Once you get past the shock of Chris Petersen stepping down at Washington, the loss of another future hall of fame coach starts to make sense. The grind has claimed another victim.
Burn out is occurring at an increasing rate. Since June 2017, Bob Stoops, Urban Meyer and Petersen have left their jobs at the height of their careers. All of them cited — in one way or another — the difficulties of enduring the day-to-day.
They left rather than continue to face the grind. Sure, they can fall back on an income that may well make their grandchildren millionaires, but that’s not the point.
These guys love what they do. At the time of their departures, they couldn’t love it as much as they once did.
The fact they were in the prime of their careers shows the impact of the grind. The three coaching superstars were generally the same age. Meyer was 54 when he left Ohio State a year ago. Petersen is 55. Stoops was 56 in 2017 when he stepped down at Oklahoma. Petersen and Meyer were born within three months of one another in 1964. Forty-nine months separate all three.
Stoops once told me he’d never be coaching when he was 65. The authors of four combined national championships and 24 conference titles all got out before the age of 60.
Having enough money is one form of peace of mind. Here’s another: having a quality of life.
“There is no break anymore,” said Todd Berry, executive director of the American Football Coaches Association. “The most precious thing you have is 10 free minutes. While I know these guys are making significant money at times, the quality of life is at an all-time low right now.”
There are a lot of reasons. The early signing period (Dec. 20 this year) has forced everyone to work at a faster pace. Recruits themselves are asked to make quicker decisions. Athletic directors must fire coaches earlier to get a jump on hiring new ones for recruiting. Many coaches are signing the majority of their classes while simultaneously trying to prepare for bowl games, if not the College Football Playoff.
Combine that with fundraising, spring football, winter conditioning, summer school, camps and fall camp, and there is maybe a window for family vacation in June or July.
That’s after ignoring the family for large swaths of the year. Stay-at-home dads these coaches are not.
“I hear from guys all the time, ‘I don’t know how long I can keep doing this,’ ” Berry said.
That’s before considering the day-to-day pressure of the job itself, the reason they are there in the first place: to win.
That’s what made Gus Malzahn’s week so amazing. In the same Iron Bowl week his job security was a topic of conversation, Auburn’s coach beat Nick Saban for the third time in his career.
Earlier in the season, an Auburn trustee had been openly pushing for Stoops as Malzahn’s replacement.
We can only assume that in the schizophrenic dream world that is Auburn at times, Malzahn is safe … for now.
The pressure is getting worse. The transfer portal is driving coaches batty. For those coaches who decry the lack of loyalty by those who transfer, they’re the same ones lined up at the portal to fill their roster holes.
Nobody knows what recruiting is going to look like if players are given their name, image and likeness rights.
“Right now the oxygen is being take out of the room with conversations about NIL,” Berry said.
None of it means Petersen won’t be back at some point. Any list of the current top five college coaches could not be written without him. He leaves with the second-highest winning percentage among active coaches (.793). Petersen reached 100 career victories quicker than all but four coaches in major college history.
His Boise State teams were the original BCS busters. Petersen didn’t necessarily recruit NFL prospects, but he sure did develop them. The 2006 Boise team that upset Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl? There were seven future NFL Draft choices on the roster.
Petersen succeeded similarly at Washington, winning two Pac-12 titles and getting the Huskies to the College Football Playoff.
He’ll be close if the coaching bug ever bites again. Washington is seemingly creating a position for him in the athletic department.
Take your shots at overpaid, overhyped coaches, but college football is getting its money’s worth. In return for those millions, schools expect to get a face of the program who is on call 24/7.
“I won’t try to tell you I was surprised,” one Washington official said of Petersen’s departure.
At Washington, Petersen went to work at one of the most beautiful, well-resourced campuses in the country. With him in control, the Huskies were going to keep on winning.
But at least on Monday, that wasn’t the most important thing in his life.