He’s widely regarded as one of the best coaches in the nation, and his name comes up every December and January in connection to some opening somewhere.
See Chris Petersen or hear him talk, and notice a man who does not think of any of that.
The two Bear Bryant coach of the year awards, along with his Bobby Dodd coach of the year award, are on the opposite side of his office from the desk where he analyzes game film.
Petersen doesn’t dress flashy, drive a big-ticket car or even live in anything resembling a mansion — a surprising fact to some. After all, he’s won 70 of his first 76 games and can tie Tony Knap’s 71 wins in the four-year era at Boise State — which took Knap 90 games.
“He really truly means the things he says,” linebacker Aaron Tevis said. “He’s one of the greatest guys you’ll ever meet. We’re lucky to play for him. He’s such a humble guy. He loves it here, and that means a lot to us.”
In his five full seasons at the helm, the Broncos have won at least 10 games every year, and a victory today against Wyoming will continue that streak. In fact, the 47-year-old Petersen has already set the blueprint for other programs on the rise — including Wyoming.
“I’ve always looked at Boise’s program and the job Chris has done,” Cowboys third-year coach Dave Christensen said. “When I took over this program, that’s a program I wanted to model ours after in a number of ways.”
Even if his Broncos don’t reach a BCS game this season, which has become a slightly better possibility recently, Petersen is happy in Boise. He spoke briefly with Stanford last season about its opening and opted to stay. A big reason was the planned football facility to be built in the north part of Bronco Stadium by the 2013 opener.
He said despite all his success, he faces plenty to challenge him.
“Oh my gosh, a tremendous challenge,” Petersen said. “It’s just hard. When you win so much, it’s so easy to take that for granted … when you look at what other places have resource-wise, coaches-wise, player-wise, it kind of puts it in perspective.”
Yahoo! Sports’ Dan Wetzel spoke with a college football administrator this week about Petersen, and his source said “it’ll take dynamite to get him out of Boise. It’s not that he’ll compare a job with Boise and then choose Boise. He won’t even think it over.”
That sort of commitment is a big draw for recruits already intrigued by playing for a team that just knows how to win, and a community that supports it year in and out.
“It’s very comforting to know we won’t have coaching problems like other schools,” freshman cornerback Bryan Douglas said. “It’s great to know coach Pete will be here.”
As the program has seen huge changes even since he took over, Petersen has hardly changed himself. His pay has increased, but he still preaches the same messages. He still recruits his type of players, not fazed by offer lists. The only change is maybe something he can affect — the years the job can put onto any tough soul.
“For the most part, it’s the same old Pete,” senior quarterback Kellen Moore said. “You kind of know what to expect and he expects the same out of you … he’s a little older and groggier on Mondays.”
The son of a coach himself, Petersen hasn’t been able to sit back and enjoy his success — “sadly enough, no,” he says. Part of what drives him and enables his teams to not be complacent is constantly looking forward and not back.
“I think I’m very strange and weird in a lot of ways,” Petersen said. “I tell my wife, I don’t know what’s wrong with me, but something is.”
Petersen has weathered departures of his offensive and defensive coordinators the past two offseasons, and 2011 has presented one of toughest tests of his career with NCAA violations, a tough loss to TCU and injuries at key positions, notably running back and defensive back.
“We’ve been kind of patching it together, those certain areas are getting hit hard,” Petersen said. “You’re set pretty solid across the board talent-wise, experience-wise. You get hit with these injuries and it changes things. It makes things sometimes more difficult than you thought it would be.”
As scandals have enveloped seemingly squeaky-clean head coaches at Penn State and Ohio State, Petersen represents part of a now rare breed — the wildly successful coach accomplishing his feats while doing it about as clean as possible.
Petersen stresses his team “be here now” — focusing on football when the time is right, on school when in class or during study time, spending time with family and friends when possible.
Right here, right now, his team reflects the man in pursuit of another impressive mark.
“He’s your best friend away from football and your boss when you’re here,” freshman receiver Matt Miller said. “His attitude, his work ethic, that trickles down to our team. If I can be half the man he is, I’ll die happy.”