'The Snake' and 'The Sweater': Is Bobby Petrino a 'snake', or the most misrepresented coach in college football?
This week, a B/R contributor named Richard Chambers published an article entitled "Bobby Petrino calls out the Big Ten".
This article created a bit of a stir amongst both Arkansas and Ohio State fans who regularly read B/R, myself among them. There were no shortage of terse replies from both sides.
Mr. Chambers' article focused on a comment made by Bobby Petrino during Monday's Razorback Touchdown Club meeting in Little Rock. When asked about his blue print for winning a National Championship by MC David Bazzel, Petrino responded, "well, first we have to get to Atlanta (the SEC Championship Game), and win there. Then, history suggests you draw one of those slow schools from up north in the national championship, and you beat them." Naturally, the crowd in Little Rock ate this up. However, it wasn't the first time Petrino has made similar comments. He responded to a similar question in the same fashion around 2008.
Coaches taking shots at other schools/conferences is nothing new. In fact, it's practically expected, particularly when addressing an assembled crowd of fans and boosters in your teams state capital the week before the season begins. It's par for the course.
Mr. Chambers' response, however, was anything but normal. The article seemed to suggest he had taken Petrino's comments to be directed not only squarely at Ohio State, but perhaps even at him, if the vitriol was any indication. You are of course welcome to find his piece somewhere below, and decide for yourself.
I'm not going to take any shots at Mr. Chambers, or Ohio State, or the Big Ten. I do, however, intend to do my best to set the record straight. Some of the facts about Arkansas, the state of the Razorback program, and Bobby Petrino himself were well...sort of left out.
ARKANSAS RAZORBACK FOOTBALL: A BRIEF (RECENT) HISTORY
Hey, buddy. Enjoyed your post. Thanks for the highly entertaining read. I have to admit, however, I was a bit confused by several of your suggestions and comments, so I thought I'd write back to perhaps clear a few things up. If I'm wrong, maybe you can set me straight.
Reading your article, I had the distinct impression that either you have Arkansas confused with a different team, or perhaps your post was severely delayed. Maybe by several years, even. I mean no offense, but you seemed to have a lot of facts and theories wrong.
To be honest, I don't think it's your fault. In fact, I'll take it on the chin: it's ours.
See, what most people outside of Arkansas don't realize, or have forgotten (perhaps conveniently...) is this: for 10 years, between 1998 and 2007, the Arkansas Razorback football program was held hostage by a monkey with a whistle named Houston Dale Nutt (Nutt is currently head coach of the Ole Miss Black Bear General Ackbar Rebels). Richard, believe me when I tell you, this is no claim to fame, and a period in our history that most of us hope to one day forget. I, however, hope we carry this dark period in our memories for as long as we shall live, in the hopes that we may never be forced to relive such a tragic era.
Nutt joined Arkansas near the end of a tumultuous decade for the program. What was once a proud program with a winning tradition under coaches like Ken Hatfield and Lou Holtz, had fallen on hard times. To many Hog fans, Nutt seemed like a savior, putting together two stellar seasons in 1998 and 1999 - albeit with his predecessor Danny Ford's players - and narrowly missing a shot at an SEC Championship both years. However, the honeymoon was short lived. The following years where riddled with heartbreak, disappointment, and even scandal.
When Nutt was finally cut loose by incoming Athletic Director Jeff Long in 2007 (that's another story...), he was the longest tenured coach in NCAA D-I football to have no attended a BCS bowl. He was the only coach to put together back-to-back losing seasons in Arkansas' history. Following his firing by Arkansas, Nutt accepted the job as head coach at Ole Miss, an SEC West Division rival. This did not sit well with most Razorback fans. In reality, we could not have been handed a better gift.
The national (and even some local) media, apparently oblivious to the facts, and incapable of using Google, decried this as a mistake, declaring firing Houston Nutt would set the program back 10 years. Ironically, Nutt had already accomplished that on his own. In fact, the Houston Nutt era, that had begun with so much promise, had in many ways actually set the program back much further than that.
ENTER BOBBY PETRINO
On December 11, 2007, Bobby Petrino was hired as the next head coach of the Arkansas Razorback football team. Before the Razorback faithful had even finished their first "Woo Pig Sooie!", the controversy outside of Arkansas had already begun.
Petrino, who left the Atlanta Falcons to take the job at Arkansas, was immediately grilled by seemingly every sports reporter in the country. Rumors swirled that Petrino, who had left with 3 games remaining in the NFL season, had not even spoken to his players. He was called a 'snake' by more than one so-called expert. His character and integrity was questioned at every turn.
