In an interview aired on ESPN’s Sports Center on Thursday former Arkansas Razorback head coach Bobby Petrino began taking the first steps towards coming back to college football by publically admitting he was wrong and apologizing for his actions.
The interview was conducted by a soft spoken Joe Schad in Petrino’s home state of Montana. The camera was tight on Petrino’s face throughout the interview keeping the backdrop of the interview out of focus.
From the camera angles to the framing, all ESPN wanted was a close up on the man who “lost his dream job” by committing immoral actions leading up to his April 10th firing. The obvious expectation was to fully capture any expression or emotion let loose by the offensive genius.
Petrino’s back story in football is not complicated or unheard of, a small town high school quarterback plays college ball at a small university (Carroll College), and immediately begins coaching college football once his playing days are finished.
Starting as a graduate assistant at Carroll College in 1983 Petrino quickly worked his way up the college ladder to his first offensive coordinating position by 1985 before taking over as quarterback coach at Arizona State in 1992.
Short stops at University of Nevada, Utah State, and Louisville (1998 offensive coordinator) turned into an opportunity as a quarterback coach with the Jacksonville Jaguars by 1999 with a promotion to offensive coordinator by 2001.
One season as an offensive coordinator at Auburn turned into a head coaching position at Louisville from 2003 through 2006.
During his stint with the Cardinals most college football fans began to take notice of Petrino. His 20 year track of working his way to the top one offensive position after another led him to finally become a head coach of a major Division-I program.
Once at Louisville it did not take long for college football fans, pundits, and media outlets to quickly label him an offensive genius for the schemes he was running. After four years with the Cardinals, Petrino had compiled a record of 41-9 never finishing a season with less than 9 wins and even winning 12 games in 2006.
One abbreviated season as head coach of the Atlanta Falcons began Petrino’s public downfall into a thought liar and cheat. All of this, by and large, came about because he left Louisville to become a head coach with the Falcons after signing an extended contract and then left the Falcons with three games remaining in the season to become the head coach at Arkansas.
After a rocky 5-7 first season in 2008 with a depleted Razorback squad, Petrino got the gunslinger he needed under center when Ryan Mallett transferred to Arkansas.
For two seasons Ryan Mallett transformed from a raw talent with a rocket for an arm to a quality quarterback winning big games. In the process Arkansas went from a notorious running team under former head coach Houston Nutt to a wide open offensive attack.
The other obvious distinction during this time is the change in the Razorbacks’ program on the national level. For years Arkansas was always a mid-level SEC team that would win a couple of games they should not win each year and lose a couple they should not have lost in those same seasons.
College football seasons at Arkansas under Houston Nutt was a predictable rollercoaster ride, two good years followed by two bad years; for further proof see his similar results while serving as head coach at Ole Miss.
The transformation under Petrino was night and day. No longer would Arkansas lose to teams that they were predicted to beat but they were also beating teams predicted to beat them. Petrino had coached and recruited his way into one of the top 10 college football coaches in the nation.
Even more amazing about Petrino’s accomplishments is he did all of this while coaching in not only the toughest conference in college football but also the toughest division in college football, the SEC West.
Of the last six college football championships won four teams have come out of the SEC West (LSU, Alabama, and Auburn) with the other two coming from the SEC East (Florida).
Petrino’s only nemesis on the field during his tenure at Arkansas was Alabama head coach Nick Saban. In four seasons Arkansas and Petrino could not crack the Bama code laid out by Saban.
Not only had Petrino broken the SEC spell laid out before his arrival but he also broke the bowl game curse that has haunted Razorback Nation since the Lou Holtz era. In 10 seasons under Nutt Arkansas went bowling six times winning two of those games (1999 and 2003).
With Petrino as head coach of the Hogs Arkansas went bowling three out of four years winning two of those games (2009 and 2011) with their first appearance in a BCS game (2010 Sugar Bowl vs. Ohio State).
2012 was supposed to be the turning point not only for a rabid Arkansas fan base put also the time when Petrino was to reach the pinnacle of his coaching career but something happened April 1, along a rural Arkansas road to change everything.
In what has become a well publicized national scandal Bobby Petrino got into a motorcycle accident with his mistress riding along on that April Fool’s Day. More importantly for the University of Arkansas, his mistress was a current employee of the university. A fact of the situation Petrino tried to initially lie about but came clean a couple of days later.
On April 10, after being put on administrative leave during Arkansas’ investigation of the incident and during the middle of Arkansas’ spring football practices Bobby Petrino was fired as head coach at Arkansas by Athletic Director Jeff Long for his actions stemming from his affair with Jessica Dorrell.
