PULLMAN – Greg Peterson hadn’t been to the Palouse in more than a decade, but when he showed up at Washington State in February it was as if he had been here the entire time.
“I’ve never seen anyone more prepared for an interview,” said head coach Bill Doba, who shortly thereafter hired Peterson to be his tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator. “He came in and he knew every coach’s name, their wives, their kids, how many passes the tight ends have caught, how many touchdowns they had.”
Peterson’s knowledge base didn’t stop there, either.
“He had been on our Web site; he had ideas for our Web site, with virtual tours and all that kind of stuff,” Doba continued. “He is very thorough.”
As important as Peterson will be to the corps of Cougars tight ends, it’s almost certain that his greatest impact will be in the recruiting game, where he’ll play a large role in putting together the WSU rosters of the future.
Peterson, who spent the last 12 seasons under Bill Snyder at Kansas State after working on the Idaho staff for two seasons, replaces Robin Pflugrad, who was the first assistant in Doba’s head coaching tenure to leave for another job. Entering the fold in late February, Peterson hasn’t had much time to get comfortable in his new office. (His wife and two kids aren’t moving to Pullman until May. In the interim he’s a houseguest of offensive coordinator Mike Levenseller.)
Since Peterson is the lone new member of the football staff, the Cougars won’t be changing their recruiting road map entirely.
“Obviously there are differences and subtle changes, but you don’t just come in and wholesale change it,” Levenseller said. “That takes time. You put your stamp on it over time, that’s what I’ve found.”
But it’s clear that the new guy in town has plenty of things he’d like implement – and some he already has.
“I think there are some things philosophically in terms of how we evaluate, the sense of urgency and maybe expanding our recruiting base (that are) very possible,” Peterson said. “Recruiting’s got to be a priority of this program and Washington State University. I think we’ve done some things here in this last month to springboard us a little bit.”
Doba suggested the Cougars are already ahead of the game in this year’s spring recruiting, which will continue into an important evaluation period next month. Peterson, 45, said he doesn’t want to be an organizer only, determined to also spend time on the road and in recruits’ homes, selling them on all the positives he sees at WSU.
“Recruiting is like shaving,” he said. “If you don’t do it every day, you’re going to look like a bum.”
Coming from Kansas State, Peterson is familiar with the ups and downs of recruiting to a rural campus. With the Wildcats, Peterson was part of a staff that built a Big XII North powerhouse – one that went into a recent swoon not too different from what WSU has experienced.
In making Kansas State a national title contender, head coach Bill Snyder, Peterson and the rest of the staff ended up relying on the contributions of junior college players in a number of key roles. Perhaps not coincidentally, Doba has suggested that the tightening academic eligibility rules for high school recruits may make it both possible and necessary to find more talent at the junior college level.
Peterson said he still views high school as the place to build a program’s foundation, but added that the well-placed junior college recruit can make a good program significantly stronger.
“In the late ‘90s when we were having all those great teams, we would pull individual players out of junior college to add to our roster,” he explained. “It wasn’t as if we were recruiting half of our class from the junior college ranks. But the guys we were bringing in were impact players and became very recognizable players coast to coast.”
Wherever Peterson and the WSU staff goes to find players, the newest Cougars coach recognizes the fact that without new talent this is a program unlikely to climb back into the bowl picture.
“Whether they come from Seattle or they come from California or Oregon or wherever we can recruit them,” Peterson said, “we’ve got to give them a reason to come over the mountains to get to Pullman.”