The Case for Chris Petersen at USC
By Chris Mahr
I understand the factors that make Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio a 3-to-1 favorite (according to Bovada) to be USC’s next head football coach.
The man was an All-American linebacker for the Trojans and the MVP of their 20-17 Rose Bowl win over Ohio State in 1985. He has 16 seasons’ (and counting) worth of experience as a coach on the NFL level, including a fairly solid seven-plus seasons as the Jacksonville Jaguars’ head coach. And he’s got the mug and the sun-kissed hair you would imagine the head coach of USC having.
In short, he fits the Pete Carroll archetype. And you can bet that the Trojans’ brass would love to recapture the magic of the Carroll Era, when they went 83-19, reached a BCS bowl in seven straight seasons (2002-2008) and won a pair of national titles.
But Del Rio’s not the name that I’m most intrigued by on the list of USC’s head coaching candidates. Neither is Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin, another hot name for the job who likely wouldn’t leave College Station. Rather, I’m interested in the viability of the second name on Bovada’s odds list, a coach who they list at 5-to-1 odds to get the job: Boise State’s Chris Petersen.
Petersen very briefly considered the opening at Arkansas last year (if at all) before deciding it wasn’t worth the move or the trouble and stayed with the Broncos. But there’s something much different about this opportunity to coach the Trojans. For several reasons, it’d be a good fit for both USC and Petersen.
No. 1: The SoCal Connection
Nearly one-fifth of Boise State’s 100-plus man roster hails from Southern California. (Several more hail from the northern part of the state, for good measure.) Past Broncos stars under Petersen who came out of SoCal include RB Ian Johnson (above), WRs Titus Young and Austin Pettis, OL Ryan Clady and DB Orlando Scandrick.
Petersen’s ridiculous 87-10 record at Boise State is very much due to his ability to lure under-recruited Southern Californians with big upsides to come play college football in Idaho - which can’t be easy, considering the inherent culture shock that any Southern Californian would experience if you plopped them down in Boise.
If he took the job at USC, Petersen - a California native himself - wouldn’t have to comb through the ranks of overlooked SoCal recruits for diamonds in the rough. In fact, it’d be the exact opposite. There wouldn’t be a high school coach in the area who wouldn’t want to see their star players suit up for the Trojans in light of Petersen’s track record of turning SoCal products into solid (sometimes spectacular) college players.
No. 2: Lane Kiffin’s Polar Opposite
Lane Kiffin was always the bombastic, polarizing type going back to the one year he spent at Tennessee. Petersen, on the other hand, is one of the more low-profile head coaches you’ll meet.
Think of him as the college football equivalent of Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), the sage techie who provided Bruce Wayne with all his superhero toys in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. He’s not one for making bold declarative statements or starting feuds; he’s all about football.
Leave the drama and the theatricality to someone like Kiffin. Petersen will just find ways to keep his Batmobile-of-an-offense running.
No. 3: Boise State’s Glass Ceiling
More likely than not, this will mark the fourth straight season that the Broncos have failed to get back to the BCS. After being ranked No. 19 in the preseason, they suffered a 38-6 rout at Washington in Week One and a 41-40 shootout loss at Mountain West rival (and title favorite) Fresno State in Week Four.
You have to imagine that at some point since winning the 2010 Fiesta Bowl, Petersen has thought to himself, “Have I maxed out here at Boise State?” It’s an inherent instinct among today’s head college football coaches. In Petersen’s case, it’s actually justified.
He’s won nearly 90% of his games with the Broncos. He’s guided them to two Fiesta Bowl victories and five conference titles. The only other thing he could possible do there is win a national championship.
Even with the Playoff Era dawning next fall, that’s so much easier said than done at a place like Boise State, where only running the table (or coming close) and finishing the year as the highest-ranked team among the non-AQ conferences would guarantee a playoff spot.
Granted, Petersen hasn’t shown any indications that his eyes are wandering. But he can’t be blamed for at least thinking about leaving if his job continues to have a Sisyphus-like quality to it.
No. 4: Talent Maximization
The short-lived Lane Kiffin Era will forever be remembered for the team performing way below expectations. While players such as QB Matt Barkley and WRs Robert Woods and Marqise Lee delivered on their potential and then some, there were too many disappointments on other parts of the roster (defense especially).
At Boise State, Petersen has made the most with what he’s had, with tremendous results. Not only does he come across as the kind of guy who can help highly-touted players reach their potential, he’s also shown a deft touch in transforming former no-names into stars.
For all the dysfunction within Troy right now, there’s still talent across the roster. Talent that Petersen, if given ample time and opportunity, could make the most out of.
Of course, all this means nothing if Petersen doesn’t want the job. After all, he’s been with Boise State for 12 years - five as the offensive coordinator and seven-plus as the head coach. He’s put down roots in Idaho, and it would take a lot to get him to yank them out.
But if he did, USC is the type of place that could use his acumen, not to mention his abilities as a recruiter, coach and motivator. And if Petersen decided to give it a go, he might realize that not only is he the right man for the job, it’s also the right job for him.
Chris Mahr is the managing editor of Lost Lettermen. His column appears Tuesdays and Thursdays. You can follow him on Twitter at @CMahrtian.
Top Photo Credit: Brian Losness/USA Today Sports