The Harris Ranch neighborhood sits about five miles from campus, off a road that continues into the foothills and the popular Lucky Peak reservoir.
This is where Chris Petersen decided to put down roots. Those roots were not just isolated to the area a short drive - or jog for avid runner Petersen - from the blue football field he helped launch into prominence in 13 years as a resident of Boise, Idaho, including eight years as head coach of Boise State.
Petersen’s roots spread. He played a key role in building an identity for a school that started out as an upstart little guy trying to take down the behemoths, and then building them into a college football powerhouse.
He may be the most revered resident Boise has ever had.
“I just kind of always have been one of those guys that, wherever I was going, I was thinking I’m staying for a long time,” said Petersen, who returns to Boise next Friday night as he starts his second season as coach of the Washington Huskies. “I never wanted to take a job thinking I’m trying to take another job, and I never have. Being able to stay a long time was great and a bonus, but you go there thinking that.
“You don’t go there thinking, ‘Oh I don’t know, hope we can stay here for a while.’ You think, ‘This is going to be a good place and going to stay here for a while,’ and it worked out.”
Next week, though, he will be clad in some shade of purple with the ‘W’ of Washington prominently placed. It’s a logo and color combination never seen on the blue turf with Petersen dressed in those Huskies’ colors.
Surely, his return will be welcome, at least for a while. There doesn’t seem to be much resentment over his departure. He simply will be the other coach. If there are boos, they’ll be muffled. Signs? Maybe. But they’re more likely to say “Thank You Pete” than “Good Riddance.”
The night should be a mix of excitement - for Boise State’s season and an appreciation of what Petersen created. A brand. A destination. An identity. Just about everything that has endeared Petersen to the community and region.
“I think coach Petersen meant a great deal to that place. First of all it’s a football culture over there. It’s a football town,” Washington linebackers coach Bob Gregory said. “So those guys who are there now will do a great job. I think what coach Pete did is he just brought it to another level by the guys that he recruited and the people that he hired.”
The foundation at Boise State was poured long before Petersen arrived in 2001 by the likes of Skip Hall, Pokey Allen, Dirk Koetter and Dan Hawkins. The blue turf, though, sparkled like never before when Petersen roamed the sideline.
Current Boise State coach Bryan Harsin is thankful for the advice and counsel Petersen provided - and willingness to take a chance and hire him as offensive coordinator at age 29.
“That’s a big thing. I really appreciated that and took a lot of ownership in my part of the program to not let him down because he put himself out there and it worked out,” Harsin said. “He made a good decision. That was something, that boldness, that was a big part of why I also think the people were excited about what he was doing there at Boise State.”
Former athletic director Gene Bleymaier is grateful because he took a chance by hiring Petersen despite no head coaching experience to replace Hawkins after the 2005 season. Before hiring Petersen, Bleymaier’s previous claim to fame was coming up with the blue turf idea.
That plan was put in place long before Petersen was promoted to replace Hawkins, who left for Colorado. Hawkins had been getting overtures from other programs within his first couple of seasons in Boise, and Petersen was the obvious fit to take over.
“The bigger surprise is that he stayed as long as he did,” said Bleymaier, now the AD at San Jose State. “I think there comes a time in most coaches’ careers where a timer goes off and they’re ready for a change or feel like they need a change of scenery and situation. I think what was remarkable is that Pete stayed there so long.”
Then there’s Petersen. The buildup to his return has been awkward. Petersen prefers to avoid the spotlight. He rarely looks back. It’s not his nature as a coach. And he’s not concerned about the reaction when he runs onto the field wearing Washington purple.
“I know what that environment is like, and whether it’s good, bad, whatever, that lasts five seconds and then it’s on,” Petersen said.
For those who worked alongside Petersen, though, they understand what the moment will be like.
“It’s hard not to like coach Pete and what he did for Boise State and the folks there I don’t think anybody begrudges his decision,” Bleymaier said. “I think he’ll get a tremendous reception.”
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