Petersen eyeing BCS, not elite job (cont.)
Petersen's home is a short drive from the office, which is a few steps from the Boise River's recreational greenbelt. Barbara and the boys -- Sam and older brother Jack, 13 -- can visit Bronco Stadium, or Petersen can head home for lunch. There's a settled support group for Sam's medical needs, and a real connection with the community.
Combine that with this: "All (Sam's illness) did is reinforce our mindset," Petersen said. "I'm kind of a homebody. One of the negatives in the coaching profession is you have to pick up your family and move."
Football plays into this, of course. Petersen has built on the foundation his predecessors laid, and taken the Broncos higher than anyone would have dared dream. Although the blue turf at Bronco Stadium remains the city's No. 1 tourist attraction, the Boise State program is no longer viewed as a quirky curiosity. It seems crazy, but folks here believe it's possible, one day, to become the ultimate BCS-buster, to bring home a national championship to Boise.
Seems crazy, but the school was a junior college until the late 1960s, and the football program was Division II, then I-AA (now Football Championship Subdivision) and didn't become a I-A (Football Bowl Subdivision) program until 1996. Yet here the Broncos are now, a perennial threat to the BCS' established order. Would you really bet against them?
Sure, Petersen would likely have a more realistic chance at winning it all at other places. He could also make more money -- a whole lot more money. But those who know him insist a paycheck's not a driving force.
"He's not caught up at all," Boise State defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox said, "in BCS conferences and bigger schools and bigger paychecks."
"None of that is going to determine my happiness," Petersen agreed.
Petersen's salary -- and as important, his assistants' pay -- has increased; he's making as much as most coaches at mid-level schools in bigger conferences. The school and community appear committed to supporting the program and providing resources. The prevailing mindset is ambitious optimism.
"As good as Boise State has been in the past, as good as it is right now, we just really feel that there's a lot more here, in this city, in this place," Petersen said. "We just know Boise is going to continue to grow. It's such a great place to live. And as that happens, and more resources and finances become available, we just think this place can take the next step. And that's exciting to be a part of."
Boise State fans couldn't be happier Petersen's still a part of it. Just ask Terrell, who owns and operates DeBest Plumbing and has a luxury suite in Bronco Stadium's recently completed, $38 million Stueckle Sky Center, and sees big things ahead for the Broncos under Petersen.
"I don't think he's in it for the big hype," Terrell said. "I think he's got a program he knows he can continue to build on."
Terrell's not just wishing. He's seen the other guys say the right things, then catch a plane in the middle of the night. All those years ago, he ate lunch with Nutt while the coach was in the middle of Arkansas' coaching search. Nutt told Terrell and a few others something like: "I'm not going anywhere. I'm happy here, my family's happy here, I'm not interested in any other jobs."
A couple days later, Nutt was calling the Hogs.
"There's some of that in your head," Terrell admitted. "But on the other side, we know Chris Petersen. You always have to worry, but with Chris, I don't worry as much, and I don't think the community worries as much."
Petersen won't say never. Even as he professes his commitment to Boise State, and his affection for life in Boise, he leaves himself an out. He's still young, and things change; he knows one day he might hunger for a different challenge. But he's not looking to leave.
"If you're going to go somewhere else," he said, "you'd better be pretty sure. I've seen people go to situations that they thought were going to be better, and then they're not better."
Nutt's dream job turned into a nightmare; he's now Ole Miss' coach. Koetter didn't last at Arizona State; he's the Jacksonville Jaguars' offensive coordinator. And after three underwhelming seasons in Boulder, Hawkins is under pressure to win now. The grass isn't always greener. Sometimes, blue isn't bad.
"We know it's a pretty good place here," Petersen said. "We don't take it for granted."
All these years after Nutt's departure, Buster's is still the place for pregame appetizers and postgame brews. A couple blocks south of Bronco Stadium, it's decorated in orange and blue, and the marquee remains available for last-ditch pleas in case another big name comes calling for Boise's coach.
Free ribs for life? Petersen could probably choose the restaurant, and the entrée. And here's the thing: Broncos fans are daring to believe he just might.
George Schroeder covers college football for the Eugene Register Guard and is the president of the FWAA. Follow him on Twitter.
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