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Louisville Writer Breaks Down The Power Of Petrino; We Tell You Why He’ll Be Back In The Big Leagues Next Season

This spring, fired by Arkansas after his affair with an employee became tabloid fodder, it appeared that Bobby Petrino would be radioactive for a while.  At least at the major college level.

Now, just a few months later, his name is already being connected to several BCS-level jobs that might come open by year’s end.

What changed?  Uh, have you seen Arkansas this season?  The worse the Hogs look, the higher Petrino’s stock rises.  Nevermind the fact that if it weren’t for Petrino’s off-field issues the Razorbacks wouldn’t be just this side of Hell right now.

Longtime Louisville writer Eric Crawford has penned an excellent piece — actually, he’s keyboarded a piece, I’d reckon — breaking down just what happens when Petrino exits a place and another coach enters.  Remember, before dumping the Atlanta Falcons for Arkansas and imploding in Fayetteville, Petrino had coached, won and departed from the University of Louisville.

According to Crawford, his attention to detail and his cold, business-like demeanor were sorely missed at U of L once he left for the NFL:


“Under Petrino, something like a cell phone ringing in the offensive meeting room was a major infraction. If Paul Petrino heard a phone ring in one of his meetings, there was no telling what might happen. Forget confiscation, the phone would be lucky to survive, and the player might feel lucky to survive. In the first offensive meeting under Charlie Stubbs, (Steve) Kragthorpe’s new offensive coordinator, a phone rang, and players sat up in their seats, cringing almost reflexively. Stubbs stopped speaking, the phone rang once more before it could be silenced, there was an expectant moment of quiet, then he continued without acknowledging it.

It was a new day.

Even before that, the change was evident. The first time one position group showed up for some ‘voluntary’ skeleton drills such as all teams run during the summer, they started to run the drills outlined on a sheet for them by the new coaches. About 15-20 minutes in, one player said to the other, ‘That’s it.’ The others were confused. These were 45-minute or 1-hour drills under the predecessors. They’d gotten to the end of the list in a fraction of that time. They ran through the drills three more times, then stopped.

Wide receivers, accustomed to a precision attack in which coaches would literally measure out the steps that each player would run before cutting or making a move in his route, now were told, instead of how many steps, to go out seven yards and curl, or whatever the route was. The result was routes that wound up growing less precise.

Now it’s important to understand, there was nothing negligent or substandard on the part of the new staff. The way they were doing it was the way staffs were doing it throughout much of college football. But Petrino has been successful not just because he sweats the small stuff, but because he obsesses over it.

He had assistants staying in the U of L football complex until 11 p.m. over the summer going over game film of teams they wouldn’t play for three months.

Players derived a great deal of confidence from the offensive game plan. During coaches’ meetings, assistants would each propose their ‘scoring plays’ of the week, those they determined would be most likely to break for big gains or scores. When an agreement was reached, they’d tell the team in running through the script of the first 15 or 20 plays, ‘This is the touchdown play.’

The staff was right so many times that players began to believe them when they told them a particular play was going to score. And the offense was so effective that players derived confidence from that. Eric Wood, a center at the time, told me for a story I did for the newspaper, ‘We just can’t wait to see what they have planned every week. You really look forward to seeing the game plan to see what they’ve found to attack.’


So far so good.  No one has ever questioned Petrino’s skills as an offensive coach.  But Crawford goes further:


“Away from the lines, Petrino was never a warm and fuzzy presence. Players interacted largely with their position coaches. Fear was a powerful motivator. Petrino was known for violent outbursts of temper, and his criticism, while constructive, was painfully, brutally honest. And, as many players would tell you, usually on the money. He heard one local high school star was belittling the program on an official visit and kicked the player out, ending his recruitment on the spot. 

After a couple of scrapes with the law in Petrino’s first month, U of L football went three seasons without any stories about its players getting into serious off-the-field trouble. When U of L went to Jacksonville for the Gator Bowl, Petrino wouldn’t let the players out of the hotel on New Year’s Eve. ‘Will you guys have a party?’ we asked linebacker Brandon Johnson. ‘Yeah, he said. ‘We’ll have 50 parties — two deep.’

