January 11, 2007: Ten days after leading Boise State to its legendary upset of Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, Chris Petersen accepts the Paul “Bear” Bryant Award as the national coach of the year in Houston. Petersen had gone unbeaten as a rookie coach, the first college football head coach to post a 13-0 record in his first year since Yale’s Walter Camp in 1888. Under Petersen, the Broncos won their fifth straight WAC championship and were the only undefeated team in the country. They finished No. 5 in the AP Poll and No. 6 in the Coaches Poll.
What was so refreshing at the time was that Petersen hadn’t changed since the day he first set foot on the Boise State campus as Dan Hawkins’ offensive coordinator six years earlier. He was a guy who had often wondered aloud if he ever wanted to be a head coach, but he decided it was time to give it a try when Hawkins left for Colorado in December, 2005. A dizzying 13 months later, he went to the podium and heaped praise on his staff, his players, his school and its fans. Petersen told KTVB, “I’m just here accepting this award on behalf of Boise State, and I mean that from the bottom of my heart.”
It was just the beginning for Petersen. He led Boise State to another Fiesta Bowl win after the 2009 season, beating TCU 17-10. The Broncos became only the second 14-0 team in modern college football history. (The first was Ohio State in 2002 under Jim Tressel, and Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide would join them three days later.) Most consider Petersen’s best team to be his 2010 squad, though, despite its 12-1 record. The Broncos were ranked as high as No. 2 with a roster included 11 future NFL Draft picks. They had a clear path to the Rose Bowl until an upset loss to Nevada in late November.
Petersen really changed the trajectory of the program. Ground was broken on the Steuckle Sky Center at Bronco Stadium five weeks later. And by the time he left after the 2013 season, the new Bleymaier Football Center was completed in the north end zone. What’s amazing is that Petersen stuck around at Boise State for eight seasons (13 including his time as an assistant). He’d have a lot of big-time suitors over the years, but he genuinely liked it here. Finally a fit materialized, and Coach Pete took the Washington job. There will never be another like him. He was 92-12 with the Broncos, for cryin’ out loud.
(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra. He also anchors four sports segments each weekday on 95.3 FM KTIK and one on News/Talk KBOI. His Scott Slant column runs every Wednesday.)