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SI.com college football writer Stewart Mandel shares his commentary, analysis and random tidbits on the latest developments around the country.
1/07/2007 10:40:00 PM

Petrino deserts Louisville

Steve Kragthorpe
Tulsa coach Steve Kragthorpe previously worked with current Louisville AD Tom Jurich when both were at Northern Arizona.
Bob Rosato/SI
PARADISE VALLEY, Ariz. -- What a glorious week this has been for the football coaching profession. First, Nick Saban and now Bobby Petrino have taught us if you're a good-enough coach, you'll be rewarded handsomely -- even while proving you're about as trustworthy as a 20-year-old used car.

I suppose by now I shouldn't be surprised by any coaching move, nevertheless Petrino bolting Louisville for the Atlanta Falcons, seeing as Petrino has entertained at least one offer from another suitor every year since taking over the Cardinals (Auburn in 2003, LSU and Notre Dame in '04, the Oakland Raiders in '05 and now the Falcons). But I have to admit, I was naïve enough to think that after signing a 10-year, $25 million extension last summer -- a staggering amount of money for a program only a couple years removed from Conference USA -- Petrino would take his name off the market for at least a couple years.

I thought Petrino would be somewhat grateful to Louisville AD Tom Jurich, who not only emptied the bank for him but did it despite having every reason to doubt Petrino's loyalty. Or to Cardinals fans whose patience he knows he's tested every nearly offseason. But all of that apparently went out the window upon the opportunity to double his salary -- not to mention coach Michael Vick. Petrino didn't bother to tell Jurich this was even a possibility until Sunday morning. He had also previously told people around the program that he didn't want to coach in the pros. Rrrright.

From a professional standpoint, it's hard to fault Petrino for making the move. He turned down a similarly lucrative offer from Raiders owner Al Davis a year earlier because ... well, would you want to work for Al Davis? This time, he has the chance to go work for one of the NFL's most respected owners, Arthur Blank, and coach a playoff contender.

The Falcons, for their part, just struck gold. A couple years back, I did a feature called the "Offensive Revolution" that prominently featured Petrino's offense. Though the other coaches I dissected in that piece (Urban Meyer, Mike Leach, Chris Petersen and Steve Spurrier) are all tremendous offensive minds, I considered Petrino to be at the very top of the list due to the way he mixed the spread with traditional, power running. He posted a top-10 offense all four years there. As a college follower, it's disappointing to see him go -- though I'm sure at this point, most Louisville fans are ready to say good riddance.

Petrino didn't flat-out lie to the public like Saban did. Instead, he offered the typical platitudes ("This is where my family wants to be. This is where I want to be," he said at the time of the extension), which of course he only meant until the next "place he wanted to be" came open.

But here's the difference between Saban and Petrino: For all the fuss it created, Saban's departure from the Dolphins was fairly harmless. He left behind a 6-10 team that may well be better off under whoever the franchise hires next. Petrino's departure, on the other hand, could not possibly come at a worst time for Louisville's upstart program.

Had Petrino remained the coach and both Brian Brohm and Michael Bush returned for another year, the Cardinals, coming off a 12-1 season and Orange Bowl victory, would have been prime contenders for next year's national championship. Jurich has less than a week to hire Petrino's replacement if the Cardinals have any hope of retaining the pair. "We're going to move quickly in hiring our next coach to keep our momentum going," Jurich said in a statement Sunday night.

Jurich is one of the savviest ADs in the country - and lord knows he's had time to prepare for this. Expect him to tab Tulsa coach Steve Kragthorpe, another renowned offensive mind who Jurich knows well, within a matter of days. Kragthorpe was the offensive coordinator at Northern Arizona in the early '90s when Jurich was athletics director there.

I'd be surprised, however, if Kragthorpe's hiring is enough to convince Brohm to come back. (Bush is a different story because of his health status).

Long-term, Louisville will be just fine. The school now has the resources in place that, with the right coach, like Kragthorpe, there's no reason it won't remain one of the Big East's top programs -- and therefore a regular BCS contender -- for years to come.

