Buzz Peterson heading back to ASU
By Mike Cranston
CHARLOTTE ó Buzz Peterson’s eyes would inevitably wander to the sideline every time he scouted a college game. He’d study the coach, knowing when his stomach was queasy and when he was frustrated or furious.
Peterson longed to feel like that again.
On Tuesday, the excitement was back in Peterson’s voice. Four years after getting fired by Tennessee and two years removed from leaving Coastal Carolina to work for buddy Michael Jordan’s Charlotte Bobcats, Peterson has his own sideline to patrol again.
He knows some think he’s going backward. He’s back at Appalachian State nine years after he bolted that school in the beginning of a fast rise that ended in the SEC.
“I just wanted to be out there teaching basketball and being around the student-athlete,” Peterson said. “It didn’t matter what level. I didn’t really care.”
After ending his role running the Bobcats’ scouting department two weeks ago, Peterson has been busy.
He’s filled out his staff and is completing next season’s schedule, which includes games at Louisville, Arkansas and Dayton. He’s begun a heavy month of scouting. Next month there’s a trip to the Bahamas with his team to play exhibition games.
Peterson is happy ó even if he first turned down the offer.
“I just had to get multiple family issues in line before I could make a good, hard decision,” Peterson said. “Another factor was the relationship I had with Michael.”
Jordan and Peterson were roommates at North Carolina and teammates on the 1982 national championship team. Jordan, the Bobcats’ managing partner, knew Peterson wanted to get into coaching and discussed him perhaps joining Bobcats coach Larry Brown’s staff next season.
But there were no openings and Appalachian State kept calling. Peterson decided since he probably couldn’t sell his Charlotte house in the current real estate climate that he’d commute the two hours to the Boone campus. That would let his daughter finish her senior year in high school. His wife signed on ó as did Jordan.
“His words were, ‘Buzz, if that’s what you want to do, don’t let me hold you back. You’re not going to hurt this relationship at all if that’s what you want to do,’ ” Peterson said. “That’s when I felt better about the whole thing.”
But there were other obstacles. Peterson would replace Houston Fancher, his former assistant who was promoted in 2000 when Peterson left for Tulsa. Fancher was fired after going 13-18 last season.
“I didn’t want to step on his toes,” Peterson said. “He said, ‘I wanted to coach them, I really do, it’s tough. But, heck, you gave me the opportunity. I’d rather see you coach them than somebody I don’t know.’ ”
So he decided to return to the Southern Conference, which rose out of obscurity thanks to Davidson star Stephen Curry but is still known for small gyms, long bus rides, limited budgets and being a long way from the SEC.
Peterson is still disappointed at how his brush with the highest level ended. After just one season at Tulsa, he was a highly touted hire by Tennessee. But then there was a revolving door of presidents and a change in athletic directors. After going 14-17 in 2004-05, Peterson thought he had the talent for a turnaround if he was given a fifth season.
Shortly after he was fired, he got a call from Dean Smith, his old college coach.
“He said, ‘Go to another job so your family doesn’t suffer hearing about how the new coach comes in and gets all the credit,’ ” Peterson said.
Peterson lasted two years at Coastal Carolina. The Chanticleers played in a tiny gym, and when plans fell through for a new arena, Peterson wasn’t sure he could win. He soon accepted Jordan’s offer.
Now Peterson is confident he can win at Appalachian, even if the Mountaineers haven’t made the NCAA tournament since Peterson’s last season in 2000.
The school does have a spiffy arena ó Peterson helped design the locker rooms and offices. Peterson also believes the football program’s recent dominance of the NCAA’s second tier ó including a monumental upset of Michigan in 2007 ó can help basketball.
“It’s given us a bigger name than when I left nine years ago,” he said.
Peterson has changed, too. He’s a graying 46 now. He’s no longer the next up-and-coming coaching star. He’s just a guy with a passion for coaching that gets to do it again.
“Your stomach is all butterflies,” Peterson said. “The strategy, the excitement, the highs and lows, you miss that.”