Bryan Harsin has left for Auburn, and now one of the most intriguing jobs in all of college football is open.
Most Group of 5 schools — heck, many Power 5 ones as well — spend decades and untold millions looking to establish what Boise did long ago: tradition, culture, identity, brand. It would fair to say Boise State is the Notre Dame of the Group of 5.
In addition to all the obvious reasons, this job will be attractive for non-obvious ones as well. Aside from two one-year stop gaps, all nine full-time Boise State head coaches left with winning records, and the last six departed for bigger jobs.
|Coach (Tenure)||Record||Left For|
|Houston Nutt (1997)||5-6||Arkansas|
|Dirk Koetter (1998-00)||26-10||Arizona State|
|Dan Hawkins (2001-05)||53-11||Colorado|
|Chris Petersen (2006-13)||92-12||Washington|
|Bryan Harsin (2014-20)||69-18||Auburn|
For obvious reasons, Boise hasn’t gone “outside the family” for a head coach since hiring Koetter in 1998. From there, Boise State’s head coaching hirings reads like an Old Testament book — Koetter begat Hawkins, Hawkins begat Petersen, and Petersen begat Harsin. Along the way, Boise State won 80 percent of its games, a case full of trophies and became a national brand.
That’s not to say all is right in Camelot
The new head coach will walk into an interesting time in Bronco football history.
Harsin left because he felt Boise has outgrown the Mountain West Conference. “NOW is the time! The longer it takes the longer we stay in the MW. I am 1000% convinced we need to make this move for football and if that means other sports too in the long run it will be what’s best for this University,” Harsin wrote in an email to AD Curt Aspey and president Marlene Tromp earlier this fall, first published this month. “I understand there are risks and budgets and travel costs that’s all real to me. I also know that’s exactly why Boise State is the program it is today because we took risks necessary to grow our program.”
As a brand, Boise towers above its so-called peers like Kevin Durant at a 7th grade basketball game. As a football program, though, Boise is more like a 6-foot-3, exceptionally talented 7th grader.
The Broncos have won four of the eight Mountain West title games, a one-in-two ratio that ranks among the national elite but is a tick below the two-in-three clip that Boise used to win conference titles.
No coach can possibly sustain the run Petersen had in the old WAC of the 2000s, and yet life in the Mountain West is at a point where losing equals failure and winning simply equals not losing.
It’s entirely possible Boise and the American could negotiate an arranged marriage here sometime in the near future, but that would present its own set of challenges.
Boise paid Harsin $1.85 million (pre-pandemic) in 2020, a number that was tops in the Mountain West but would be sixth in the American, well below what Houston paid Dana Holgorsen ($3.8 million) and Cincinnati paid Luke Fickell ($3.4 million).
It would be entirely understandable if Boise doesn’t fix what’s not broken
Should Boise choose to remain in-house (that being more of a metaphorical term than a literal one) with its hire, as it’s done for nearly a quarter century how, three obvious names jump to mind.
Kellen Moore, Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator
Start with the obvious: Moore went 50-3 as the Broncos’ quarterback not too long ago. Moore is to Boise as Tim Tebow is to Florida, as Vince Young is to Texas, as…. actually, even that may be underselling it. The Athletic wrote a piece last year entitled “The Cult of Kellen.” The timing might be right for Moore to come home. His current employer, the Dallas Cowboys, are mired in a 5-9 disappointment, and it’s entirely possible Mike McCarthy takes over play-calling duties as a shake-things-up move heading into to the second season of his own Super Bowl-or-bust tenure.
So it’s entirely possible this search is as simple as it appears on first blush. Moore is Bronco Jesus, and the Savior might just have his eyes set on Nazareth.
Consider the praise Gary Patterson, one of the top defensive minds of his time, heaped upon Moore as a player.
“I really like the way he handles himself on and off the field. In the two times we’ve played them, I think I’ve only fooled him once in 120 plays. He doesn’t get fooled. He knows where the ball is supposed to be going. He’s just like having a coach on the field. He’s extremely intelligent, extremely talented and extremely accurate. The kids believe in him. He doesn’t get rattled… He’s a complete football player the way he does things on and off the field. It’s fun to watch him. I’m an admirer of Kellen Moore.”
That quote is nine years old, before Moore spent six seasons soaking up knowledge as an NFL quarterback and three gaining experience as a coach.
Of course, there’s far more to being a head coach at the college level than knowledge of the game, and this is where Moore’s youth could hurt him. He played three seasons with the Lions and spent the past six in the Cowboys organization. Outside of those two teams, he doesn’t have much of a network. His name carries unmatched gravitas within the Boise State family, but it would require more than just former Broncos to build a successful coaching staff.
That said, any new Boise State head coach could fill out a large chunk of his staff simply by retaining the former Broncos/longtime assistants still on the staff:
Kent Riddle — Associate head coach/tight ends/offensive chief of staff
Gabe Franklin — Safeties/nickles
Matt Miller — Wide receivers/passing game coordinator
Winston Venable — Running backs/co-special teams coordinator
If that move is too risky, there are more conventional options at play
Andy Avalos, Oregon defensive coordinator
Zak Hill, Arizona State offensive coordinator
Avalos played at Boise under Hawkins and coached under Petersen and Harsin. Idaho elementary schools may not be full of boys named after him, but his pedigree is very much Kellen Moore But Defense, and without the pro-to-college adjustment period. He’s spent the past two seasons at Mario Cristobal’s right hand and would be instantly familiar not only with the roster he’d inherit, but the recruiting lay of the land in the West.
Hill’s résumé isn’t quite as Boise-centric as Avalos’s, which could be a point for or against him depending on how you look at it. He tutored a number of All-American quarterbacks at Eastern Washington, his four years in Boise (2016-19) saw the Broncos go 43-11 with four conference and/or division titles, and he spent 2020 learning under Herm Edwards at Arizona State.
If the goal is to continue the offensive-minded succession plan that’s worked so well these past two decades, Hill fits like a glove.
The athletics department is currently led by interim AD Bob Carney, the senior associate AD for strategic planning and capital projects, and a figure inside the Boise administration since 2005. That also points toward a hire already well known by Bronco Nation.
That’s not to say there are no external options
Brent Brennan just led San Jose State to a 7-0 Mountain West championship, a season in which the Spartans held training camp three hundred miles off campus and and played their last three “home” games as nomads. That’s a feat more impressive than any WAC/MW championship won on the blue turf. That’s a feat arguably more impressive than any coach has done in any season.
Peter Sirmon has experience up and down the West Coast, currently as Cal’s defensive coordinator. Graham Harrell has drawn head coaching interest at USC. And considering Utah State just pulled a successful head coach away from Arkansas State, Boise could have a number of sitting head coaches at nominal Group of 5 “peers” ready to make a play for the job. On that front, sources tell FootballScoop Central Michigan’s Jim McElwain, a Montana native who went 22-15 from 2012-14 at Colorado State, is interested in the position.
Montana State’s Jeff Choate will also interview, according to the Idaho Statesman.
All told, this could be one of the more intriguing head coaching searches in recent memory.
Stay tuned to The Scoop for the latest.