SEATTLE — Before Washington offered to make Boise State’s Chris Petersen one of the highest-paid coaches in the Pac-12 Conference, and before Petersen formally accepted Friday morning, the first call the Huskies made to Boise was to a 69-year-old financial adviser with a bum hip.
Skip Hall worked alongside Don James for 12 of Washington’s “Camelot Years,” as Hall calls them, in the 1970s and ’80s.
Then, after a stint as Boise State’s coach from 1987 to 1992, and another stop on the staff at Missouri, Hall settled back in Boise as a financial planner. He remains close to both the UW and Boise programs.
So as Washington turned an eye toward Idaho in search of its next coach, Hall got a call on Tuesday. “Would Petersen be interested?” Hall was asked.
Hall, at home recovering from a recent hip surgery, relayed the question to the Boise State coach. He reported back to UW that Petersen would “definitely” like to speak to them.
“And it took off from there,” Hall said.
By late Thursday night, Petersen had signed an offer sheet with UW during a 90-meeting with athletic director Scott Woodward and associate AD Jennifer Cohen at a Boise hotel. Petersen wanted to talk again to his wife, Barbara, and needed to sleep on the decision.
Early Friday morning, it became official: Petersen was the Huskies’ new coach.
In recent years, Petersen, 49, had rebuffed chances to leave for many other big-time programs — from all the prominent openings in the Pac-12, from the Southeastern Conference, from the Big Ten. All along, Washington was one program he had been eyeing, and the one to finally lure him away from Boise.
Washington did not disclose details of Petersen’s deal Friday, but CBSsports.com reported that he agreed to a five-year deal worth $18 million to replace Steve Sarkisian, who left Monday to become the coach at USC.
The $3.6 million annual salary makes Petersen the highest-paid coach at any of the 10 public schools in the Pac-12. Petersen made about $2.2 million at Boise State this season. Two years ago, Petersen reportedly rejected a five-year, $15 million offer from UCLA.
A news conference to introduce Petersen is scheduled for noon Monday at UW.
“Coach Petersen’s success and record are extraordinary, but even more impressive is the man himself,” Woodward said in a statement. “His integrity, work ethic and character make him an outstanding fit and leader of our student-athletes at UW. We are thrilled and proud to call Coach Petersen a Husky.”
Petersen leaves the Broncos after eight wildly successful seasons. He was 92-12 with two undefeated seasons, two BCS bowl victories and a 2-0 record against Oregon. His .885 winning percentage is the best of any coach at a Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I) school with eight years of experience, according to USA Today.
“I feel like his time has come, that it was time for him to move on to the next chapter of his life. Can’t get mad at him at all,” said Seahawks safety Jeron Johnson, who played for Petersen at Boise. “I feel like he could really improve UW.”
The Huskies turned to Petersen after former Seahawks coach Jim Mora, a walk-on defensive back at UW in the early 1980s, opted to stay at UCLA, agreeing to a six-year contract extension.
Friday, UW supporters celebrated Plan B.
Petersen is the only two-time winner of the Paul “Bear” Bryant Award, given to the nation’s top coach.
“I’m very happy,” former UW coach Jim Lambright said. “I dare you to find another head coach in the whole United States who has won (nearly) 90 percent of his games.”
Hall was a close friend of James’ before the legendary coach’s death Oct. 20 at age 80. Hall has also grown close with Petersen in Boise, describing him as “a classy guy with strong character.”
Hall believes Petersen shares some of James’ coaching characteristics, giving him hope that UW will make the climb back to Camelot again.
“I think he’s the right man for the job. I think it’s a great fit,” Hall said. “I spent 18 years with Don James. The characteristics, the qualities, the leadership … that’s Coach Pete’s philosophy. It’s the same philosophy Coach James had. There’s such a parallel there.
“Of all the coaches I know in the country, I wouldn’t put anybody in front of Coach Pete.”
One of Petersen’s immediate priorities will to put together a coaching staff. It remains unclear which assistant coaches will be retained from Sarkisian’s UW staff. Defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox is said to be a candidate to replace Petersen at Boise State, and USC on Friday confirmed the additions of former UW assistants Peter Sirmon, Keith Heyward and Johnny Nansen.
Assembling a recruiting class before the Feb. 5 national signing day will no doubt be a top priority for Petersen, too.
Petersen, born Oct. 13, 1964, is a native of Yuba City in Northern California. His father, Ron, was a coach at Yuba Junior College in Marysville, Calif. Petersen and wife Barbara have two sons, Jack and Sam.
As the quarterback at the University of California, Davis, Petersen was named the Northern California Athletic Conference player of the year and was the top-rated Division II quarterback in the nation as a senior.
Petersen has spent virtually his entire coaching career in the West.
He spent five seasons as an assistant at his alma mater, with one year as the quarterbacks coach at Pittsburgh and two years at Portland State. In 1995, he landed on Mike Bellotti’s staff at Oregon as the wide-receivers coach. Over the next six seasons, Bellotti would become one of Petersen’s mentors.
About seven years ago, after Petersen had established himself as coach at Boise, Bellotti had asked him about the possibility of returning to Oregon as Bellotti’s successor.
“He said he wasn’t as excited about that,” Bellotti said, “but the Washington job was one that had always intrigued him.”