Ironically, these same experts never mentioned that Arthur Blank, the owner of the Falcons, had no issues with firing head coach Dan Reeves with 3 games left the previous season. But for Petrino to make the decision himself...the treachery!
Nor did they care to acknowledge that things where far from well in Atlanta. Starting Quarterback Michael Vick was being indicted on federal racketeering chargers for his involvement in a dog fighting ring. Falcons players made a spectacle of themselves on Monday Night Football weeks prior to Petrino's resignation, flashing shirts under their jersey's for the camera's that read, "FREE VICK!". Petrino himself had problems getting the attention of the players in the locker room, and several of them took him to task in the media. But this was all easily swept under the rug.
To Razorback fans, the only thing Petrino seemed to have really done wrong in the eyes of the National Media was ... become the head coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks.
Much of the commentary regarding Petrino seemed to be directed at Arkansas and Arkansas fans. One ESPN analyst remarked on live television, "don't let your kids play for Bobby Petrino at Arkansas...". A class move, to be sure. Many said, "he'll be gone as soon as the first 'big school' job opens up. Arkansas was not, apparently, a 'big enough' school.
Analysts said, "you can't recruit at Arkansas." They claimed, "you can't get it done there. It will never happen." Ironically, at the same time these claims where being made and assertions being leveled, these same analysts where claiming Arkansas made a mistake in firing Houston Nutt, claiming it was Nutt who would ... "get it done at Arkansas."
Hopefully, the ill logic of this is not lost on you.
In Petrino's first season at Arkansas, playing with a team largely made up Nutt recruits and starting 16 True Freshmen, Arkansas finished 5-7. Disappointing to say the least. But something was different.
The following year, 2009, Arkansas finished 8-5, nearly picking off then #1 Florida on the road, losing 23-20, in what was one of the most controversial games of the year. Even Terrel Owen's Tweeted during the game, "Arkansas gettin' robbed! The ref's are cheating!" In fact, the following week, the entire officiating crew from that game was suspended indefinitely. Maybe this game wasn't televised in Big Ten country? I can't be sure. What I am sure of is that the Razorbacks had turned a corner ... with a coach that 'couldn't get it done'.
In 2010, Arkansas entered the season with a pre-season ranking of #17 - the highest pre-season ranking the team had enjoyed in nearly 2 decades. They would finish the season with a loss to Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl. It was a loss, yes. But it was also a game played by one team that shouldn't have been there (Ohio State - or, at least, 5 of their players) and another team that only 2 years prior, the media said couldn't get there. Arkansas only losses in 2010 came to teams who had been ranked #1 at one point in the season.
On a side note, Ole Miss finished 4-7, failing to reach a bowl game, and only winning 1 conference game.
Following the season, Arkansas signed a $4.56 million dollar contract extension with the "snake" who would "leave at the first chance he got for a 'bigger school'", that included a staggering $18 million buy out. Interestingly, it was Petrino who insisted on the large buy out. It was time to quiet the doubters as to his loyalty. Apparently, the media was wrong about Petrino again.
So what's next? Well, much of your article, and much of the debate it spawned, centered on the direction of the program - a program that you and several of those who replied seemed to know little about. To be fair, why would you? As I have pointed out, Arkansas had been mired in mediocrity for 10 years. Not much for you to read, I guess. But it would seem appropriate to do some research before calling someone out in a public forum, even one such at Bleacher Report. All indications are that you didn't take this all important step.
The breakdown is this: The direction of the program is a full 180 degrees from where it was only 4 years ago. Arkansas enters the season ranked #12, with many calling Arkansas a dark horse contender for the National Title (oh how quickly things change). Petrino is locked up for at least 7 more years, and all indications are he intends to stay well beyond that. The impression I have of Bobby Petrino is this: the media ridicule only drove him harder to accomplish what they said he couldn't do, and build a champion where they said he couldn't, not where they said it would be easy. Maybe that's lost on a lot of our generation. It's sad, really.
Forgive me, I said I wouldn't take shots at Ohio State, but, it's only fair. They claim it should be "easy"...a big name school, a huge recruiting base, a long tradition, etc., but they had to cheat to get a shot to play Arkansas. Arkansas, and Bobby Petrino...who they called a snake. With players they said wouldn't come to Arkansas...to play for a school that they said wouldn't ever make it to a BCS bowl. At least not, that is, under Bobby Petrino. They should have kept that Nutt guy.
So, I have to ask...and hey, if you can't be honest with the rest of the B/R readers, at least be honest with yourself, given the rest of the story (and man, I promise, that's really only a piece of it, believe it or not ... ), and considering the new track record...do you really still believe Arkansas is a loser of a program?
The season starts in three days. You will all soon find out. We are all witnesses.