Would post-Kelly be Petersen at Oregon?
And, in late January, when Kelly had a prolonged and invested flirtation with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, many in Eugene -- after wiping away tears over Kelly leaving -- sought consolation by eyeballing Petersen.
So, even though Kelly stayed and Petersen provided his annual round of "thanks, but no thanks" to various suitors, Ken Goe of The Oregonian took a jaunt up to Boise to visit with the man who could go just about anywhere but hasn't. Yet.
With his 73-6 record in seven seasons in charge at Boise State, Petersen is college football's most coveted commodity. When the annual firing-hiring season begins in December, Petersen's name seemingly appears on the short list of every coach-hunting athletic director in the land.
Petersen hasn't budged, hasn't been interested, apparently never has officially interviewed. And, yet there are many who believe it would be different if Chip Kelly leaves Oregon -- as he almost did over the winter -- and the Ducks turn in Petersen's direction.
First of all, there was credible evidence that if Kelly bolted the Ducks might turn to offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich. Some Ducks fans might not have been warm to that, but think of it this way: It's like hiring Petersen before he becomes Petersen. Helfrich has impressed more than a few folks who have some power in Eugene, some of the same folks who saw Kelly's potential.
Petersen knows Oregon. He was the Ducks' receivers coach for six years under Mike Bellotti before Dan Hawkins brought him to Boise State as offensive coordinator. So what does Petersen tell Goe about the Ducks?
Well, Petersen has been playing this game with the media for a while, and he knew why Goe stopped by for a chat.
Petersen sees the Oregon question coming. He braces for it, response prepared.
"I live this job year-to-year, because that is just how hard this job is," he says. "We really like it here. Until that changes, we don't really see anything else changing. I always tell our recruits this: There is not another job out there in the country that I go, 'Oh if that thing opens, that's the job I want.' I don't think like that. I don't have that place."
My impression is Kelly really likes coaching at Oregon. He's also smart enough to be familiar with the whole "grass is always greener" thing that so many coaches learned the hard way. And if he sticks around for another decade, they'd name the football building after him. But he's also ultra-competitive. If, say, the Pac-12 blog told him he probably wouldn't enjoy coaching in the NFL, he'd tell the Pac-12 blog to go stick it.
Same with Petersen. He clearly loves Boise State. And he's seen what happened to Dirk Koetter and Hawkins, previous Broncos coaching savants whose jumps to AQ programs didn't go so well.
But let's be clear: You can't coach at a high level without being competitive. At some point, Petersen might feel an itch that he needs to scratch, and there are plenty of folks who believe Oregon holds some allure for him.
As Goe concludes:
Petersen won't completely close the door.
"I'm at the place I want to be," he says. "But that being said, you always hear these coaches say, 'I'm staying here forever.' And the next year they're out. I think they really believe it at the time.
"But things change."