SEATTLE — Chris Petersen needed the right opportunity and right situation before he could finally make the decision to take on a different challenge. A challenge that wasn’t about trying to gain respect on a national stage, but about proving he could succeed on a bigger stage.
“I think I go back to the timing of things, feeling I needed to take a step out of Boise to really grow and improve,” Petersen said. “This job is so tremendously challenging that it wasn’t about that. I was very comfortable being over there, very easy for me to be over there and really at the end of the day didn’t think it was best for me to be over there in terms of becoming the person and coach that I want to be.”
Petersen was introduced as Washington’s new coach Monday at a news conference overlooking his new football home in Husky Stadium. It was affirmation of a stunning decision by Petersen to leave behind nearly a decade of unprecedented success at Boise State for the opportunity to coach in the Pac-12 Conference after spurning so many other overtures from colleges in the past.
The question that has lingered since Petersen’s agreement was announced last Friday was ‘Why?’ Why now and why Washington?
“It was just time. I think every place has a shelf life. Sometimes that’s very short, sometimes it’s very long and sometimes it’s in-between,” Petersen said. “It was just time. We’ve done some really good things there and I think for me to take the next step as a coach, as a teacher and a person to grow, I needed to take that next step.”
Petersen was 92-12 at Boise State, including five conference titles and two Fiesta Bowl victories. He replaces Steve Sarkisian, who was 34-29 in five seasons at Washington before taking the job at USC.
Wearing a purple tie, Petersen spoke for more than 20 minutes in the Huskies’ palatial new football operations center about his decision. He referenced former Washington coach Don James and spoke with excitement about being able to take advantage of the renovated Husky Stadium that Petersen saw up close in late August when he was handed the worst loss of his tenure at Boise State in a 38-6 blowout by the Huskies.
There was no band at this coaching announcement — as there was the last time Washington made a coaching hire with Sarkisian — because that would not fit Petersen’s style. The fact four students with “P-E-T-E” painted on their chests were let in was surprising.
Petersen will make $18 million in guaranteed compensation as part of his five-year agreement with available bonuses that could add another $1 million per season. Petersen will make $3.2 million in 2014 with a $200,000 increase each season, topping out at $4 million in 2018.
It makes Petersen the highest-paid coach of a public institution in the Pac-12. Stanford and USC coaching contracts are not made public because they are private institutions. Washington athletic director Scott Woodward, who missed Monday’s introduction due to a family emergency, knew it would take a significant investment to get a top-flight coach to Seattle.
He said Petersen was the only person who was offered the job.
“I think we paid coach Petersen market rate and we’re going to be competitive in the market,” Woodward said via conference call. “He wants to be paid what he is worth and I want to pay him what he’s worth.”
Petersen said he wasn’t ready to announce decisions on his coaching staff and did not want to make rushed decisions even though the coaching change comes in the midst of recruiting. He also expressed gratitude for those he worked with at Boise State for more than a decade, first as offensive coordinator and then as the Broncos coach. The outreach from fans and former players appreciative of what Petersen did at Boise State has been staggering.
Petersen compared it to being eulogized, rather than the bitterness that has accompanied other coaching changes.
“It’s kind of strange when you read all this stuff. It’s almost like you died. It’s kind of weird. What I think is my heart and soul has been in Boise so long and they appreciate that and I wasn’t going to run out of there for just anything, money or a bigger stadium or anything like that. That’s never what I’ve been about and I think people realize that. I think they realize the timing was right, the fit was right and I think they’re good with it because it was truly those things.”