SI.com college football writer Stewart Mandel shares his commentary, analysis and random tidbits on the latest developments around the country.
12/11/2007 09:04:00 PM
Arkansas: Know What You're Getting Into
From the outset, almost everything that could go wrong for Bobby Petrino in Atlanta did.
There is much cause for celebration in Arkansas tonight. Eleven months of tested patience -- of star quarterbacks transferring and offensive coordinators resigning, of nasty e-mails and leaked cell-phone records, of one high-profile coaching rejection after another -- seem to have reaped a significant reward.
Jilted by Tommy Bowden, left at the altar by Jim Grobe, the Razorbacks wound up pulling off an even bigger coup, stealing away renowned former Louisville coach Bobby Petrino from the Atlanta Falcons.
Far be it from me to temper a party, but I just want to make sure Hogs fans are aware of what exactly they're getting:
· An offensive genius. Petrino's Louisville teams scored in bunches, and with good reason: He was one of the greatest offensive minds in the game, feared by opponents and revered by none other than Steve Spurrier himself. By mixing the new-fangled spread offense with traditional power-I football, he was able to churn out both highly efficient passers and bruising running backs.
With star tailbacks Darren McFadden and Felix Jones likely headed to the NFL and the ever-erratic Casey Dick returning at quarterback, Petrino won't have the horses to hang 40-plus every week immediately but will almost certainly challenge SEC defenses once he does.
That is, if he stays there long enough …
· A perennial flight risk. The word "loyalty" is not exactly a part of Petrino's vocabulary. In less than a year's time, Petrino has walked out on a Louisville team just days removed from the greatest season in school history and a Falcons team that still had three games remaining. He was paid handsomely by both employers (Louisville had given him a 10-year, $25 million contract extension just months earlier; Atlanta was paying him nearly $5 million a year) and worked for unabashedly supportive bosses (Louisville AD Tom Jurich and Falcons owner Arthur Blank).
But Louisville never seemed to be quite good enough for Petrino (he flirted with Auburn, LSU and the Oakland Raiders in previous seasons), and his franchise quarterback in Atlanta just got sentenced to 23 months in jail. Something will invariably come up at Arkansas, right around the same time something better comes along.
· An ineffective (or, quite possibly, non-existent) disciplinarian. As Louisville's disastrous 6-6 season played out this year, some unsavory details began to emerge about the way Petrino ran his program. New coach Steve Kragthorpe dealt with a litany of off-the-field issues that his predecessor either overlooked, or possibly covered up, involving some bad seeds he recruited.
· A "mumbler." I wish there was a more eloquent way to describe it, but that pretty much sums up Petrino's personality. A classic "mad scientist" type, Petrino falls on the exact opposite end of the spectrum from Houston Nutt in terms of oratory skills. King's NFL source described the coach as "one of the worst communicators in pro sports," and I'd believe it.
Don't expect any fiery speeches to rev up the boosters on the rubber-chicken circuit. Expect more than a few clashes with the local media to whom he'll refuse to cater. Petrino got away with all that at Louisville, where fans were thrilled just to be going to bowl games every year, but having dealt with Petrino on numerous occasions, I can tell you he's about as natural a fit in the ever-rabid SEC as Dennis Miller was on Monday Night Football.
That doesn't mean Petrino won't win a lot of games. I respect his coaching abilities enough to practically guarantee he will, even in the ultra-competitive SEC (which now has nine head coaches who have led teams to BCS bowl games).
But I can also predict with nearly the same certainty that he'll eventually wear out his welcome in Fayetteville -- though it's likely he will have already jumped ship by then.