After three years at Portage, Mark Peterson's tenure quietly ended in February 2010 with a brief written statement, followed by vague comments from then-athletic director Jeff Smith about philosophical differences.
Over time, chatter trickled out that the program was riddled by poor conditioning and a lack of discipline, raising question to Peterson's credibility as a big-school coach.
As he conducted his first official practice Monday at Chesterton, his feelings about the past remain strong, though his sights are focused strictly on the future with no sense of urgency to prove his critics wrong.
"People are going to perceive what they want to perceive," Peterson said. "The petty stuff, unfortunately, is part of the business. People who know, know. Those who were really involved, who were aware of what was going on, they get it. They know the difference. As far as my overall feelings, I don't really (care). You move on. You try to be bigger."
A 17-year veteran of the college coaching ranks, Peterson spent three seasons at both Bishop Noll and Portage, reaching sectional finals in 2006 and 2009 while compiling a 35-29 record.
"I feel really positive about what I'm doing," he said. "In the end, it's about the kids, not me. All you can do is hope you do the right things by the kids. I still stay in touch with those guys. I was talking to Jake (Dixon) before he went back to Fordham. Clark (Mussman) and I text. Those relationships are the greatest reward."
While it didn't end well at Portage, Peterson benefited from his last three years as an assistant coach with John Snyder at Chesterton. The two are old friends, but Peterson didn't necessarily envision succeeding Snyder, whose resignation caught him by surprise. Peterson didn't apply for any head coaching openings until last winter, when the itch started to come back.
"The opportunity to work with John reinforced that I was doing the right things," Peterson said. "It gave me the chance to sit back and see things from another perspective. You see things similarly, yet differently, and see how it would fit your style. I'm excited, ready to go again."
How excited? Peterson didn't even get two hours of sleep before the Trojans hit the field at 6 Monday morning. Notable among his changes, he increased summer workouts to three days a week. He believes his cause is aided by a veteran coaching staff and the full support of both the athletic department and administration.
"It's a phenomenal situation to be in," he said. "I'm teaching here. My kids are in the district. Looking back, we did some really good stuff at Portage and Bishop Noll, and I hope to carry it over to this job. I'm following through on stuff from the last couple years and putting my spin on things. I feel rejuvenated."