Petersen leaves big shoes to fill at Boise State

Petersen leaves big shoes to fill at Boise State »Play Video
Chris Petersen

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - Chris Petersen finally did what Boise State fans have feared for years: Bring to an end his wildly successful run as Broncos coach and take a job with a bigger program in a more competitive conference.

Petersen announced Friday he was moving deeper into the Pacific Northwest to coach at Washington, leaving Boise State athletic officials with the biggest hiring decision in the program's history.

Since taking over in 2006, Petersen, 49, compiled a 92-12 record. But even more than that stellar winning percentage, Petersen, who began his career at Boise State in 2001, lifted a program that was a perennial bully in a small regional conference to a team that twice busted its way into the BCS postseason scene.

"I know Bronco Nation joins me in thanking Chris Petersen for all he did to advance Boise State's football program over the last 13 years," said Bob Kustra, Boise State president. "We were lucky to have him and Washington is lucky to have him."

Petersen met for the final time with the team and coaches Friday morning and will not coach the Broncos in a bowl game later this month. Officials also named assistant Bob Gregory interim coach.

Athletic director Mark Coyle announced Friday the start of a national search for a replacement. Coyle, who arrived in Boise two years ago amid another round of end-of-season rumors linking Petersen to Stanford and other higher profile jobs, likely has a short list of candidates handy.

One of those candidates could be Huskies defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, who was in charge of the Broncos defense for three years under Petersen. There's also been chatter about Wilcox following Steve Sarkisian to USC, providing the Trojans are interested in paying the $1 million buyout in Wilcox's contract.

Boise native and Arkansas State head coach Bryan Harsin is another potential option. A former Boise State player and offensive coordinator under Petersen, Harsin left in 2010 to run the offense at Texas and took over at Arkansas State two years ago.

There are some assistants to consider, but in the early stages no obvious heir from the coaching staff has emerged, and it's not clear how many will follow Petersen to Seattle. Gregory is in his fifth season on staff and has coached linebackers the last three years.

No matter who gets the job, the expectations will be high. Not only was Petersen successful on the field, but he parlayed the wins into building the Broncos into a national brand and expanding the school's football infrastructure. Thousands of new seats and a $37.5 million press box were added to Bronco Stadium in 2010. Earlier this year, the team moved into a new $21 million football complex built on the stadium's north end.

Yet his departure also comes at the end of his worst season as head coach. The preseason favorite to win the Mountain West Conference, the Broncos never made a serious run for the title, finished 8-4 and will watch Utah State and Fresno State square off Saturday in the conference title game.

The four losses were the most in any of Petersen's eight seasons and the Broncos' season-opening 38-6 defeat at Washington was by far the worst of his tenure. The defense, young and inexperienced, struggled early and the offense took a hit midseason when starting senior quarterback Joe Southwick broke an ankle and missed most of the final six games.

Still, fans and players are taking the news hard.

"Coach Pete was one of the main reasons why I came here. It's sad. It really is," Broncos punter Trevor Harman told reporters after practice Friday. "It's disappointing for the incoming guys and the younger guys right now, but congratulations to him. He deserves it."

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