But opportunities like the one the Cardinals face next season don't come around too often. Two home-grown and, by then, healthy Heisman contenders (Bush and Brohm) teamed up with Petrino? It would have been a perfect storm.

Apparently, it was also too good to be true.
posted by sidotcom | View comments |


Posted: 11:40 PM   by Anonymous
I'm not quite sure how you can argue that Saban flat out lied while Petrino did not. I don't believe either one lied, because they likely meant what they said when they said it, but essentially, Saban said I am not coaching at Alabama, and later took the job, while Petrino said "I will be at Louisville for the Long haul" and then left shortly thereafter. I don;t believe either is an outright lie, but you cannot call one a lie and not the other.
Posted: 11:43 PM   by Anonymous
Bobby Petrino's a flake and this should really come as no suprise to anyone. Being a supporter of a Big East rival, his offense has been one that scares me -- it's very good. He was lucky to have such great talent running his offense. A college team needs more than X's and O's, though. He seemed to be too much of a politician. Perhaps they will get a coach that can bring a more loyal presence to the program (and perhaps a less cheezy smile). I really cannot stand Louisville, but I also think that Bobby Petrino had a lot to do with that. I don't have a bad thing to say about any of the players. Good riddance, Coach.
Posted: 12:27 AM   by Anonymous
You guys in the media are just digging for any story. I thought you were supposed to REPORT the news, not create it. I also thought this is America and capitalism at it's best. It's a simple case of supply and demand. Stop hating on these guys for making some money. What would you do if you were in their shoes?
Also, leave Coach Saban alone already. What is he supposed to say while he is coaching Miami..."Yes, I'm interested in the Bama job, but in case that doesn't work out I'll still have this job. Stop being idiots and use your head. You haven't lied to your employer while looking for another job? If you haven't then I must say you are one of the lucky few and privileged.
Bottom line here in America, we all have the right to choose where we work. So stop whining and start reporting!
Posted: 1:12 AM   by Anonymous
As a Falcons fan, count me amoung those who welcome Coach Petrino with open arms.

Michael Vick has been hampered for the last 3 years in an unimaginative system run by the worst playcaller in the NFL. He's been asked to play a style that runs counter to his gifts.

It's no question why his best season as a starter was his first. Phil Simms said when Atlanta drafted Vick, that Dan Reeves' offense was tailor made for Vick. Playaction, down the field passing.

Now, Petrino is going to spread the field, put Vick in the shotgun (because the Atlanta O-line is the worst pass blocking unit in the NFL), and allow Vick to roll the pocket and run when he needs to, not because he has to, like he did frequently under Greg Knapp's inept offensive scheme.

Petrino will also get coaches who can teach the Falcon's wideouts how to get some seperation to get open, and maybe how to hold onto the ball.

Vick takes a lot of crap, but I'd like to see how Peyton Manning would have done behind an O-Line which is a sieve and with recievers who dropped more passes than any other unit in the NFL.

The only thing Petrino has to do is hire an defensive coordinator who will 1) make our soft as marshmallow defense hard hitters and 2) bring some discipline to the Virginia Tech delinquents like DeAngelo Hall who leads the league in personal fouls and trash talking.

I suggest someone from the Bears or Ravens staffs.

Great day for Falcons fans.
Posted: 1:57 AM   by Anonymous
I am not trying to defend Coach Saban or Coach Petrino, but what else can a coach do until he knows for certain that he is going to have a better opportunity else where. Is it not about making the best you can of your abilities? If coach Petrino had told the recruits and players that he could bolt any day, obviously his team would not be in this great a position now. So I don't think there is a right way for coaches to move on to other jobs. Imagine what we would do if we each of us are courted by other companies publicly and we are still making up our minds! Could each of these coaches handled it a little bit better, absolutely, but at the end of the day, they had to do what is best for their family.

Unless we know the individual on a close personal level, and know all the circumstances, let us not make judgements on them. BTW, I am a Florida Gator and so I have no vested interest in my comments. Go Gators!
Posted: 4:41 AM   by Anonymous
If anyone can get something out of Vick it's Petrino. He's one of the top college offensive minds and sure to get a top flight OCor to help him along. Actually, now that I think about it, it wouldn't surprise me to have him get a better defensive guy and leave the OCor job to himself. Maybe Singletary jumps from my beloved Niners to take this job? Does Rex Ryan take it if OAK doesn't give him the head job? Dom Capers maybe?
Posted: 5:16 AM   by Don
Petrino & Saban as lying sons of B's. Ummm, yes.

