle … and have family here is special.”
Gibran doesn’t pay much attention to football anymore — he was doing yardwork on Saturday while the Huskies’ were running past Rutgers in the season opener — but certainly supports his younger brother.
“When it’s all said and done and Bush is a big-time head coach, it’s going to be a nice full circle,” he said. “My brother will accomplish so much in the sport. He’s got so many awesome skills: He’s really passionate about it, the kids love him. And there’s no other way to say it — he’s just going to have uber-duber success. Coach Pete is very lucky to have him, in my opinion.”
Surely, the head coach would agree.