College volleyball • Forced out at BYU after winning national title, Peterson finds new home.
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Ogden • It's an early Tuesday afternoon inside Weber State's Swenson Gym and women's volleyball coach Tom Peterson continues to do the same thing he's done for more than three decades.
Peterson checks the nets, exchanges a few asides with assistants and stretching players. Just another day in his office.
One thing Peterson does not do is dwell on the past which includes not only the highest of highs, but the lowest of the lows that could have easily resulted in bitterness and anger.
Instead, Peterson now in his second year at Weber State is trying to rebuild a moribund program.
"We'll get there," he said in a soft, benevolent voice. "What I like is, these are really good people. That's what makes this so enjoyable."
Peterson has built programs before. He has also won two NCAA men's volleyball national championships at Penn State in 1994 and at BYU a decade later.
The impact of his first NCAA trophy at Penn State was unmistakable. It was the first time a school not from the West Coast had won it. Peterson received a congratulatory note from Joe Paterno, saying that the championship "was as important a thing that has ever happened at Penn State."
Something else happened after Peterson led BYU to its third NCAA championship. He resigned amid an NCAA investigation of his program.
Until now, Peterson has never talked at length about what had happened at BYU. He says it still hurts.
"Every once in a while you run into a situation where, well, I'm not too surprised on how people treat one another and what people will say and do to other people," Peterson said. "It's doesn't surprise me now, the things that happen, good and bad, to people.
"Time and chance happens to us all."
A booster was found to have paid improper benefits of more than $20,000, as well as providing transportation, housing and meals, to two Cuban defectors, including Yosleyder Cala who played at BYU in 2006 and 2007 before turning professional. The other player never competed for BYU.
Following an 18-month NCAA probe, the BYU men's volleyball program was penalized in 2008 for major and secondary recruiting violations. Self-imposed and NCAA penalties included the loss of half a scholarship and a three-year probation period, although the Cougars remained eligible for postseason play.
Peterson was not penalized or sanctioned. According to the NCAA investigation, any violations by Peterson were technical in nature and not unethical though he was found to have failed to properly monitor the men's volleyball program.
It was enough to sink him at BYU, which got a black eye out of the process.
BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe declined comment for this story, but in a 2008 statement called the program's violations "serious" and said the school was committed to "making sure this does not happen again."
Without a job and his reputation stained, Peterson jumped at the offer to assist Utah State women's coach Grayson DuBose, Peterson's former assistant at BYU.
To DuBose, the hiring was a no-brainer, and he had little trouble convincing Utah State's administration.
"He gave me a shot, so I'm loyal to that guy," DuBose said. "He's a mentor and a friend and has been for a long time. He needs a job and I'm stupid if I don't hire him.
"At some point, you've got to keep moving on," he added. "It was real hard on Tom, real challenging for him. He's going to come out of it better, though it will still gnaw at you and always will."
But the two-year stop at USU helped pave the way for a return to a head coaching job. After doing his own background check, Weber State athletic director Jerry Bovee was satisfied that Peterson was a low-risk hire.
"I read the whole case with him and BYU," Bovee said. "We addressed it in the interview process. Through it all, we felt comfortable. We looked at everything. I wouldn't have hired him if there were concerns."
So, the coach, who also had women's coaching stops at Salt Lake Community College, Utah and New Mexico State before moving over to the men's side, has come full circle.
But his BYU roots still run deep.
Peterson became a club player and coach at BYU thanks to American Volleyball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Carl McGown, who coached the Cougar men's volleyball team between 1989 and 2002 and won two national titles.
As a 22-year-old returned missionary for the LDS Church, Peterson had a choice between badminton, which he had become pretty good at, and volleyball.
"I remember walking out of the dressing room door and there was a sign, go right for badminton tryouts or left for volleyball tryouts," Peterson said. "I finally turned left. Carl took pity on me and let me on the B team."
That BYU club team finished second at nationals. And the road to coaching was set.
Peterson inherited a challenge at Weber State.
The Wildcats went 3-26 during his first season in Ogden. The Wildcats are a more competitive 10-18 this year, but are still struggling to win in the Big Sky Conference.
"He's on the right path," said BYU women's coach Shawn Olmstead, a libero on Peterson's 2004 championship team. "He was expecting to do better, but he'll keep working. He's not afraid of a challenge."
Despite the early struggles, Peterson says he has found a home in Ogden.
"It has been a real pleasant surprise for me," said Peterson, who took the job as a way to stay in state and close to friends and family. "My wife and I were greatly surprised, not being from this area. Ogden, for us, has a neat combination of being kind of edgy in some places and great in others.
"[Weber State] is kind of a hidden gem, it seems to me. I enjoy being here and hope to make a difference in people's lives."
And as always, Peterson says he's looking forward. When asked what he has learned, there was some hesitation and a small smile.
"I've learned when something is so great, it's really not as good as you think it is," he said. "And when something is terrible, it's usually not quite that bad."
Tom Peterson file
• Tom Peterson coached in seven men's volleyball NCAA Tournament championship matches, winning two national championships Penn State in 1994 and BYU in 2004.
• Peterson started coaching as an assistant for the women's volleyball team at Utah before becoming an assistant for the BYU women's team.
• Prior to coaching at Penn State, Peterson guided the BYU men's club team for five seasons.