Will Chris Petersen Be More Urban Meyer or Derek Dooley in the Pac-12?

Amy DaughtersFeatured ColumnistFebruary 27, 2014

Chris Petersen smiles as he takes questions from reporters after being introduced as the new head football coach at the University of Washington, Monday, Dec. 9, 2013, in Seattle. Petersen formerly was head coach at Boise State. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

After eight seasons at Boise State, the million-dollar question about Chris Petersen is a familiar one: Can he repeat his success at the next level?

Does a fruitful run at a WAC/Mountain West program foreshadow glory at a Pac-12 school, or instead will Petersen be yet another guy who can’t cut the mustard in the “real” big time?

Though the only way to definitively answer this question is to wait until 2017 and look back at Petersen’s first three seasons at Washington, it’s worth comparing his non-BCS track record coming into the job with other coaches.


Overall Non-BCS Performance

Petersen’s run at Boise State produced all-world numbers. Here’s a look at how his results compare with other notable coaches who used non-BCS jobs as a launch pad to bigger and better roles.

The only guys in the same ball park with Petersen are Urban Meyer—who skyrocketed through four seasons in the MAC and Mountain West—and Brian Kelly, who tore it up at Division II Grand Valley State and then spent three solid years at Central Michigan.

What’s even more interesting is how many winning seasons each of the five coaches produced before they moved up: Petersen was eight-of-eight at Boise State, Dooley was one-of-three, Meyer was four-of-four at his two stops, Hoke had three winning seasons in his eight years before Michigan and Kelly was 14-of-16.


Record in Games vs. BCS Teams

Next up, here’s how each guy did versus BCS opponents while he was the coach of a non-BCS team.

Overall Non-BCS Performance
CoachSchoolsTotal YrsRecord%
Chris PetersenBoise St892-1288.5
Derek DooleyLouisiana Tech317-2046
Urban MeyerBowling Green, Utah439-883
Brady HokeBall St, San Diego St847-5048.4
Brian KellyGrand Valley, Central Mich16137-5173
Sports Reference/College Football

This provides a window into how each coach fared when he was supposedly out-matched in talent, facilities, resources, etc. It’s a great gauge of pure coaching ability.

Again, Petersen is a top performer. Impressively, five of Petersen’s wins over BCS opponents—or 63 percent—came against ranked teams.

Dooley’s only win over a BCS team at Louisiana Tech came when the Bulldogs beat Mississippi State 22-14 in the 2008 opener.

After posting a perfect 4-0 record against Big 12 and Big Ten teams while at Bowling Green, Meyer’s first loss to a BCS team as a head coach came at Utah in 2003, a 28-26 road defeat to Texas A&M. From there he went on to chalk up another six consecutive wins over BCS opponents. 

Non-BCS Performance vs. BCS Schools
CoachSchoolsTotal YrsRecord%
PetersenBoise St88-373
DooleyLouisiana Tech31-614.3
MeyerBowling Green, Utah410-190.1
HokeBall St, San Diego St81-185.2
KellyGrand Valley, Central Mich160-70
Sports Reference/College Football

Hoke’s only win over a BCS team came when he was at Ball State: The Cardinals beat Indiana 42-20 in 2008. Interestingly, the Hoosiers were the only BCS opponent Ball State faced in 2008, the year it went 12-2 and was ranked as high as No. 14 in the AP. The Cardinals faced at least three BCS foes in each of Hoke’s other five season at Ball State, when his record was 22-37.

Kelly’s numbers should be qualified by saying that he didn’t face any BCS opponents during his 13 seasons at D-II Grand Valley State—all seven losses came during his three years at Central Michigan. The closest he got to a BCS win was a 31-24 loss to Boston College in the 2006 opener.


Overall BCS Performance

Here’s a look at how each coach's non-BCS track record translated when they moved up to the big leagues.

Meyer was 10-1 vs. BCS foes while at Bowling Green and Utah.
Meyer was 10-1 vs. BCS foes while at Bowling Green and Utah.Harry How/Getty Images

This paints a clear picture: In each case, performance at the lower level is indicative of what eventually happens at the next.

Where Dooley had only one winning season in three tries at Lousiana Tech, he had only one in three at Tennessee. And where his winning percentage at his non-BCS stop was 46 percent, it was 42 percent once he got to the BCS level.

Overall Performance in BCS
CoachSchoolsTotal YrsRecord%
MeyerFlorida, Ohio St889-1784
KellyCincinnati, Notre Dame771-1978.8
Sports Reference/College Football

Meyer had four winning seasons in four tries at the non-BCS level and went on to have eight winning seasons in eight tries in the BCS ranks. Meyer has also managed to keep his winning percentage in the big leagues—84 percent—on par with the 83 he posted at his previous stops.


BCS Record vs. Ranked Teams

Taking it one step further, take a look at how each coach has done against ranked opponents since moving up.

Dooley's results at Louisiana Tech and Tennessee were very similar.
Dooley's results at Louisiana Tech and Tennessee were very similar.Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Again the trend is clear: Success against quality opponents at one level is replicated at the next.

To illustrate, where Hoke was 1-16 against BCS foes at Ball State and San Diego State, he’s been 3-7 since moving up to the Michigan job.


What It Means for Petersen

So, can you predict the future by looking at the past? 

Dooley’s struggles at Tennessee could have been anticipated based on his short and unremarkable run at Louisiana Tech. Sure, he could have bucked the trend, but it’s no surprise that the 17-20 coach in the WAC didn’t strike it rich in the SEC.

Next, Meyer’s nearly perfect run at Bowling Green and Utah foretold his overwhelming success at Florida and Ohio State. His early numbers tie-in perfectly with his status as a “super coach.”

BCS Record vs. Ranked Opponents
CoachSchoolsTotal YrsRecord%
MeyerFlorida, Ohio St823-1266
KellyCincinnati, Notre Dame715-1060
Sports Reference/College Football

As for Hoke, he’s done marginally well at Michigan, but again that could have been expected based on his decent runs at Ball State and San Diego State. He’s a guy who could still engineer a special season in the Big Ten, but it’s hard to see him as Meyer-like in the long term.

While Kelly’s run at Grand Valley didn’t translate into swimming success at Central Michigan, he did light it up at Cincinnati, where he went 34-6 in three years, including two BCS bowls. Though he’s not yet got Notre Dame to Alabama or Florida State standards, he did take them to the national championship in his second season.

Either way, you could have seen a certain level of success coming early in his career.

So then, what does this all mean for Petersen at Washington?

Given that Petersen’s sustained success at Boise State is on par with what Meyer did at Bowling Green and Utah, the future looks bright.

The numbers don’t lie: It is reasonable to predict that not only will Petersen enjoy success at Washington, he could well move on from there and do great things at an even higher profile job somewhere else.

Hoke went 1-18 vs. BCS teams at Ball St. & San Diego St. and is 3-7 vs. ranked foes at Michigan.
Hoke went 1-18 vs. BCS teams at Ball St. & San Diego St. and is 3-7 vs. ranked foes at Michigan.Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Here’s what Petersen had to say about his staff’s approach to the transition between Boise State and Washington, according to Ted Miller of ESPN.com.

The first thing is that some things we do are going to be different.  Not necessarily right or wrong—it’s just going to be different.  It’s going to be our way that’s worked for us.  The sooner they buy into it, the sooner it’s going to work for all of us.


Statistics courtesy of CFB Statistics, Sports Reference/College Football and College Football Data Warehouse.



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