-- BOISE, Idaho - If Bryan Harsin weren't coaching football, he'd be racing cars at speeds well over 200 mph.
His father, Dale, was one of the pioneers of Funny Car racing, and Harsin was tagging along to the track as far back as he can remember and even drove his father's car when he first broke into the coaching ranks.
"Had I not become a coordinator, that was the path I was going," Harsin said. "My goal was to get a sponsor, go be a driver on the NHRA circuit in the Top Fuel Funny Car division and try to live that lifestyle ... and then things changed."
Not that Harsin, or Boise State, is complaining.
Dan Hawkins left Boise State following the 2005 season to become the Colorado coach. Chris Petersen went from offensive coordinator to head coach at Boise State, and Petersen promoted Harsin from tight ends coach to offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. The Broncos went 13-0 that next season, averaging 39.7 points per game along the way and capping the season with the epic 43-42 overtime win against Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, an ending with back-to-back trick plays that will live forever in college football lore.
"The car was running better than it had run when the coordinator job came open," Harsin recalled. "I felt like I was getting into a groove, and then coach Hawkins took the Colorado job. Life's a funny thing, funny how it all works out."
Indeed it is, and Harsin has traded funny cars for a chance to keep his alma mater among the country's most respected football programs. Boise State may not recruit or spend money like some of the football juggernauts out there, but the Broncos sure play like a program with money to burn, which is precisely the blueprint going forward under Harsin, who's in his second season as Boise State's head coach.
"The way I've always looked at Boise State, especially when I left, is that it's a power program," Harsin said. "To me, that means it's a program that's going to be in a position to help with decisions. Boise State's earned the opportunity to do that over the years of winning, not just with us, but over the years."
What we know unequivocally about Harsin, other than that he's one of more respected offensive minds in the game, is that he knows what a high-performance car looks like -- how to prep it, how to steer it and how to get every ounce of speed out of it.
There obviously are some parallels to coaching a football team, so it's not surprising Harsin is keeping the Broncos among the elite by adding his own touches to the finely tuned program that Petersen built before his departure for the University of Washington.
Boise State had dipped to 8-5 the season before Harsin returned. He spent a season as Arkansas State's head coach and two seasons prior to that as Texas' offensive coordinator, but the Broncos rebounded to win 12 games in Harsin's first season back as head coach, including a win over Arizona in the Fiesta Bowl, and then opened this season last week by sending Petersen and Washington back to the Pacific Northwest dragging a 16-13 loss.
Go back to Harsin's introductory press conference. He spoke with reverence about the success the program had enjoyed under his mentor, Petersen, but insisted the Broncos would not rest on those laurels.
Sure enough, the team heads to BYU on Saturday ranked 20th nationally. Boise State has won seven of its last nine games against Pac-12 opponents and has been at its best on the biggest stages.
Don't look for that to change under Harsin, who reminded everybody when he arrived that 8-5 wasn't going to cut it.
"It was the same way for everybody, that prove-it mentality, and to me, that should never change," Harsin said. "The biggest thing for me was everybody understanding what the standards really are and then actually doing them."
At the top of that list of standards was full participation in the strength program. Head strength coach Jeff Pitman followed Harsin from Arkansas State and had also been with Harsin previously at Boise State as head strength coach from 1999-2006 before going to Colorado with Hawkins.
"That's usually where it starts when you're taking over a program, your weight room," Harsin said. "Coach Pitman is really a guy who's helped address the mentality we've talked about."
And speaking of talking, one of the refreshing things about the Boise State program is that you don't hear a lot of talk -- talk about the playoff system being unfair, talk about how the Broncos might fare in Power 5 conferences or talk about anything other than what's right in front of them.
In Boise State's spacious meeting room, inside the $22 million Bleymaier football complex that opened in 2013, the team goals are plainly stated up front in bold letters: To win a Mountain West Conference championship and a bowl game with class, integrity and academic excellence.
Notice there's no mention of a national championship or even the College Football Playoff, although the Broncos could end up being the fly in the ointment there if they go unbeaten and some of the teams in other conferences beat up on each other. Clearly, it would take a lot of help.
"It's not that the playoff isn't a goal," Harsin said. "But if we take care of the other stuff and the process is right in the end, we'll let things shake out the way they shake out. It's going to take a little bit of luck to have an opportunity to be in those games, but I think that goes for every team."
Either way, Harsin loves a good race, be it on the blue turf or a drag strip.
"It's not over. Don't tell my wife that," he said of his racing career. "At some point in my life, I assume I'll get back into it if there's an opportunity. I just love it so much. I love being the one driving that car."
For now, though, he sure looks comfortable behind the Boise State wheel.