Bobby Petrino: Why You Can't Blame Him
More than seven months have passed since Bobby Petrino left the Atlanta Falcons high and dry for the Arkansas Razorbacks, and he is still regarded as the Benedict Arnold of all sports.
Petrino left the Falcons with three games left in their shoddy 4-12 season to fill the vacancy in Fayetteville. ESPN and every other media outlet went out of their way to describe all the qualities Petrino didn't have: integrity, loyalty, heart, a soul, etc.
On Tuesday, Brent Musburger started his College Football Live interview with Petrino on Tuesday by calling him a “vagabond.” Not that what he did was ideal, but there are two sides to every story. When you look at the whole picture, Petrino didn't do things much differently than what any of us would have done in his situation.
Petrino has always looked to better himself. He basically traded for a slightly better job every other year since 1984, starting with a grad assistant at some school named Carroll. And yes, even when he stayed more than one year, he looked for other jobs.
Keep in mind he was looking to leave Louisville, a basketball school in the stepchild of BCS conferences. Any prestige Louisville might have today is primarily due to its success under him.
He interviewed for other jobs after each season with the Cardinals, but they were either for SEC teams or Notre Dame. Let's admit it: Louisville would not be able to pay what these schools could over the long term.
All of his moves have been upward, with the exception of his most recent one that cost him about $2 million per year. Supposedly the tradeoff is happiness.
Besides, who doesn't want a better job every year?
If the average American knew he had to bounce around from company to company to become the CEO somewhere, he would do it too. Sometimes that's just what it takes to be CEO. And the first CEO job isn't always the most ideal.
Someone is not married to a place because they have success there. If that were the case, Spurrier would still be at Duke, Tressel would be a Youngstown State, and Bobby Bowden would be at South Georgia College. Those guys just happened to hit their big job in fewer job hops.
Further, coaching searches are two-way streets. Nobody bashed the Atlanta Falcons for stealing Louisville's Orange Bowl-winning coach two years ago.
If his goal all along was to get to a bigger school than one in the Big East, then good for him. The guy is from Montana—Louisville fans couldn't have believed they were his last stop.
It seems like Louisville fans are most upset that he would interview for jobs, only to turn right around and hold a press conference to say he wasn't interested in them.
Sure, he might have pledged his loyalty to Louisville only to leave a year or two later, but should Louisville fans have wanted him to say anything else? How would telling the truth on that one have affected recruiting?
Bobby Petrino didn't belong in the NFL. With few exceptions, there are college coaches and there are NFL coaches; hardly any succeed at both levels. Petrino has no flair to his personality and is all business.
His style simply did not and would not mix with NFL players. The Falcons' play on the field was miserable, and his players were running their mouths about him before he fled to Fayetteville.
Petrino just realized he wasn't cut out for NFL sooner than the ones who went before him (Carroll, Spurrier, Saban, Davis). Now that it's time to gear up for the new season, Falcons players and fans should be thankful Petrino did what he did.
They aren't going to have to suffer through another woeful season just like last year's, and they won't have to fire Petrino and payoff a severance package.
The one thing Petrino did that cannot be defended is how he let the Falcons players know he was leaving. There was no meeting, and he didn't have to look anyone in the eye. He didn't even speak. He just put notes in their lockers.
That was about like breaking up with your girlfriend through email; some things you just have to man up and do in person. While leaving the note isn't defensible, we have to look at why he did it.
Besides the fact that he didn't want to face his players that already didn't like him, the pressure newly hired Arkansas AD Jeff Long must have put on him to get to Fayetteville cannot be underestimated. Long needed him there yesterday.
Odds are Petrino's new boss told him to get on that plane immediately and never look back if he wanted the job. This was Long's first assignment as the successor to Frank Broyles, who had been at Arkansas since the Eisenhower administration.
Long wasn't officially supposed to take over the AD duties until December 31, but the coaching search responsibilities fell on his shoulders since it only made sense.
Two weeks earlier, Houston Nutt had left his post at Arkansas during a press conference that can only be described as the most offensive dog and pony show in the state's history.
It appeared that Chancellor John White was the superidiot that asked Nutt to take a few million dollars with him to Oxford, but it wasn't totally clear. There were likely many more superidiots involved. The only thing that was clear was that everything related to Nutt's departure was fu jacked up.
To say that Arkansans were upset about the situation is like saying people in Kansas and Missouri are upset about some fire 150 years ago. Some Hog fans had been Nutt haters since his first loss.
Others were upset he was allowed to ride out the last season of the greatest football player in Arkansas history, only to underachieve and leave the cupboard bare. BARE.
Everyone was mad he was allowed to take a truckload of their money to a rival school. And this is from a fan base that is less than rational to start with. After Hog fans were upset about Nutt's departure, their pride kept taking hits when at least five coaches turned them down for the job.
After two weeks of being treated like the fat chick at the bar by the rest of the coaches in college football, Hog fans were restless.
Long couldn't wait any longer to announce who the new coach would be, or Arkansans would start picketing and holding all-night vigils at his house.
There was absolutely no way he could wait three more weeks for the Falcons season to end. And why would the Falcons want that? Their season was shot, and a lame duck head coach wouldn't do them any good for the last three weeks.
They ended up winning one of the last three games, better than they performed with Petrino at the helm. Also, for once, the players could all be on the same page: the one that hated Petrino. As mentioned above, Petrino simply left a year before they had to fire him.
To sum it all up, Petrino knew he wanted to go to the SEC, Long told him it had to be now, and he bolted for Arkansas. The sooner the better.
The parting shot everyone has with Petrino and Arkansas fans is always, “Who's he going to coach for next year?” The question is fair enough, and sadly can't be answered definitively.
A hunch would give him at least a few years at Fayetteville, but Arkansas fans shouldn't confuse their program with college football's most attractive. He's probably a few years from having the horsepower to win enough at Arkansas to be in high demand again, but even so, there will always be the chance he'll jump ship.
Fayetteville surely has potential to be a stepping stone program. If it happens, Arkansas fans should only hope to get what they paid for: enough success for someone else to keep it going.
Louisville was better off in 2007 than they were before Petrino arrived, and that's exactly what Hog fans should hope for when it happens.
Let's just hope they seek help negotiating the severance package.
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