Petersen will be the Huskies' football coach, making the decision to leave Boise State after eight seasons as the Broncos head coach.
Petersen was offered the job on Thursday night during a meeting with Washington athletic director Scott Woodward in Boise. After a night of sleep, Petersen called Friday morning to accept the position before meeting with his Boise State team.
He's leaving after an unprecedented run of success at Boise State: five conference titles, 92 victories, two Fiesta Bowl wins and credit for putting the Broncos on a national stage for more than just its blue turf field and trick plays.
"Coach Petersen's success and record are extraordinary, but even more impressive is the man himself," Woodward said in a statement released by the school. "His integrity, work ethic and character make him an outstanding fit and leader of our student-athletes at UW. We are thrilled and proud to call Coach Petersen a Husky."
Petersen replaces Steve Sarkisian, who went 34-29 in five seasons at Washington before leaving earlier this week to take the job at USC. Petersen was 92-12 in his eight seasons at Boise State. But he's coming off the worst regular season in his tenure with the Broncos after going 8-4, including a 38-6 loss at Washington in the season opener.
That Washington was able to pry Petersen away is surprising after so many other schools tried unsuccessfully before.
"It's time for him to take it to the next level," said Seattle Seahawks safety Jeron Johnson, who played for Petersen at Boise State.
Petersen took over for Dan Hawkins in 2006 and turned Boise State into the darling of the BCS. Whether it was the audacious trick plays that led to Boise State's BCS upset of Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, or the staggering run of victories with Kellen Moore at quarterback, Petersen was the one directing the Broncos' rise.
The Broncos won five conference championships under Petersen and won 12 games in every season between 2008 and 2011. The Broncos got as high as No. 2 in the AP Top 25 in 2010 and might have found themselves playing in another BCS game if not for an overtime loss at Nevada in the next-to-last game of the regular season.
But the Broncos seemed to plateau this season. The year started with the blowout loss at Washington, the worst defeat of Petersen's career. Boise State lost three more times on the road at Fresno State, at BYU and at San Diego State, and a loss in a bowl game would leave the Broncos with five defeats for the first time since 1998, when they were in their third season at the Football Bowl Subdivision level.
"I know Bronco Nation joins me in thanking Chris Petersen for all he did to advance Boise State's football program over the past thirteen years," Boise State President Bob Kustra said. "He is not only a great coach but a great person and an asset to the community. We were lucky to have him at Boise State and Washington is lucky to get him."
The struggles this season left some wondering if Petersen had already done all he could do at Boise State. Petersen was expected to make $2.3 million next season and his contract with the Broncos called for a buyout of $750,000.
Petersen will inherit a program at Washington coming off its first eight-win season since 2001. The Huskies had been stuck on seven wins the past three seasons but a 27-17 win over Washington State in the Apple Cup changed that.
Washington appeared on the verge of joining the upper echelon of the conference this season but was turned back in losses to Stanford, Oregon and Arizona State. Sarkisian never defeated the Ducks in his tenure, which stuck with Washington fans tired of getting beaten up by their neighbors to the south, and that will be a primary task for Petersen. In his career, Petersen is 2-0 against the Ducks and 8-2 total against current Pac-12 schools. His only two losses were to Washington.
One of Petersen's big tasks will be to quickly piece together a staff. His hiring could mean the Huskies are able to retain defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, whom Sarkisian wanted to take with him to USC but who has a large buyout. Wilcox was on Petersen's staff at Boise State for four seasons before moving on to Tennessee.
"The biggest thing for UW players is to believe him," Johnson said. "He's not going to mislead you."