BOONE — Tony Peterson is no stranger to Appalachian State football.
Peterson, who was a draft choice of the Kansas City Royals after playing baseball for a year at Delta Community College, has carved out a solid coaching career that has gone through his alma mater Marshall, Minnesota, Iowa State, Louisiana Tech and most recently East Carolina and Missouri.
The well-traveled App State offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach got plenty of exposure to the Mountaineers when he started at quarterback at Marshall from 1986-87 and when he coached against the Mountaineers when he was an offensive coordinator with the Thundering Herd from 1991-98.
Peterson got a second look at App State when he coached the Hurd again from 2010-12.
“It was always a tough place to play and it was always a big-time game,” Peterson said. “It was a big-time rivalry.”
Peterson spent his entire coaching career on the offensive side of the line of scrimmage since he started in 1990 as a graduate assistant at Kentucky. He moves to Boone to run an Appalachian State offense that returns several key elements of a team that averaged 38.8 points per game and returns returning third-year starting quarterback Zac Thomas.
In 2019, Peterson was an offensive analyst at Missouri, the landing place for App State’s head coach and offensive coordinator Eli Drinkwitz, who was named head coach of Missouri in December.
Peterson said he was interested in coaching at App State when he heard that West Virginia native Shawn Clark was named the App State head coach in December.
“I know a lot about App all the way back from when I played at Marshall and we played in Boone a couple of times, including my senior year. It’s a great football program. It was a big-time I-AA program and now it’s one of the top programs in the country.”
Peterson joins a program that finished the 2019 season with a 13-1 record, 7-1 in the Sun Belt Conference and finished ranked 18th in the Associated Press poll. The Mountaineers beat North Carolina 34-31 and South Carolina 20-15 in road games.
App State faces Wake Forest and Wisconsin in road games in the 2020 season. Peterson has been an assistant coach at Minnesota and at Iowa State, two programs that are in Power Five conferences.
“Everything I’ve always heard about App, the coaches and how they do things there, I think it’s one of the best jobs in the state of North Carolina,” Peterson said. “I was real excited that I got an opportunity to go up there to visit with Shawn and meet with him and the offensive staff. It all worked out and we’re fired up.”
Peterson brings an offensive philosophy similar to Clark’s. Both like to use a solid running game with an accurate passing game. Both coaches also won’t hesitate to stretch the field when the chance arises.
“It’s kind of what App does,” he said. “They’ve got a great defense. They run the ball. They don’t turn it over and they don’t beat themselves.”
Peterson is also anxious to work with the players themselves. The Mountaineers had just 11 out of 15 scheduled practices, and App State returns several starters, including quarterback Zac Thomas, who is expected to be a third-year starter under his third-straight offensive coordinator. Scott Satterfield and Eli Drinkwitz, both head coaches, were the other two.
But Peterson also wants to make sure the younger players improve so they can eventually become senior leaders in the future.
“We’ve got to go out and give them the best opportunity to have the best year they’ve ever had,” Peterson said of the returning seniors. “At the same time, we have got to start developing players and we started with the first 11 practices in spring ball. We’ve got to get them ready for that next year, so it’s kind of a two-hand thing.”
Peterson felt the Mountaineers got off to a good start with developing younger players by getting 11 practices in. He pointed out that most programs were not able to do that because the COVID-19 virus caused the cancellation of all NCAA athletic activities, including practices.
“I think it went a lot better than it did for most people who only had two or three practices,” Peterson said. “If we hadn’t started spring ball when we did, we got in three-quarters of our spring, which was awesome.”
Satterfield and Drinkwitz, both head coaches and offensive coordinators while at App State, both landed head coaching position with Power Five programs. Satterfield took the head coaching position at Louisville at the end of the 2018 season and Drinkwitz became head coach at Missouri at the end of the 2019 year.
Peterson said he did not come to Appalachian State to climb the head coaching ladder, but is keeping his options open to the idea of it comes up. He realizes that he is older than several new head coaches, but feels he can take over a program despite not being in his mid 30s.
“I told Shawn that my wife are coming up and we’re coming to buy a house,” Peterson said. “We’re here to stay here for the next eight to 10 years. I’m not a guy who is not necessarily looking. If I’ve changed something or if something has come along to me, you can’t say never in this profession. But we are coming up to Boone with the intension of being there a long time.”