Is Bobby Petrino's Offensive Brilliance Making People Forget Transgressions?

Barrett Sallee@BarrettSalleeSEC Football Lead WriterNovember 17, 2016

Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino
Louisville head coach Bobby PetrinoGrant Halverson/Getty Images

Four years ago, Bobby Petrino was a lost cause.

An outcast.

A bad apple who, while a brilliant offensive mind, couldn't be trusted to run his own life, much less a football program.

Arkansas abruptly dismissed him as head coach in April 2012 after he crashed his motorcycle with his mistress—a student who he hired as student-athlete development coordinator—on board, and subsequently covering up his impropriety to athletics director Jeff Long.

Now, he's nearly on top of the college football world.

A one-year stint at Western Kentucky was all Louisville athletics director Tom Jurich needed to hire his onetime coach (2003-2006) back with a program that was freshly minted as one of the newest members of the ACC.

That combination, coupled with the presence of Heisman Trophy front-runner Lamar Jackson at quarterback, has Petrino near the top of the college football world. His Cardinals sit fifth in the College Football Playoff rankings, lead highlight shows nearly every week thanks to Jackson's "Michael Vick-like" skills through the air and on the ground, and have become a budding national power.

Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino (left) and QB Lamar Jackson (right)
Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino (left) and QB Lamar Jackson (right)Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Is that enough for athletics directors around the country to forget Petrino's past and make him a hot name on the coaching circuit?

For some, but not all potential suitors. 

"There will be people who will be considering hiring him," one Power Five athletics director told Bleacher Report. "Winning is important and people are quick to forgive. There will be schools whose fanbases will forgive and/or forget what he's done, and want to hire him."

LSU is already open and is considering interim head coach Ed Orgeron, Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher, North Carolina head coach Larry Fedora, Houston head coach Tom Herman and Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy, according to James Smith of NOLA.com

Texas and Oregon could open up soon, and there will be plenty more Power Five jobs based on how the major dominoes fall.

Would any of those administrations willingly take a massive public relations hit for a coach with known character flaws and a startling lack of loyalty that has resulted in two separate one-year stints at head coaching jobs—headlined by his midseason departure from the Atlanta Falcons to Arkansas in December 2007?

"It's like voters with Donald Trump. Some of the things he said bugged people and for some, it didn't," said former Colorado, Washington and UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel, who co-hosts Full Ride on SiriusXM College Sports Nation. "It's kind of a conversation where you choose your moral compass [as an AD]."

Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino while at Arkansas in 2011
Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino while at Arkansas in 2011Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

It's not worth it.

It's not worth the risk of getting burned again by a guy who not only had the issue that cost him his job at Arkansas and the midnight bailout from Atlanta to Fayetteville, but also interviewed for the Auburn job in 2003 despite Tommy Tuberville still being employed by the school at the time.

It's not worth taking on excess personal baggage for a brilliant offensive mind when comparable offensive minds like Herman, Fisher, Gundy, Fedora and countless others could potentially be on the market and carrying on their light luggage rather than checking it and weighing down the whole airplane.

Louisville AD Tom Jurich (left) and head coach Bobby Petrino (right)
Louisville AD Tom Jurich (left) and head coach Bobby Petrino (right)Andy Lyons/Getty Images

What's more, if he bails on Louisville, he would be bailing on the one Power Five athletics director—Jurich— who was willing to overlook his previous transgressions and give him a second chance at major college football success.

"He can't leave Louisville. He really can't," an athletics director told Bleacher Report. "Tom gave him a chance that nobody else would consider giving him because he knew him. If he were to leave there now, it would say a lot about him."

Bailing on Jurich would indicate the same character flaw that existed before is still present.

"That would make it very difficult for him to recruit, given what people can say about his loyalty," Neuheisel said. "Therein lies the rub. When you're recruiting—and obviously the reason they're great right now is because they got Lamar Jackson—it is Jimmy's and Joe's and not just X's and O's.

"He has to weigh that. 'If I leave Tom Jurich for another without his blessing, what are the coaches in my new conference going to say about me when they're recruiting kids?' In his current scenario, the guy who knows him best is the guy who hired him."

Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino
Louisville head coach Bobby PetrinoBillie Weiss/Getty Images

Plus, why would Petrino want to leave?

If Louisville doesn't make the College Football Playoff this year, it won't be due to a weak conference, lack of a name brand or a glass ceiling that is impossible to break through. It would be because Louisville didn't get the job done at Clemson, plain and simple.

That's on Petrino.

He'd have the momentum generated from being in the national championship race to sell on the recruiting trail, at least one more year of Jackson—who is a true sophomore this year—at quarterback and would be in a division that will be without Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, who plans on entering the 2017 NFL draft.

Plus, at this point, isn't Louisville a good enough job?

"If I'm advising Petrino," Neuheisel explained, "I'd say, 'Look, you're within an eyelash of making the College Football Playoff. If you continue to recruit and continue to build the infrastructure, there's no reason why you can't be Florida State or Clemson in terms of your ability to recruit. And if that's the case, you have a better chance to win that league than you do in the SEC.' And that's the only other league I think he fits in."

Petrino's no dummy.

He's perfect for Louisville, and Louisville is perfect for him.


Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics courtesy of cfbstats unless otherwise noted. All recruiting information is courtesy of Scout. Odds provided by Odds Shark.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.