WSU a natural sell for new recruiting head

YOU'D EXPECT THE recruiting coordinator for any major football program to sound like the second coming of P.T. Barnum when talking up his school. What's surprising about Greg Peterson, the newest member of Bill Doba's coaching staff, is his ability to do it after just a few weeks on the job.

Rest assured, though, the conviction in his voice is genuine. And for good reason. In one form or another, he's been living in these parts his entire life.Not literally, though he did spend two years with John L. Smith at Idaho in the early 90s.

But figuratively.

Peterson's life story, you see, begins on the family corn and soybean farm in Eastern Nebraska and progresses into a coaching career that can be USDA certified as the road less traveled.

From Lincoln (with the Prairie Wolves of Nebraska Wesleyan, not the Cornhuskers) to LaGrande, Oregon, and then on to Moscow and Manhattan (Kansas, not New York).

THE FILE ON
Greg Peterson
HOMETOWN:
Stromsburg, Neb.

Age:
45

COLLEGE CAREER:
Played receiver at Nebraska Wesleyan from 1982-83 while earning a degree in business and physical education. Also a standout in basketball. Secured a master's degree in education in 1991 at Eastern Oregon.

COACHING CAREER:
Started in 1984 as a graduate assistant at Nebraska Wesleyan. At Eastern Oregon from 1987-91 before moving to Idaho from 1992-93. Spent 12 seasons at Kansas State, variously serving as receivers coach, recruiting coordinator, passing game coordinator and co-offensive coordinator.

NOTABLE QUOTABLE:
"I learned a long time ago that great players make great coaches," Peterson says when talking about the importance of a year-round recruiting effort.

FAST FACTS:
In 2003, presided over a K-State offense that ranked ninth nationally in rushing and scoring. While at K-State he tutored the only four players in school history who have eclipsed 1,000 yards receiving.

FAMILY:
He and wife Leanna have two kids, Taylor, 9, and Rachael, 7.

In other words, more Wal-Mart than Madison Avenue.

To say football and farm country are in his blood is an understatement. It's more like every fiber of his being.

So when you ask about his transition to Washington State, he doesn't hesitate for a moment. "Easy," he says.

Indeed, Pullman fits Greg Peterson the way Andy fits Mayberry. He's like Dave Chappelle in Brooklyn or Lance Armstrong on the Champs-Élysées.

So natural.

But also so shocking. Five months ago Peterson was ensconed at Kansas State, where he'd spent a dozen years under legendary Bill Snyder.

"I thought Coach Snyder would go on into his 70s like Paterno and Bowden," Peterson said in an interview with CF.C last week. "He came in after practice the Monday night before our last game of the season, against Missouri, and said he was retiring. I had no idea."

Just like that, the job security that comes with helping a program earn 10 bowl invitations in 12 years was out the barn door.

THE CHANCE TO JOIN Doba's staff as recruiting coordinator and tight ends coach following Robin Pflugrad's move back to his hometown of Eugene was, for Peterson, like grabbing the golden ring.

This was familiar territory.

He also knew Doba and assistant coaches Mike Levenseller and George Yarno from his stint eight miles down the road at Idaho in 1992-93. In addition, he had crossed paths frequently with defensive coordinator Robb Akey and linebackers coach Leon Burtnett on the recruiting trails of Colorado and Texas.

"Over the course of the years I always stayed in touch (with Doba and Levenseller) off and on," he said, "and I followed every one of those close losses last season, which goes to show you there's not always a lot of difference between who goes to a bowl and who doesn't."

He says Doba "is as good as there is -- a true player's coach, who treats everyone with respect."

From a recruiting standpoint, Peterson says Pullman is one of the jewels on the college football landscape. "It's beautiful out here and the people are wonderful."

It reminds him of K-State, where Peterson, as receivers coach, sent 12 wideouts to the pros.

Family atmosphere. Land Grant school with outstanding academics. And a coaching staff that cares about the players as people and communicates well the parents.

It's been the recipe for unprecedented success at WSU over the last 10 years and at Kansas State for even longer.

As recruiting coordinator, Peterson will play a critical role in the Cougars' quest for perennial success.

Already a year-round endeavor, recruiting is getting more challenging each year as NCAA academic requirements tighten.

"You can't afford to make mistakes," he says. "So you've got to be even more thorough in your research, trying to find the best young man, student and athlete you can -- and then giving him the experiences to grow in all those respects."

For the recruiting class of 2007 he inherited a sizable list of prospects from Pflugrad and is in the process of building it up to around 1,000 names that will be narrowed to approximately 250 in the fall and then 75 to 100 by December.

But get this: He's also spending time building his list for the 2008 class. "You've got to be a year ahead," he says. "We're focusing on 2007, but we're also formulating the plan of attack for 2008 – and 2009 as well. It's easier to recruit them when they're juniors and seniors" if you've been tracking them and corresponding beforehand.

ASIDE FROM MORE stringent academic requirements and the ongoing trend toward early offers, one of the most pronounced changes in recruiting over the years has been technological, Peterson says. First came email and now cell phone text messaging.

"We're definitely in the electronic age," he says. "Hand-written notes and mailings are still important, but email and particularly text-messaging are huge."

Unlike phone calls, which schools are limited to making once per week per prospect, the NCAA has no limits on text messaging -- or how many times a prospect can make a phone call to a coach if the kid wants to communicate at greater length.

In terms of a recruiting philosophy, Peterson says cornerstones of his approach are to plan way ahead and to be thorough in evaluating character, academic potential and on-field skills. In the broader context, he is a firm believer in "team recruiting." That means a prospect's point of contact goes beyond the coach assigned to the particular region. The position coach and coordinator get involved, and Doba runs the anchor leg with phone calls and home visits.

"The bottom line is building relationships and trust," he says. "The family atmosphere at Washington State is tremendous – this is really a very special place to get an education and play in a great conference."

Spoken like a true native.

Cougfan Top Stories