Problem is you're not looking at the other side of the story, the one which Mike Shula and Mike Sherman could tell you. One bad year and you're outta here.

Nick Saban was one bad year from being fired. Look at the Dolphins. Say Jason Taylor retires and neither QB improves in 2007. A 4-12 record isn't unthinkable. Hell, a 2-14 record isn't unthinkable! What happens then? Nick Saban is fired, of course he is!

Where is Saban then? First thing is that nobody is going to be offering $4.5 mil a year over 8-10 years to a man coming off a 2-14 record. He'll be lucky to score a coordinators job in the NFL at maybe 800K or perhaps a head coach job at a lesser Big Ten or SEC program - like Ron Zook did.

I think Saban was legitimately torn by this - for a while. But when 'Bama piled enough money and security on the table - he'd have been a fool to turn it down.

Petrino was another matter. He's done very well, but expectations are sky high at Louisville now after 12-1. Can he keep the talent coming? It's the Big East, not the Big Ten or the SEC. I suspect that 8-4 is more like a typical Louisville year - even with Petrino coaching. Will that be good enough? Probably. But this is an ambitious young coach - and 8-4 at Louisville is not the peak of the profession.

Look at it this way. Nobody would blame Kragthorpe from leaving Tulsa for a bigger job elsewhere. Petrino is probably midway along the line from Tulsa to (say) Florida. He's moving up. Atlanta is a team with some potential and a good owner. It's a smart move.
Posted: 6:14 AM   by Anonymous
People, Saban & Petrino have no loyalty at all. They are ego maniacs chasing the most money they can get. Is that capitalism? You bet it is. Does this happen with pro players every day that undermines the efforts we see displayed on the field. You bet it does. The only thing I personally am looking for is a thing called loyalty. Never, Never, Never will you here these money baggers talk about loyalty. They will spin things with talk like "what is best for my family" because that is the only thing they can say. How can anyone challenge that comment. I had a guy working for me steal, lie and cheat and when confronted he said he had no choice because he had to feed his family. He was also a christian which made everything okay. There are some serious issues with ethics, character and loyalty in our society today. You look at a guy like coach Les Miles who flys under the Radar because he is sincere and does stand by his word. He is not as polish as Saban and Petrino. But when you have taken their Kool Aid and survived your much more aware of the ways of the world. I see no difference in Saban, Petrino, Rev. Taggart, Swaggert, most politicians in Washington and a whole slew of others. Louisville will be much better off then watching all the lies every year. Louisville fans, just ask LSU fans, there is life after a liar money bagger.
Posted: 7:07 AM   by Anonymous
Where, oh where is the righteous indignation from the sports media regarding this decision? Is the lack of media hoopla around Coach Petrino's decision basically saying, "It's ok. The guy didn't lie, he just changed his mind." Wow! A person can do that? Just change their mind without media persecution? Well, scratch my back with a hacksaw. Too bad the double standard only applies when going from college to pro and not the other way around.
Posted: 8:23 AM   by Anonymous
Why is your argument so one sided? How many Universities have fired Coaches even though they have recently signed long term extensions, or were still under the terms of their initial contract but had a losing season? I think coaches are showing about as much loyalty as the universities are showing to them. And the NFL teams are certainly no better.

