Boise State Coach Chris Petersen is Penn State's Number One Priority
Has it really been only six weeks since the Penn State football program was turned upside down following the Jerry Sandusky scandal and Joe Paterno's firing?
So much has transpired since the night of that impromptu press conference that announced the firing of the only Penn State head football coach since 1966.
But, aside from the very public legal case that is playing out in central Pennsylvania, there is a much more private series of deliberations taking place. A six-member committee headed by acting Athletic Director David Joyner has been at work for nearly a month now, with the goal of identifying and pursuing the individual who can begin the next generation of Penn State football.
After weeks of suggestions and rumors, it appears that Penn State’s search is zeroing in on a clear favorite: Boise State’s Chris Petersen.
A Friday report by The Patriot-News’ David Jones claims that one of the six search committee members has made two trips to Idaho in the last eight days in an effort to sell Petersen on the job opening in Happy Valley.
Boise State’s season concluded on Friday night with a 56-24 blowout of Arizona State in the MAACO Las Vegas Bowl. In Petersen’s six seasons at Boise State, he has compiled a record of 73-6, with two BCS bowl victories and three different National Coach of the Year awards. In his tenure at Boise, the Broncos have also gained a reputation for graduating players, achieving a rate second only to Penn State among BCS Top-25 teams.
Clearly, Petersen represents some of the key traits that Penn State officials have said they are seeking from the football program’s next head coach. He wins football games and he graduates players. The only smudge on his resume is that his program was sanctioned by the NCAA for some minor violations involving housing of incoming freshman football players. But that issue apparently is not something that the Penn State search committee views as symptomatic of a man who bends the rules in an effort to win games.
So now, it comes down to one thing. Is Petersen buying what Penn State is selling?
Petersen would be leaving a program that is in considerably better shape than the one in State College, Pennsylvania. His team is a perennial Top-10, and he has found a home in Boise while also finding a recruiting niche that keeps his team among the national elite.
There is the issue of salary, and that could be a key advantage for Penn State, who will have to use some of the tens-of-millions of dollars they saved in the Joe Paterno years in order to break into the modern era of coaching hires. When Forbes magazine ranks your program as the third most valuable in college football (behind only Texas and Notre Dame), it becomes very feasible to pay a coach upwards of $3 million per season (which is currently happening at 10 Division I schools).
The greatest challenge that may exist for Penn State is the fact that Petersen has not seemed to be wooed by the potential of big money in the past. It is believed that schools like UCLA and Texas A&M were seriously interested in Petersen to the tune of $4 million per season, and he responded with a “no thanks” on both occasions.
That history, plus the spectre of a very ugly Sandusky trial that will play itself out over the next year or more, indicates that there are challenges that will need to be overcome if Penn State is to hire Petersen away from a home that he has clearly come to love.
The reports that Penn State has met with Petersen twice, however, can only be viewed as a positive by Nittany Lion fans who are desperate for some hope that the University is about to move in a better direction.
The rest of the Big 10 seems to be charging ahead with stable coaching situations (see Michigan, Ohio State and Nebraska) and fantastic recruiting (Michigan and Ohio State are currently third and sixth in the Rivals rankings). Penn State is, rightfully, being deliberate with such a crucial hiring, but the realities of college football recruiting have been evident as Nittany Lions have already lost three highly-rated recruits in the last month. In fact, Penn State’s recruiting class is down to just 13 verbal commitments, and it is believed that some of those youngsters are considering other options as National Signing Day approaches (Feb 1).
Does a Chris Petersen hiring fix what ails Penn State? The answer to that question is not a definitive “yes," because the fallout of the Jerry Sandusky case will leave scars that may never heal in Happy Valley.
But, Petersen’s arrival would be a massive boost to a football program that is in need of a dynamic new leader who can bring talent, enthusiasm and a much-needed change of personality.
If Penn State officials are being as aggressive as it has been reported, one would have to figure that an answer from Petersen will come in the near future. Then, it’s either the beginning of a new era, or back to a drawing board that seems to include options such as Tennessee Titans coach Mike Munchak, Wake Forest’s Jim Grobe, and Duke’s David Cutcliffe. And while each of those candidates possesses the type of character that Penn State desires in its next coach, none are even close to Petersen when it comes to success on the football field.
Matt Babiarz was born and raised in the Philadelphia area. He graduated from the University of Alabama, but remained a very close observer of the Philadelphia sports scene. He recently began covering the Phillies for Philly2Philly.com. You can also read his work at Bleacherreport.com within the Philadelphia Phillies section.
Matt can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Press Conference: AP
Celebrating: Getty Images