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Petrino to stay at Louisville after secret Auburn interview

Posted: Wednesday November 26, 2003 12:59PM; Updated: Wednesday November 26, 2003 3:07PM
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AUBURN, Ala. (AP) -- Auburn President William Walker and other university officials interviewed Louisville coach Bobby Petrino two nights before the Iron Bowl, flying to Kentucky on a plane owned by trustee Bobby Lowder's company. As word of the secretive visit drew fire Wednesday, Petrino announced he was staying at Louisville.

Walker made the trip without telling Louisville's president or athletic director and without telling Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville his job was in jeopardy. In a statement Tuesday night disclosing the meeting with Petrino, Walker said he had made no decision on whether to retain or fire Tuberville.

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Auburn completed a disappointing 7-5 regular season with last Saturday's 28-23 victory over Alabama. Speculation about Tuberville's job began after back-to-back losses to Mississippi and Georgia before the Iron Bowl.

Walker said Petrino had "been mentioned as a candidate for the job should it become available. I have made no decision and am considering my options. This visit was a part of that process."

Petrino said Wednesday he was staying put, but admitted he "probably made a mistake" in denying to Louisville officials that he had any contact with Auburn.

"This is the job I want, and this is where I'm going to stay," Petrino said. He said Auburn did not offer him the job.

Louisville men's basketball coach Rick Pitino was forgiving of Petrino and chalked the football coach's actions up to inexperience.

"I know Bobby said he made a mistake," Pitino said Wednesday afternoon. "It's a great lesson for him for the rest of his life on what not to do.

"He made a mistake. So all of us who have made thousands of mistakes realize this was a mistake from inexperience. ... Nobody in this town and none of us should cast any stones at him."

Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich said he was "very disappointed" that Auburn officials visited Petrino without requesting permission to speak with his coach.

"I can never envision myself thinking that any president of any university would fly in and talk to a football coach, especially without contacting at least our president or myself," Jurich said in a news conference Wednesday. "I really deem this a terrible misfortune for everybody."

Petrino was Auburn's offensive coordinator last season, leaving to take the Louisville job.

Walker did not immediately return a phone message left with his office by The Associated Press.

Newspapers reported Tuesday night that Walker and athletic director David Housel flew on a jet owned by Lowder's Colonial Bank to Louisville last Thursday evening for a meeting with Petrino. They were accompanied by Earlon McWhorter, president pro tem of the board of trustees, and trustee Byron Franklin, a former Auburn and NFL receiver.

The disclosure that the four made the trip prior to the Iron Bowl game against Auburn's state rival -- and without telling Tuberville his job was in jeopardy -- came after newspaper columns blasted Auburn officials for leaving the Tiger coach in limbo despite the upbeat victory over Alabama.

Gov. Bob Riley, chairman of Auburn's Board of Trustees, said Wednesday the revelation was "embarrassing" to the university and called for an apology to Louisville.

"It is also difficult for me to understand why I, as chairman of the Auburn board, was not informed that a search process for a new head football coach had begun, especially considering the fact that the promised meeting with Coach Tuberville had not yet taken place," Riley said in a statement. "The manner in which this situation has been handled is embarrassing to Auburn University."

Walker said the meeting was arranged by a search firm assisting in his decision-making process.

"I am continuing to evaluate the football program, my goals for that program and options that may be available to me and Auburn University," Walker said.

He and Housel have indicated they plan to meet with Tuberville early next week. The university would have to pay the coach $4 million under a five-year contract he signed in February.

Petrino signed a five-year deal with a base salary of $450,000, plus up to $250,000 in incentives. He has led the Cardinals to an 8-3 record entering their regular-season finale Friday at Cincinnati.

Petrino came to Auburn from the Jacksonville Jaguars, where he was the quarterbacks coach from 1999-2001.

Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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