Monday, February 19, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Fennelly: Dirk Koetter, Chris Petersen and the Long Blue Boise State Line that runs into Tampa

Jan. 1, 2007. One of the most remarkable evenings in college football history. An underdog named Boise State stunned Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl with a flurry of astounding trick plays. One of the all-time upsets, 43-42.

Where were you?

"I was on the sideline," Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said.

That night Koetter was between jobs, having lost his head coaching gig at Arizona State. He was on his way, the very next day, to interview for the offensive coordinator's job with the Jacksonville Jaguars. But he had to be in Arizona.

The Long Blue Line demanded it.

Koetter had been head coach at Boise State for three seasons, from 1998 to 2000. Now he was in the desert to watch his friend and Boise State's head coach, Chris Petersen, make magic — the hook-and-ladder touchdown, the halfback option pass for a touchdown in overtime, and the winning two-pointer on a Statue of Liberty play, fixed in time forever, eternal genius.

His friend Pete pulled it off.

"To see it executed perfectly, that might never happen again," Koetter said. "The difficulty of execution on that (final) play is through the roof. A great moment."

Now Petersen will lead Washington into a national playoff semifinal against Alabama. It's underdog time again.

"They'll find a way," said Bucs running back Doug Martin, who played for Petersen at Boise State. "Coach Pete will find a way."

"From where we were before that Fiesta Bowl to where we are now, it's almost stupid how Boise has grown: the school, the great facilities, the notoriety," said former Broncos wide receiver Vinny Perretta, who threw the halfback-option touchdown pass before the Statue winner. "That night was one for all the mid­majors, for all the little guys."

And for The Long Blue Line.

You know, a line to match Boise's famed playing turf — that steady march of Boise coaches who have made the program hum for nearly 20 years. The men who have dared to think differently and dream great things.

"I grew up in that state," said Koetter, who was born in Pocatello, Idaho. "And going way back to when I was a kid, Boise was always a football town."

Koetter started a surge shortly after Boise went Division I-A, going 26-10 in three seasons, including the school's first bowl win. He was followed by his former assistant Dan Hawkins, who went 53-11, including the program's first win over a BCS team, before leaving for Colorado in 2006. Hawkins was succeeded by Petersen, who had been Hawkins' offensive coordinator.

"It was Dirk who got the ball rolling," said Hawkins, now head coach at UC-Davis. "And we just kept pushing it up the hill."

Petersen left for Washington in 2014. He was succeeded by Boise-born Bryan Harsin, who played quarterback for Koetter, was an assistant under Hawkins and was Petersen's offensive coordinator that Fiesta Bowl night. Harsin is 31-8 in three seasons at Boise.

"The coaches who laid the groundwork here, it's impressive," Harsin said. "From Dirk to 'Hawk' to Pete, you're going to learn football. It's the way the culture was created. That tree has grown."

But more than anyone, Petersen put Boise on Football America's doorstep. He went an astonishing 92-12 in eight seasons. He was 50-3 at one point. Throw in two Fiesta Bowl wins. Throw in the Oklahoma game.

Now he has 12-1 Washington in the national championship hunt.

Koetter and Peterson first worked together at Oregon in the 1990s. Koetter was offensive coordinator; Petersen was receivers coach.

"He was always sitting in the corner of the meeting room, drawing up complicated pass routes on the board while we were (working on) the run game," Koetter said, smiling. "He was always a creative guy."

Koetter, 57, smiles a lot about Petersen:

"He's one of my best friends. When Pete and I were at Oregon, we lived on the same street. Our wives are good friends. Our kids are good friends. We vacation together in the summers. We have places on a lake in Idaho."

Petersen, 52, isn't an attention-seeker. Look at his Final Four counterparts. Alabama's Nick Saban and Ohio State's Urban Meyer are coaching icons. Clemson's Dabo Swinney is a chatter box. Petersen is the mystery date. He loves blending into Seattle. He's low key, dislikes the spotlight. At his job, he's clear, concise, detailed. People know where they stand. Sounds a little like Koetter.

Koetter remembers when he was hired at Boise State. Facilities were lovingly substandard. Meetings were held in an old racquetball court under the football stadium.

"The racquetball court was also the golf team's indoor driving range," Koetter said. "There were bullet holes in the ceiling from golf balls going into it."

A long time ago in place called Boise.

Dirk Koetter runs the Bucs; Chris Petersen runs Washington.

"We text each other after games, his and mine," Koetter said.

Now, about facing Alabama …

"He'll have some things," Koetter said of his friend.

"Never bet against Chris Petersen — never," Hawkins said.

The word from The Long Blue Line.

Contact Martin Fennelly at [email protected] or (813) 731-8029. Follow: @mjfennelly.

   
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