Bobby Petrino is back at Louisville, the brilliant offensive mind's first big-time job after being shown the door following the scandal at Arkansas. The heavily critiqued coach is working to put together a staff and has already met with his players, and now, the hard part starts.
The coach wrapped up an intro presser in which he called Louisville "home" and acknowledged mistakes, as WHAS' Adam Lefkoe relayed, and he is now ready to hit the ground running. Although there will still be plenty of talk about Petrino deserving another high-level job, the fact is he is the coach at U of L, and with a buyout ESPN's Brett McMurphy reports is $10 million, odds are he is not going anywhere.
Petrino has work to do, and his job will not be easy.
The obvious impediment will be on the recruiting trail, where coaches seeking to gain ground will fight against Petrino every step of the way. That means recruiters getting to moms and talking about the affair that went ugly and public at Louisville. That means recruiters getting to dads and talking about the cold, calculated lying that Petrino conducted even while suffering multiple injuries from the motorcycle accident.
That is going to happen all over ACC country and in any living room where Louisville is in a battle for a desirable player.
However, Petrino is going to point to his track record on the field, his buyout and promise to be a changed man. Something some people may not want to hear, but the fact is when he is putting a kid in position to get to the next level better than other coaches can, Louisville will land some talent.
No, the hard part will not be fighting the negative recruiting; it will be fighting Petrino's own recruiting. There exists an allure to Petrino that plays well with quarterbacks and pass-catchers. Even running backs, like 2003's Rivals 4-star monster, Michael Bush, can be pulled into the mix with Petrino's offensive skill.
It's the other positions that are going to be a problem for Petrino. At Arkansas, under the umbrella of the SEC, the head coach was able to rope in some highly touted offensive and defensive linemen and a few high-caliber defenders. Yet, it was never the consistent recruiting effort that would lead to a stocked cupboard in Fayetteville.
Under Charlie Strong, Louisville made tremendous inroads into Florida and operated around the Southeast, pulling quality players into the program. Not just at the quarterback position, where Teddy Bridgewater came up from Miami, but all over the field, pushing to improve the team's total talent level.
Now, the onus will be on Petrino to not allow that foundation to erode. Continuing to edify the base that Strong erected will be the hardest part of Petrino's job. This Louisville roster is filled with guys from Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Illinois, in addition to the Ohio and Kentucky kids. The guys from further states made a decision, a choice to follow Strong out of their comfort zone.
For Petrino, the goal has to be sustaining that stream of talented, determined individuals. That means bringing in talent and, as Strong worked to do before him, developing those players—on both sides of the ball.
The world knows Petrino will get the max out of his quarterback, his running backs will produce, he'll make the offensive line's job easy and he'll turn wide receivers into stars. He has also gotten by with "just enough" defense. As talented players depart the program, maintaining the high watermark for success set by Strong and defensive coordinator Vance Bedford must be a key point for Petrino's soon-to-be-assembled staff.
Louisville has a complete football team right now, powered from the bottom up. This is not merely an offensive genius pulling strings, using smoke and mirrors to score points and gloss over the other issues. The Cardinals are complete. They want to stay complete. They want to build on the solid foundation.
It's time for the hard work to start; let's see if Bobby Petrino can keep it rolling.
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