Mike Peterson has applied to a few head coaching jobs over the years without getting the nod.
It never stopping the running conversation between he and his wife, Bree, over the years.
They figured it would happen when the time was right.
He even applied to his alma mater – Farmington High in New Mexico – a few years ago and never received any correspondence in return.
“I don’t even know if I wanted to move, but it would have been nice to hear something,” said Peterson, whose team is preparing to take on No. 3 Chandler this week.
Turns out there was no need to move. Everything he wanted would eventually come. Just two miles from his home.
That was clear Friday night after Red Mountain won its 6A Conference quarterfinal game. Just about everyone involved with the program milled around the field. No one wanted to leave the field anytime soon after the Mountain Lions advanced to the semifinals with a 31-7 win over Westview.
Peterson was right in the middle of the masses where his hearty laugh could be heard and truth be told, he teared up a bit. Partly because on the outskirts of the celebration family from New Mexico, including his father and brother, and his in-laws, was waiting to celebrate a victory.
“How many other jobs are there that family will travel from out of state to watch you do your job?” Peterson said. “That’s pretty special.”
Peterson, 45, has Red Mountain one win away from a state title appearance in his first year. The Mountain Lions have won 10 in a row. He was named the East Valley Region coach of the year after sweeping through the league schedule.
Not bad for a guy who could have been viewed as a secondary choice considering how the hiring process played out.
When word got out that Randy Ricedorff was offered the job it didn’t go over well because of a checkered pass at Show Low. It led to a proposed question and answer night with the parents, but made moot when Ricedorff accepted a job at American Leadership Academy.
There were rumors of other local coaches getting a hard look from the administration, but nothing came to fruition and Peterson took over the reins of the program.
Peterson knew everything that was going on behind the scenes but never let it get to him. He knew he was the right guy, but also knows his time at Red Mountain could have ended after six years if someone else was brought in.
“I just rode it out,” Peterson said. “I would have sat down with whoever they hired and talked about what his vision was but I also had my own vision. I knew I was either going to be the (expletive) or I was going to pick the (expletive) I’d work with.”
It never came to that.
Instead he was pegged as the guy to take over a program for the largest school in Mesa, has won state championships in the past (2000, 2001) and was coming off a state semifinals appearance.
It’s clearly been a good fit. He already had a good relationship with the coaches and players. It made the transition that much easier. Peterson has a bit of a quirky personality, one that is easy to like, and it turns the one that was just right for this group of Mountain Lions.
“We knew Peterson was the guy and knows his stuff,” Red Mountain quarterback Cannon Griner said. “What else can you ask for? We love him, and we play for him and each other.”
Peterson had to make some expected changes – hand over the defense, deal with the parents directly, fill out countless mounds of paperwork – along with rarely having down time to be with Bree, and two daughters, Hannah, 17, and Tatum, 13.
“This has been my life since we’ve been married,” said Bree, adding that home life hasn’t changed. “We got married on July 11, 19 years ago and two weeks later he left for football camp for two weeks. It’s what we’ve always done.
“He has learned he has to change some things and there are a lot of things he can’t control. After the first couple of games, it became ‘What do I need to do?’ and not ‘What do they need to do?’ That’s not normally his personality. That’s what has been impressive to me.”
It seems to be one of those cases of the right guy at the right time. The one who was here the whole time, whose daughter goes to Red Mountain and is the water girl. You know that guy who lives just two miles away.
“I’m just living the dream,” Peterson said. “I get to run out here with the boys every week with goose bumps on my arms and with the hair standing up on the back of my neck. What a job. Where else would I want to be?”
– Jason P. Skoda is a senior writer for MyNewsMesa.com. Send Mesa-based story ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.