Nobody was leaving the rooms. Players who came to U of L with rough reputations wound up staying in line. If players had problems, coaches became a constant presence. It was said Paul Petrino was Mario Urrutia’s shadow for two years. Must have worked. Urrutia entered his final season at U of L on pace to be the all-time NCAA leader in yards per reception, only to struggle through his last season before declaring for the draft.

At the same time, there were rumblings after Petrino’s departure that the coach had been too lax when it came to taking action on positive drug tests. The first positive test got you sent to drug counseling. The second got you a one-game suspension. The third got you a four-game suspension. Some later alleged that if there was a first, there usually was no testing done to risk a second or third. But attempts to get even aggregate records were not successful.

Under Kragthorpe, players had a three-strike policy. First offense garnered a one-game suspension, counseling and mandatory testing for one year. The second positive got a 4-game suspension and enrollment in a treatment program, and a third got you dismissed.

Players started being dismissed in high numbers, including some who had people around the school scratching their heads, because they’d been otherwise good citizens. Nobody could divulge the real reason for many of the dismissals, though one source close to the program said, ‘They chose pot over their football futures.’”


Some AD will have to weigh the pluses and minuses of Petrino before tabbing him to head up his school’s football program.

On the plus side, Petrino wins games.  Lots of them.  Enough to challenge for big-time bowl berths every year.  But on the other side of the coin, he was never going to win a championship at Arkansas until he found the right defensive coordinator — like Steve Spurrier finding Bob Stoops at Florida — to take over that side of the ball and create an SEC-worthy unit.  Four games in, it doesn’t look like Paul Haynes was (or is) going to be that guy in Fayetteville.

Petrino keeps his players in line — positive — but he’s rather lax when it comes to drug issues — negative.  And let’s not forget that Petrino’s biggest star at Arkansas — quarterback Ryan Mallett — fell down NFL draft boards due to rumors of his own drug use.

In his current situation, it’s probable that Petrino would be happy to sign any contract put in front of him.  He’s not going to cost a new AD as much money as Jeff Long was having to pay him at Arkansas.  That’s a big plus.

But perhaps Petrino’s biggest negative is his track record off the field.  Hired by Louisville from Tommy Tuberville’s staff, Petrino was caught meeting with members of Auburn’s administration about replacing Tuberville after just one season at Louisville.  When he did leave Louisville, he took the head coaching position with the Atlanta Falcons only to leave that job before his first season was even complete.  At Arkansas, he had AD Jeff Long help him fast-track the hiring of Petrino’s mistress into a position in the football program (Long apparently didn’t know Jessica Dorrell was seeing Petrino when he helped rush that hire).

When it comes to stabbed backs, Louisville AD Tom Jurich and former Petrino-employer Tuberville almost got knifed in 2003.  Falcons owner Arthur Blank got shivved in 2007.  Long took it in the back earlier this year.

If you were an AD would you pay attention to all those potential warning signs?  Or just to Petrino’s wildly successful run between the white lines?

Here’s betting some BCS-level athletic director out there chooses to overlook the negative in order to accentuate the positive and hire Petrino this offseason.  I never would have predicted such a fast rebound for the disgraced coach back in April, but the almost immediate disintegration of Arkansas’ program has made Petrino look all the more valuable.  Whether it should or not.



I would think any president or chancellor would stop any AD from hiring him for a head coach position in a BCS conference. However, if Petrino could see himself as an OC I wouldn't be surprised at all if that is the way he is "rehabilitated" to lose the "kryptonite" effect as a head coach.


U may see UK roll the dice on BP.....Maybe.


@MrSEC Either way, he is a winner and will be winning somewhere else soon. Bummer for us.


Thanks John. I knew this was coming, it was just a matter of when. Its sad in a way, but very predictable. 


I agree that someone, someday, in some BCS conference will give him another opportunity but unlike John L. Smith, I just don't think it's going to be in the SEC.


Almost sounds like a "Bob Knight" story, with the exception that Knight ran his program at Indiana in a clean, honest way.  His negitive side however showed others what getting under his skin was like, whether you were a player, fan, student,  alumni or the press. If you could put up with many of Knight's attics, the positive side were the results on the basketball floor.


We're finding out what an incredible coach he is. He really is the Saban of offense. Too bad how his life outside of the game couldn't be as precise and ordered...


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