Four jobs later, Peterson returns to ASU
Nine years after departing Appalachian State, Buzz Peterson returns to Boone
Buzz Peterson had been Appalachian State's coach for a month, yet there he was, getting out of a car full of Charlotte Bobcats executives and heading into the Attack Athletics facility on the west side of Chicago to watch the NBA's draft combine in late May.
Peterson had made a commitment as the Bobcats' player personnel director. He was one of the key members of the organization's draft prep. He wouldn't leave that post even though he had made a new commitment to return to App State as coach, nine years after he led the Mountaineers to the NCAA tournament in his final season in Boone, N.C.
It wasn't until right before the current evaluation period began after the Fourth of July weekend that Peterson finally cleared out his office.
"Michael [Jordan] asked me to help through the draft, and that's what I was doing," Peterson said.
Peterson did agonize over the decision to leave Jordan, his former North Carolina teammate and roommate.
"I missed coaching, missed the student-athlete," Peterson said. "I missed being on the floor teaching and being with players."
Peterson was given plenty of freedom in Charlotte. Coach Larry Brown, another member of the Dean Smith family tree at Carolina, didn't want Peterson to leave the organization, either.
But Peterson wanted to be on Brown's bench. And even though there was talk that would occur next season, a firm commitment couldn't be reached.
"I didn't want to see Buzz leave -- I was crushed about that," Brown said. "I think Buzz would have been great with us. He wanted to coach. I think Buzz always wanted to go on the bench. When I got here, that was his goal. We tried to make it work. He's a coach."
Brown said Peterson knew the Bobcats' personnel and their draft needs as well as anyone in the organization. He said his input was immeasurable.
And because of Peterson's longtime friendship with Jordan and himself, Brown said, the departed player personnel director will still be "involved with us. We'll always be involved with him."
In March, Appalachian State fired Peterson's good friend and former assistant, Houston Fancher, which was enough to give Peterson pause. Fancher had been in charge for nine seasons.
"I didn't know if it was the right thing to do," Peterson said. "But Houston told me he'd rather have me coach these guys than somebody he doesn't know."
After all, it was Peterson whom Fancher had replaced nearly a decade ago. In 2000, after compiling a 79-39 record in four seasons, Peterson left Boone just as the Mountaineers were becoming a major player in the Southern Conference. ASU won three straight SoCon North division titles while he was coaching there.
Then he went to Tulsa and promptly won the postseason NIT. Riding that success, Peterson bolted the Golden Hurricane after just one season and headed for a big payday at Tennessee. He thought he would get at least five years in Knoxville, but he got only four and was out after a 14-17 season in 2005.
"I thought about had I stayed," Peterson said. "We were close on getting Josh Howard and David West. But we lost those guys to Hargrave [Military]. They went to prep school before going up another level."
He said Smith has advised him throughout his coaching career. All the moves, at the time, made sense to him.
"But I didn't realize the situation I was in at Tennessee," Peterson said. "Jerry Green had gone to four straight NCAAs and then there was attrition. We had bad luck and eligibility issues. I really thought we'd be good in our fifth year."
Peterson was fortunate, though. The majority of fired coaches don't get a chance to land another gig, even at a lower level. Peterson chose Coastal Carolina and coached there for two seasons before Jordan called and asked him to join the Bobcats.
So he spent the past two seasons in the NBA before making the move back to the SoCon at the perfect time in the post-Stephen Curry era of the conference.
When Curry worked out for the Bobcats before the draft, Peterson told Stephen and his father, Dell, who works with the Bobcats, that Stephen "made my decision a lot easier."
Davidson will still be one of the top teams in the league, even sans Curry. The College of Charleston is a regular atop the standings thanks to another former ASU coach, Bobby Cremins, and Chattanooga is the reigning SoCon tournament champ.
But the Mountaineers will not be going away under Peterson. Remember, before last season's struggles (9-11, 13-18 overall), App State won 43 games the previous two seasons, including a 28-10 league mark.
Peterson seems content with the situation. The 46-year-old is still commuting from Charlotte while his daughter finishes high school over the next two years, but he is done juggling two jobs. He's back where it all began -- even hiring another Carolina guy for his staff, former UNC player Jason Capel, brother of Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel.
"Michael [Jordan] said, 'Don't let me hold you back,'" Peterson noted. "I wanted to return to coaching in a situation where I think I can win. I wanted to get back to teaching 18- and 19-year-olds basketball and life skills. That's what I want."
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.