Bobby Petrino: Offensive Genius, Manipulator, or Misunderstood?

John StevensCorrespondent IJuly 10, 2008

The latest subject of national sports media bashing in college football has been Bobby Petrino. The former Louisville and Atlanta Falcons Head Coach has been called "genius" and "disingenuous" almost in the same sentence.

Petrino, after bringing Louisville to the forefront of college football with a victory in a BCS Bowl over Wake Forest, was offered what many of us could not refuse, a multimillion dollar offer to become the Head Coach of the Atlanta Falcons.

Petrino's AD at Louisville, Tom Jurich, after signing him to a 10 year, $1.6 million per year contract, even said publicly that he expected Petrino to ignore other offers "unless it was by the New England Patriots for $10 million."

The worst fears of Jurich and Louisville came true when Arthur Blank, the owner of the Atlanta Falcons, came calling at Petrino's doorstep with an open checkbook and a five year deal worth $24 million, or just under five million per year.

Petrino, being a family man, saw this an opportunity to fulfill two goals at one time. The accomplishment of a lifelong dream to be a head coach at the NFL level and to provide instant and permanent financial security for his family. He did what many of us would have done and left for Atlanta.

Going to Atlanta, Petrino expected to have Michael Vick as the guy who pulled the trigger on the Atlanta offense. Petrino felt that with his innovative offensive style and unpredictable play calling, coupled with the proper utilization of Vick and other offensive weapons on the team, that he could boost Atlanta's offensive performance and return Atlanta to the playoffs.

What he didn't know going in, and what might have been kept from him, was just how serious the legal situation was with Michael Vick. It turned out that his multi-million dollar superstar quarterback, who also had the proverbial five cent head, would not see the field under Petrino.

Petrino also found that he was still dealing with kids, but kids who were now millionaires. In the past, all he had to do was tell college kids what he wanted them to do, and they did it.

Some former NFL Head Coaches have stated that they not only had to tell players what to do, but they also had to sit down with each of them, give the players personal attention, and explain why they wanted them to do it. Sometimes they had to deal with players arguing with them about it. It is possible, given the situation in Atlanta, that Petrino may have experienced this as well.

It sounds a lot like dealing with spoiled rich kids. Much more difficult than college football. More than likely, he didn't receive the respect that a head coach in the NFL deserves.

It is said that at some point, Petrino had gone to Blank and his GM and expressed a possible desire to move back to the college ranks in coaching. It is also said that Blank and his GM agreed that if that day should ever come, all Petrino needed to do was let them know and that would be fine with them. They would work it out.

That day did come and it is rumored that both Blank and his GM didn't recall the previous conversation. Petrino found himself between a rock and a hard spot. His family was overwhelmingly unhappy being in Atlanta and being a family man, this also made him unhappy.

He was dealing with overpaid, spoiled NFL players who thought they knew what was better for the team than he did. He had also been deprived of the one offensive weapon that might have helped him make the Falcons a success. Had he known the truth of Vick's situation before agreeing to join the Falcons, perhaps he might have stayed at Louisville.

Given his situation, Petrino knew he had to do something for his sake and the sake of his family. If he felt that Blank and his GM would oppose any move he made to leave the Falcons, it could be assumed that he felt he had no other choice. When the job at Arkansas came available, he jumped at the opportunity.

His agent negotiated with Arkansas and in a short time, Petrino, taking a major annual pay cut of about $2 million a year, bolted for the friendly confines of Fayetteville and the University of Arkansas.

None of us really know the truth of how things transpired in regard to Petrino's exit from Atlanta. It is said he only left a letter of explanation for his team. If the relationship between the Head Coach and the players at Atlanta was as bad as it has been rumored to be, one might understand if that is what truly occurred.

As for his departure from Louisville, I cannot blame Petrino for leaving, though he was maligned by their fan base for doing so. They felt betrayed. He had signed a 10 year agreement and had indicated that is where he wanted to stay. Given what he was offered to move to the Falcons, it might have been difficult for anyone to turn that down. Sadly, the Louisville fans didn't embrace the distance that Petrino had brought them. They only knew that he was leaving. It would seem that the truth was that he was leaving for what he thought was a considerably better opportunity for he and his family.

Who among us can blame a man for acting on their lifelong dream and for what he felt was best for his family? It is difficult to begrudge a man for making a quality decision for his family. Atlanta turned out to be a nightmare instead of the fulfillment of a lifelong dream, so he left there as well.

Many would say that leaving with three games remaining was in bad taste. I would disagree. The Falcons were not going to make the playoffs even if they won their last three games. Leaving when he did, he gave Blank plenty of time to interview and hire a new head coach before they had to begin thinking about the draft.

Additionally, the Arkansas position was only going to be open for a limited amount of time and Petrino had to act quickly. He wanted to make the move back to coaching in college football. His decisiveness was to the benefit of everyone, even though Blank would say differently.

Bobby Petrino and his family now make their home in Fayetteville, Arkansas and from all reports are relieved to be back in a college setting. They have indicated that this is the atmosphere in which they not only belong, but that they love.

Petrino has been denigrated as being self serving and I see this as being completely off course. If any of us had the opportunity in our fields to increase our pay, to the benefit of our families, to nearly three times what we had been previously earning and to reach what we considered to be the pinnacle of success in our career fields, who would turn that down? The answer, no one.

We would all do that. He did, and it blew up in his face. That is the chance that any of us take in changing jobs. But to say that the man has been disingenuous or simply self serving, is to be simple minded.

Bobby Petrino will be an overwhelming success at Arkansas. He will reunite the fan base that has been somewhat divided during the last of the Nutt years. Arkansas will become a dominant force in the SEC for the first time since they joined the conference. Many SEC coaches will probably wish that Petrino had succeeded with the Falcons.

Petrino has been greatly misunderstood and greatly maligned. I predict that he will be vindicated during his run at Arkansas.

That is just my view.....from outside the boundaries.