As far as lying to reporters, having seen them in action with the military, I have to say that talking to a reporter is like kissing a snake. I feel absolutely no responsibility to tell the truth to those snakes, so why should coaches? If you don't like it then clean up your own profession. You guys have been lying to the public whenever is supports your agenda. How many of your collegues have lied about a confidential, or inside, source to support what they think really happened. You guys are as bad a cop planting evidence and you should be held responsible too.
Posted: 8:55 AM   by JW
Petrino knows that UL may have a few rebuilding years in the near future, and I guess he wanted to take the money instead of waiting to see what was behind curtain number 2. Greed has a way of making loyalty something you can get a walmart. Not to worry, he'll come tumbling back to college soon enough.
Posted: 9:42 AM   by J.D. Bolick
As someone who can't stand the Falcons, I'm ok with it. Petrino would be scary as an OC under a veteran head coach, but I think he'll be a disaster at running an NFL team due to his personality and "leadership" style. Of all the moves Atlanta could have made, aside from hiring someone out of a bed & breakfast, this one sits with me the best.
Posted: 10:27 AM   by Anonymous
I think technically Saban "lied", not because he knew he was coming to Alabama, but because he did not know one way or the other. A better answer to the reporter's persistence would have been "all questions about my employment should be directed to my employer." He boxed himself in. But what if after the Miami season he was fired? Does this now mean he is free from his previous declaration? Most would say yes and some would say no. Circumstances sometime change. Would you call your daughter a liar if she called off her engagement?
Posted: 10:44 AM   by Mysterious
It shows a complete lack of professionalism, character & respect in my opinion. If you have no intention of staying somewhere for 10 years don't sign the long term contract, you sign a short one, and you don't screw around the school who made you the offer and more importantly the kids who played their heart out for you. This is just another reason for me to hate Atlanta next year. I hope Petrino is an utter bust in Atlanta.
Posted: 10:59 AM   by Anonymous
This is just the usual rant of all the sports writers out there. Be they from the College Football or the Pros !!

Every NFL sports writer were (and still are) deriding ex-Falcon Head Coach Jim Mora for saying that "his dream job would be to coach Washington -- his alma mater" -- a joke in Mora's words. I also read one article in which the writer claimed that this gaffe could possibly have been the "last nail in the coffin" for Jim Mora at Atlanta.

So then, if a coach says he wants to bolt -- he could lose his current job, if he keeps mum and then bolts, he is a liar !!

Pick a side -- you sports writers!!
What the hell is a coach supposed to do??
Posted: 11:06 AM   by Anonymous
While your article makes some good points, it misses the point that coaching loyalty is a two way street. Schools are quick to pull the plug on coaches who have brought success and then faulter but when coaches bring success and move on everyone is up in arms. as a Cards fan who sat through plenty of beatings for much of the 1980's, I'll take a disloyal Bobby Petrino any day over a loyal Ron Cooper. And just remember, had John L. Smith not bolted for Michigan State minutes before a bowl game, Petrino never would have uttered the name Louisville. That little bit of dis-loyalty was described the same way as Petrino's and turned out quite well for the Cardinals. Life goes on.
Posted: 11:12 AM   by Anonymous
While your article makes decent points, it fails to acknowledge that dis-loyalty is a two way street. A successful coach this year with a ten year contract can be fired in two years if he faulters, like Larry coker who brought Miami a national title and should have had a second. As a Cards fan who watched plenty of crappy football in the 80's, I will take a less than loyal Bobby Petrino any day over a loyal Ron Cooper. And remember, were it not for John L. Smith's dis-loyalty in bolting for Michigan State minutes before a bowl games, Bobby Petrino would have never uttered the name Louisville. That bit of dis-loyalty worked out quite well for the Cardinals. Life goes on.
Posted: 11:58 AM   by Anonymous
I don't think you can compare, at all, the way Petrino left Louisville vs the way Saban left the Dolphins. Petrino was able to do it in matter of days, whereas Saban had to deal with it for weeks. Had Petrino had the time, or if Alabama had waited for their coaching change until after their bowl game, the situation would have been reversed.

Nevertheless, a coaching change under any circumstances can be challenging for those involved. The media really needs to be more dual-sided when discussing the apparrent lack of virtues in these men's lives.
Posted: 1:18 PM   by Anonymous
Stewart Mandel is a good writer and I respect him...but I doubt SI was his first job. Like all of us, he bolstered his resume and moved up in the world.

That's why I always have a problem with the media taking guys like Petrino to task when they lave one opportunity behind for a greater one. I mean, really- who would rather be coaching Louisville than the Atlanta Falcons?

And it's not like Louisville has ever been too loyal to fire an underachieving coach.
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