When Washington State hired Mike Leach as its new football coach in November of 2011, the Cougars went all-out with his introduction, inviting anyone and everyone who could fit inside the student union building for his first press conference.
It was there, a little more than two years ago, when Leach ingratiated himself for the first time with WSU fans by dropping the now-famous line: “People ask me, ‘Why Washington State?’” before drawing a loud cheer by concluding, in part: “‘Well that’s a stupid question.”
So, Chris Petersen, after eight years at Boise State, why Washington?
Well, that’s actually a pretty good question. Good enough that Petersen addressed it in his opening statement before anyone could ask.
“People keep asking me, ‘why now? You’ve been at Boise for so long.’ And two things that keep coming to mind is timing and fit. And it was just time. I think every place kind of has a shelf life. Sometimes it’s very short, sometimes it’s very long. Sometimes it’s in between. It was just time. We’ve done some really good things there. I think for me to take the next step as a coach, as a teacher, as a person, to grow, I needed to take that next step out of my comfort zone over there. And I think it will be good for Boise as well.
“I think the fit is so important. I’m a Northwest guy. I’ve known this place forever. I’m so excited about the university. I’m excited about the conference. I think it’s as good and a tough of a conference as there is out there. I think there’s more parity in the Pac-12 now certainly than I’ve ever seen, and I’m excited to compete in that conference.”
He expanded when asked later, saying that if he didn’t leave Boise, he didn’t think he could grow as a coach — and a person — the way he wanted to.
That, he said, was more about removing himself from an established comfort zone than seeking out a more challenging job. It probably helps that both of his sons are older now — his oldest, Jack, is in college at Santa Clara, and his youngest, Sam, is in high school — so moving his family won’t have as big of an impact.
“This job wherever you are is so tremendously challenging. It wasn’t about that,” he said. “But very comfortable over there, very easy for me to be over there, and really didn’t think that it was best for me to be over there in terms of really becoming the person and coach that I wanted to be. With that being said, I also think it’s very important for Boise. I think it was a win-win. Because they’ll get a fabulous coach in there that will give them a new shot of energy, and so I felt really good about that. I didn’t want to leave Boise if I thought it would be bad for them if they were take a step backwards. That’s why I go back to this timing. I think it’s really good for me and my family. I think it’s good for them as well.”
It was mentioned to Petersen during a smaller group interview that he’s been linked to just about every major job opening in the past few years, and that routine has become somewhat of a running joke among Boise State fans.
The eye-rolling cycle typically went something like this: Petersen linked to an opening. Petersen rumored to be interested. Petersen denying interest. Petersen staying at Boise State. The end.
This time, the end meant the end of Petersen’s tenure in Boise.
“It’s really hard for me to explain why, it really is. Like I was saying, I think it just comes down to a feeling, a gut decision,” Petersen said. “But at first, when things started heating up usually I just have no interest in these other places. This time it was different. It just was. It was something that I was feeling and i was a little bit surprised even at myself going really ok, so maybe it is time so we started looking a little bit deeper into it. So like I said, the timing was there in terms of that, and then when you look at what this program is all about, I think the fit compounded it.”
Of his previous suitors, Petersen said: ”There was maybe one, possibly two that I looked at but nothing at the end of the day that I was going to leave for.”
Except Washington, finally.
Christian Caple can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @ChristianCaple