They say when the going gets tough, the tough get going. Whoever "they" are, they're right—at least when it comes to Bobby Petrino. Petrino's "getting going" all right—going all the way to the state of Arkansas to return to college coaching, without even bothering to see his first NFL season all the way through.
Petrino is the epitome of a tuck-tail-and-run type of guy, and if the Atlanta Falcons hadn't been set back far enough with the Michael Vick saga, these latest developments have caused the franchise to take another step backward. For all intents and purposes, the events of the last six months have left the Falcons as nothing more than an expansion franchise.
Petrino swore up and down he had no interest in leaving the Falcons or heading back to college, despite the suspicions of many. He told team owner Arthur Blank numerous times that he was in it for the long haul. In fact, as late as Monday Petrino looked Blank in the eye and told him he was in Atlanta for the long haul, with no desire to head back to the amateur ranks. Everyone harps on Vick for lying to Blank, but what about Petrino doing the same? Wanting to follow your heart and get back into the college game in and of itself may not be all that offensive of an act in and of itself. However, considering the circumstances surrounding this decision, one can't help but think Petrino was just looking for an escape hatch—and found one at Arkansas.
Petrino came to Atlanta expecting to have the chance to coach Michael Vick and tailor an offense to his young quarterback's amazing athletic gifts. But we all know how that turned out. The loss of Vick began the derailment of this train formerly known as an NFL franchise. Since Vick's departure, Petrino has had numerous run-ins with veteran players. He has antagonized these players to the point where he has turned many of them off, forcing Petrino to recognize his lack of power over them—something he wasn't too happy about. While Petrino never actually clashed with the media, his relationship—as expected—wasn't a bed of roses either. His team was losing, he was playing musical chairs at quarterback while getting nothing out of it, and his supposed area of expertise (offense) had produced one of the most wretched and anemic units in the entire league. However, he's an upstanding man, right? He's going to see this on through and tackle the rebuilding process head-on, right? Wrong. He's going to tuck tail and run, taking the easy way out of Dodge.
Atlanta can look at this as a positive development. For all the reasons mentioned above, perhaps Petrino wasn't the right man for the job. His handling of the veterans, his ridiculous decision to cut Grady Jackson, his unexplained roster moves—such as deactivating Pro Bowl lineman Kynan Forney last week—and some questionable playcalling have left many Falcons fans unendeared with him. So, it's not like the city is weeping over the loss of Petrino—not at all. Most fans will hardly miss him and actually may be glad he's gone as the franchise starts anew in 2008.
What's discouraging, though, is the manner in which he left, which showed poor character on his part. But what's more discouraging was his phasing out of the veterans on this team, only to bolt himself. But therein lies the silver lining: Hopefully, the new guy Blank brings in will be able to win over veterans such as Milloy, Crumpler, Hall, and Brooking. Petrino's exit may mean there won't be an exit for some of the Falcons stalwarts who were likely to leave, or be asked to leave, in the offseason.
But for the time being, it doesn't seem things can get much worse in Atlanta...well, unless they hire Chan Gailey.