Since his dismissal as head coach very little has been spoken about Petrino as he has kept himself out of the public spotlight. Until recently the only talk concerning Petrino centered upon the impact the Razorbacks would feel on the field in 2012 without their former head coach.
By the end of July Petrino reached out to Arkansas starting quarterback Tyler Wilson and couple of other players on the team to apologize directly to them for his actions. Little was made public of the conversations except for Petrino’s remorse and regret over what had transpired.
On Thursday August 9, Petrino went public with his apology on ESPN, the sports news network that is the center of all sports media in the U.S. Petrino’s apology does little for Arkansas’ 2012 college football season but does wonders for Petrino’s career going forward.
Despite all of the negative media attention given to Petrino, ironically by ESPN, some major Division-I program will hire Petrino come December or January. The only question that remains is what team?
During Petrino’s interview he expressed remorse for “drifting away from what was important, family” and admitting that “there was no justification, no excuse, for hiring her (Jessica Dorrell), and no good answers” for what happened. He went on to admit that he “was not thinking correctly” and openly “takes responsibility for his actions.”
Petrino even admits that he “lost his dream job” (Arkansas).
The reputation Petrino had coming to Arkansas after leaving Louisville and Atlanta was not great by the way of rumors and innuendos. One can hope that he has learned his lesson. Maybe the embarrassment he caused not only to himself and the University of Arkansas but to his wife Becky and his four children will be enough to permanently change his behavior going forward?
Throughout the interview Petrino was red-eyed with a clinched jaw and tight lips. A man that built his reputation as a hard ass on the field finally broke on camera and started crying. This is not something easily done by a “tough guy” from Montana that comes from an era when men do not openly express their emotions.
Heart felt and true emotions? Seemed to be honest and true.
Will he be forgiven? Yes, as soon as someone hires him and he starts doing what he does best, winning football games.
Where will Petrino Land?
Petrino ended his time at Arkansas with a 34-17 record including finishing the last two seasons with a combined record of 21-5 on the college football mean streets of the SEC West. Any school within a power conference with a position to fill will be in contention… including another SEC school.
Razorback Nation can only hope that Petrino does end up back in the SEC but two positions in the East maybe open by seasons end, Kentucky and Tennessee.
If the rumors coming out of Louisville about Petrino are true University of Kentucky administrators have to be aware. If the stories, true or false, are not too bad coupled with his actions at Arkansas, Pitino and Petrino could make interesting bed fellows (pun intended) for the Wildcats.
Some UK fans have already started the petition for Petrino!
Derek Dooley has as many wins (11) in two seasons in Knoxville as Petrino had all of last year. Since the Vols dismissed Philip Fulmer after a 10-win season in 2007 the UT program has not been the same.
Despite the fact that Tennessee has played hard for Dooley during his losing seasons and the amount of injuries Dooley has had to overcome, Vols fans will not tolerate another bowl-less season coming out of a division that is up for grabs since Urban Myer left Gainesville.
Other possible choices:
University of California
Texas is on the board because many think Mack Brown’s best days have passed. Texas missed a bowl game in 2011 for the first time since many of my readers were born.
Mark Richt was on the hot seat this time last year and managed a 10-win season after starting the year with two losses (Boise State and South Carolina). He also finished the season with two losses (LSU and Michigan State).
Bulldog fans were happy with a SEC Championship Game berth but they are far and away from one of the top teams in the nation or in the SEC. If Georgia tanks this year, which will be hard to do with their soft schedule, Richt could be gone.
TCU is mentioned only as a possibility of Gary Patterson leaving Fort Worth for greener pastures. Should another high end coaching position open up Patterson will more than likely be on the short list.
Why not Arkansas?
After a one-year “death sentence”, of sorts, administered by Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long would it be out of the realm of possibility for Arkansas to get back into bed with Petrino?
Current Arkansas head coach John L. Smith is on an eight month contract that expires at the end of the season. The Razorbacks will need an immediate impact guy as their next head coach. An up and coming guy could set the program back 5-10 years.
The possibilities of Arkansas hiring Petrino have to be on the lower end of the scales but not without mentioning. Petrino still has a lot of fans among the Razorback Nation faithful. There is even a Facebook page devoted to his rehiring.
Arkansas may take an initial media hit for hiring him but the bottom line is he wins and that is what college athletics is all about. Petrino was punished for his actions, he’s taken ownership of his immoral transgressions, and somewhere along the line fans would forgive him for what has transpired; a redemption story for the ages.
Plus Petrino would not have to hire a whole new staff or steal away coaches from Arkansas’ current staff to complete at his new school.
If Arkansas does not come up with a homerun hire look for this to be a real possibility come December or January.
Some Arkansas fans have started a Facebook petition of their own with a lot more support than UK.