OK, Auburn fans. It's time to have a serious conversation about one man named Robert "Bobby" Petrino. He has become the most divisive name among the Auburn fanbase in the last week, and that is while not being the head coach.
You all know the story. Last April, the former Arkansas head coach was fired after a motorcycle accident. On the bike with him was his administrative assistant and mistress, 25-year old Jessica Dorrell. Petrino was fired a little over a week after the accident for lying to Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long and hiring Dorell for the administrative position over nearly 160 other much more qualified applicants.
Petrino's exit from Arkansas confirmed what most people already thought of him. He has been seen negatively by college and pro football fans since he secretly met with Auburn officials in 2003 in the event Auburn fans have come to know as "jetgate."
Since then, he left Louisville for the NFL's Atlanta Falcons. With the Falcons mired in an awful season, Petrino left his team for Arkansas when the Hogs came calling in 2007.
Like him or not, he is a legitimate candidate for Auburn's top job. Bruce Feldman confirmed Petrino's candidacy on Wednesday night.
No one thought Auburn would come close to hiring Petrino because of the turbulent history between him and Auburn. Including myself.
Like Taylor Swift-level never RT @barrettsallee: Oh look, the Auburn/Petrino thing popped up again. Never going to happen.— Brett Mixon (@TrueBlueAU) November 6, 2012
This is a tender subject among Auburn fans, but it needs to be said. Petrino is the best option to be Auburn's next head coach. Auburn fans should jump on the Petrino bandwagon.
You will hear a lot of arguments about why Auburn shouldn't hire Petrino. It can be expected (well, maybe not now) that in the comment section below this article there will probably be a mention of one of the common anti-Petrino arguments.
They sound something like this, "Auburn can hire a better coach," "Petrino has never beaten Saban," "He has no loyalty!" and there will probably be mention of how hiring Petrino would go against the Auburn Creed. People will say that they will no longer support Auburn if it hires Petrino because of his actions in Fayetteville.
Let's address these arguments.
Can Auburn hire a better coach? There are certainly some big names out there. Jimbo Fisher? He would have been a good hire, but it's not happening. It's hard to trust coaches this time of year (or any time of year for that matter), but Fisher is saying the right things. He's also busy looking for a defensive coordinator.
Jeff Fisher of the St. Louis Rams? Stop it.
Yes, his son is on the team, but he has never coached a down as a head coach in college football. It would not be easy for Fisher to adjust to life where he is at the beck and call of an 18-year-old recruit 24 hours a day after having to only worry about football in the NFL.
Oh, and he's making $7 million a year. That's six zeros if you are counting. Auburn can afford an expensive coach, but it is not going to top $7 million.
Gus Malzahn? Why would Auburn bring someone back in that had as much to do with the lack of discipline problems around the Auburn program as Gene Chizik did? Malzahn would not bring the culture change that Auburn needs.
To go along with that, Malzahn only has one year of being a head coach under his belt. Auburn can't afford to gamble like that.
There are reports that TCU's Gary Patterson was on the list to succeed Gene Chizik. Patterson interviewed for the Auburn head coaching position in 2008 and Auburn officials did not come away impressed.
It was reported by Charles Goldberg of AL.com on Wednesday evening that Auburn had reached out to Louisville head coach Charlie Strong. Strong denied the reports adamantly (shocking!). Regardless, Strong would still be as much of a gamble as Malzahn. He has not proven himself as a head coach. Turning Louisville around is nice, but is that enough proof?
Another common complaint that is said about Auburn's possible hiring of Petrino is that he has never beaten Alabama head coach Nick Saban. Petrino came close while he was with Arkansas in 2011. The Razorbacks lost, 24-20.
But in the past two years, who has beaten Saban? Only two coaches have: Les Miles and Kevin Sumlin.
Petrino's offense did beat Saban in 2002. Auburn defeated Saban's LSU team, 31-7.
When it comes to the loyalty aspect for Petrino, there are legitimate concerns. He interviewed in private with Auburn officials in 2003 in his first year as Louisville's head coach. Four years later, he bolted from Louisville to coach the Atlanta Falcons, without even finishing a season in the NFL, he bolted for Arkansas.
There can be different viewpoints here. Some can call it a lack of loyalty, others can call it seeing a better opportunity (or fit) and jumping on the chance.
Petrino likely realized he wasn't cut out for the NFL after he had a chance to leave the Big East for an NFL head coaching position. The Falcons were 3-10 and had just been blown out when Petrino left Falcons players a note telling them he was leaving.
A chance to get back into the SEC was probably appealing at that time (and I say this as a Falcons fan).
The next anti-Petrino argument is my favorite. "You can throw the Auburn Creed away if Auburn hires Petrino!" Come on. Really?
The Auburn Creed is very special to anyone associated with Auburn, graduate or not. It is wise words to live by.
The creed does say that Auburn men and women believe in honesty and truthfulness. That is something that Petrino has lacked thus far in his life.
But isn't this a "practical world," and don't Auburn men and women also believe in "doing justly, loving mercy"?
To the Auburn fans that say they will not attend Auburn games if the university hires Petrino, I am sure there are plenty of other Auburn fans who would take your tickets to actually see a competitive game against Auburn's biggest rivals.
Auburn has been outscored 174-21 in its games against Georgia and Alabama the last two years.
It's been said that one thing that sets Auburn fans apart from other fans is that Auburn supporters don't just love Auburn football, they love Auburn. Auburn men and women should (and I think most would) support the school they love regardless of the man walking the sidelines for the football team.
Look. If Petrino is hired, it will be as divisive of a hire as Auburn has ever made. It's understandable. He's a polarizing figure. But one thing is a guarantee. Petrino will coach somewhere. Wherever he does coach, he will win. He's won at every stop he's been at, collegiately.
Petrino's overall record is 75-26 on the collegiate level. That's a little better than 5-19, isn't it?
Is he guaranteed to win big right away at Auburn? Of course not. But he is the safest bet to do so out of any potential candidates.
The one thing that unites a fanbase is winning. With Auburn at risk of falling behind in the SEC even further with the wrong hire, it can not afford to take a risk on an unproven up-and-comer coach right now.
If Petrino came in and asked for the same forgiveness that he did in this August 2012 interview with ESPN, Auburn fans would forgive him.
Auburn will undoubtedly take a PR hit for hiring Petrino. If any school can take a PR hit and survive, it's Auburn. Auburn's name has essentially been drug through the mud since November 2010. What's one more issue? Kevin Scarbinsky of The Birmingham News agrees:
Of course, the school would take a PR hit, but is there a program in America that’s survived more of those without suffering any real damage in recent years than Auburn?
Short answer: No.
When athletic director Jay Jacobs fired Chizik last Sunday, he said, "We will be guided by the benchmarks we expect in the leader of our program. Those benchmarks are a track record as a proven winner, a commitment to playing within the rules, and student-athlete academic success." (via Charles Goldberg, AL.com)
Petrino certainly fits the first two criteria very well. He has a collegiate winning percentage of 75 percent and has never had a bad track record with the NCAA.
When the lights come on in Jordan-Hare Stadium on Aug. 31, 2013, Auburn fans will want a football coach. A winning football coach.
One thing is a certainty. Whoever hires Petrino as its next head coach will get a better coach and person than the man who walked the Arkansas sideline in 2011. And that coach was pretty good. Petrino will be on a mission to redeem himself.
America loves a good comeback story, Auburn can be a part of that story if it wants. As each day passes, it appears that it wants to be a part of it.
That is why it's time for Auburn fans to jump on the Petrino bandwagon. There is still plenty of room.