Blue in Boise: Petersen’s exit creates another vacancy

Some very surprising news came out this morning regarding the Washington Huskies’ search for a new head coach, as Joe Schad reported that longtime Boise State head coach Chris Petersen has agreed to a deal to replace Steve Sarkisian in Seattle.

Chris Petersen

Petersen’s tenure at Boise State was nothing short of spectacular, as the former Broncos’ offensive coordinator took over following Dan Hawkins’ departure and promptly posted a 92-12 record over the course of eight seasons, including double-digit victories in seven different years. Petersen will be forever remembered in BCS lore for Boise State’s play against Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl (Petersen’s first season as head coach), in which the underdog Broncos pulled out all the tricks–including the hook-and-ladder and the Statue of Liberty–to upset the Sooners 43-42 in overtime.

Chris Petersen has been the white whale for athletic directors across the country for the last seven years, spurning offers and calls from some of the biggest programs to instead stay in Boise and dominate first the WAC and now the Mountain West. It appeared as if nothing had changed for Petersen when he turned down a chance to coach at Oregon last year and then at USC just over a week ago, but apparently the Washington gig was too good to turn down. Had Petersen noticed the potential of this team when the Huskies defeated the Broncos 38-6 to start this season, or did he finally realize that Boise’s placement in the Mountain West had placed a ceiling on the team that even he could not break through? The answer is not clear, but what goes without saying is that Boise State needs to find a talented head coach to try and pick up where Petersen left off.

Petersen's Broncos shocked the world by beating Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl (Photo by Pete Thamel/New York Times)

Petersen’s Broncos shocked the world by beating Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl (Photo by Pete Thamel/New York Times)

Boise State has a proud history of winning coaches, going back to the likes of Houston Nutt, Dirk Koetter, Dan Hawkins, and Petersen. Who will be the next head coach of the Broncos? Here are five names to look out for:

Bryan Harsin, Arkansas State HC – A former quarterback and later an assistant at Boise State from 2001 to 2010 (offensive coordinator his last five seasons), Harsin just wrapped up his first season as Red Wolves head coach, going 7-5 with a 5-2 conference record. Harsin is one of the youngest head coaches in FBS at thirty-seven years old with a very bright future ahead of him, and it does not hurt that Arkansas State’s last two head coaches–Hugh Freeze and Gus Malzahn–bolted after one year and have been very successful coaching elsewhere. This hire seems like a no-brainer for Boise State; the only snag may be if Harsin does not want to leave Jonesboro so soon after his arrival.

Can you really say no to a head coach with a mustache as flawless as Harsin's? (Photo Courtesy of SB Nation)

Can you really say no to a head coach with a mustache as flawless as Harsin’s? (Photo Courtesy of SB Nation)

Justin Wilcox, Washington DC – The defensive coordinator at Boise State from 2006 to 2009, Wilcox is respected as one of the brightest defensive-minded coaches in the country and was said to have been a candidate for the Huskies head coaching position that Petersen just filled. Wilcox appears to have three options on his table: remain at Washington as defensive coordinator, follow Sarkisian to USC and serve as the Trojans defensive coordinator, or return to Boise State as the team’s next head coach. It is not certain where Wilcox would be leaning, but it is a safe bet that he will be paid handsomely wherever he goes.

Bobby Petrino, Western Kentucky HC – Hear me out, Broncos fans. Petrino has spent several years in the northwest, growing up in Montana and coaching as an assistant at Carroll (Montana), Weber State (Utah), and Idaho back in the 80’s, and although he’s generally regarded as a sleazeball, he is a sleazeball who wins wherever he goes. In nine seasons as a college head coach, Petrino is 82-30 with just one losing season, his first at Arkansas back in 2008 when he went 5-7. Hiring Petrino would guarantee that the Broncos would continue in the winning ways that Petersen established and would help them regain the role of being one of the biggest BCS busters around. It may also bring back the in-state “rivalry” with Idaho since Bobby’s brother Paul is the head coach of the Vandals.

Bobby Petrino

Chris Strausser, Boise State OL/Asst. HC – Boise State has a tradition of simply promoting an assistant once the head coach leaves: Dan Hawkins and Petersen both served on the staff before being promoted to the head job. This gives Strausser an excellent chance of landing this job thanks to his twelve years of experience with the Broncos, split between the Hawkins and Petersen tenures. Promoting from within a staff creates continuity within any program, which is why promoting an assistant who was part of a staff that struggled to win generally does not happen (see: USC) but happens a good deal of the time at a program known for winning (see: Oregon). Strausser is not going to immediately make people forget about Chris Petersen, but it would be a safe hire that would not put Boise State in unchartered territory and could prove to be a very great move.

Phillip Montgomery, Baylor OC – Baylor’s offense has lit up scoreboards across the southwest throughout the 2013 season and are in the midst of their most successful season in almost twenty-five years, which could give Montgomery a shot at some head coaching jobs. It is unlikely that Boise goes for an assistant that neither has ties to the program nor any prior head coaching experience, but Montgomery’s hire would be a fun one to watch: imagine Boise State’s offense running up and down that blue field, matriculating the ball down the gridiron like they were still facing WAC defenses each and every Saturday.

WARNING: Montgomery's high-paced offense can have terrible consequences for scoreboards (Photo by Michael Saad)

WARNING: Montgomery’s high-paced offense can have terrible consequences for scoreboards (Photo by Michael Saad)