Chris Petersen: UCLA Targeting Boise State Coach to Resurrect Fallen Program
So long, Rick Neuheisel.
Hello, Chris Petersen?
That could very well be the story told about UCLA football in the coming weeks. According to the Los Angeles Times, Petersen, the current coach at Boise State, will get the first word from Dan Guerrero, UCLA's embattled athletic director, who also has Houston head man Kevin Sumlin and former NFL mastermind and Monday Night Football commentator Jon Gruden on his short list.
Guerrero announced Neuheisel's firing on Monday, less than 48 hours removed from the Bruins' embarrassing 50-0 loss to crosstown rival USC in what proved to be a one-sided battle for the Victory Bell. Neuheisel will still coach the Blue and Gold—who are the champions of the Pac-12 South on account of the Trojans' postseason ban—when they travel to Oregon for Friday's inaugural conference championship game.
The Bruins are listed as 31.5-point underdogs, according to sportsbook.com.
Assuming UCLA loses that game, Neuheisel will depart his alma mater with an overall record of 21-29—the worst mark for any coach with more than 20 games under his belt in school history.
Neuheisel's exit is nearly as disappointing as his return was triumphant. He assumed the position following the firing of former UCLA teammate Karl Dorrell, stirring up hope and hype by proclaiming USC's football "monopoly" to be over and putting together a "Dream Team" coaching staff that included offensive guru Norm Chow.
Things obviously didn't work out as planned, even as USC was slammed by the NCAA in the wake of the Reggie Bush scandal and saw Lane Kiffin take over for Pete Carroll as a result.
Still, Neuheisel had the audacity (or was it blind hope?) to proclaim as recently as last week that the "gap" between the two teams was closing.
Now, the revolving door is spinning at the Acosta Center once more, with Petersen seemingly the next man in line to take a stab at bringing Joe Bruin back to life on the gridiron.
Guerrero is likely to visit Boise soon to speak directly with Petersen and, with the support of boosters, should be able to offer a contract that would pay the Broncos' coach around $3 million. In addition, Guerrero is expected to promise improvements to the team's practice facilities and up to $2 million to be paid to assistant coaches.
Even that may not be enough to lure Petersen away from the Gem State. Petersen, the reigning Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year Award winner and the only two-time winner of the Paul "Bear" Bryant Award, has turned down lucrative offers before, including a deal to replace Jim Harbaugh at Stanford after last season that would've paid him $3 million per season and given him the chance to coach Heisman Trophy favorite Andrew Luck.
Instead, Petersen agreed to a new contract with Boise State—five years, $8 million—that paid him $1.5 million this season and will see his salary rise by $100,000 per year through 2019.
However, there is some reason to believe Petersen might bite this time around. His Broncos have been knocked out of the BCS picture by heartbreaking losses in each of the last two seasons and Kellen Moore, the winningest quarterback in college football history, will be gone after the 2011 campaign.
Petersen figures to have a difficult time chasing after undefeated seasons without his star signal caller around, and may prefer the "easier" in to the BCS that coaching at a Pac-12 school provides.
Who should be the next head coach at UCLA?
Whether Guerrero should give him the job is another story entirely. By all accounts, Petersen is a fantastic coach who has turned what was merely a good mid-major program into a perennial Top-10 contender, without the benefit of top-flight resources, a picturesque campus or a recruiting hotbed in his backyard.
That being said, the precedent for coaches leaving Boise State to coach at BCS schools does not favor Petersen here. Dirk Koetter and Dan Hawkins, his two most recent predecessors with the Smurf Turfers, had a difficult time finding any sustainable success at Arizona State and Colorado, respectively. Hawkins, in particular, who brought Petersen to Boise, had nary a single winning season with the Buffaloes, and was fired after compiling an overall record of 19-39.
As such, there are concerns that Petersen might follow in their dubious footsteps, given his lack of experience as a coach and recruiter outside the non-AQ bubble that has fostered a culture of football success in potato country.
Then again, Petersen isn't exactly new to the conference, having spent six seasons as the wide receivers coach at Oregon under Mike Bellotti.
And, if nothing else, any change at this point has to be considered a good thing for UCLA football. The latest loss to 'SC laid bare just how far astray Neuheisel had led the Bruins.
The hope now is that Petersen, if he accepts Guerrero's offer, will be able to reverse course and get the Bruins back on track before the next Trojans dynasty takes root.
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