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Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Bobby Petrino, all is forgiven

Posted Monday, November 28, 2011, at 3:36 PM

I am using my monthly editorial column space to make a public announcement: Bobby Petrino, all is forgiven.

When I moved to Arkansas two years ago, it would have been easy for me to become an instant Razorback's fanatic. After all, I had always followed the Hogs, and usually rooted for them, since I had family here and visited often.

The problem was, I moved here from Louisville, Kentucky, and have been a long-time University of Louisville fan. AND Bobby Petrino, the brilliant coach who did U of L wrong, is, of course, Arkansas' head coach (until he gets a wild hair to move on).

Petrino spent 20 years as an assistant coach, gaining the reputation as an offensive genius.

In 2003, after stops at eight colleges and the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars, Petrino finally stepped up to become head coach at the University of Louisville.

He produced nearly instant results. While U of L was on the rise during Coach John L. Smith's tenure, the Cardinals went on tear under Petrino. 41 wins and just nine defeats in four seasons, and yearly bowl games, culminating in a 12 and 1 record in 2006 and a victory in the Orange Bowl.

Recent history? Let's just say U of L football hasn't been the same since Petrino left.

While Petrino professed to love Louisville, his supportive Athletic Director, Tom Jurich, and saw a bright future at U of L, he always had a wondering eye.

Before the end of his first season at Louisville (2003), Petrino interviewed secretly with Auburn, and, since Auburn still had a coach under contract and no opening, Petrino publically denied (lied) he had spoken with that school.

After the 2004 season, Petrino received a contract extension raising his salarly at U of L to a guaranteed $1 million a year. Then, a week later, interviewed with Louisiana State. Not the kind of behavior that made Jurich or a sports crazy town happy.

In 2005, the usual 'Petrino's getting offers, will he leave?' stories appeared.

In the spring of 2006, Petrino listened as the Oakland Raiders offered him a four-year $20 million deal to run their show.

Tired of the yearly headaches, Jurich told Petrino to decide, once and for all, whether he wanted to be U of L's coach or not.

The result was Petrino's decision to stay. "For me and my family, Louisville is home," Petrino said in accepting a new 10 year contract worth at least $25.5 million. Petrino even insisted on a $1 million dollar buyout clause in the contract to send a message to other schools and professional teams that he was in Louisville to stay.

Less than five months later, Petrino was gone, signing a five year $24 million deal to coach the Atlanta Falcons. 11 months later, Petrino fled the Falcons' nest, bailing out during a disasterous Michael Vick-less season with three games still left in the season. He left a note in players' lockers - "bye guys,"

Petrino, of course, returned to the college ranks, replacing Houston McNutt as coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks.

People in Louisville got a big laugh out of Petrino's claim he expected to be very happy in Fayetteville, and have a long and successful run with the Hogs.

The Louisville Courier-Journal ran a big head and shoulders photograph of Petrino wearing a U of L cap, with an Atlanta Falcons cap on top of it and a Razorbacks cap on top of it - a commentary on a man who should be on top of the world, but didn't seem happy anywhere.

Working in television news in Louisville, I always felt sorry for Petrino when I saw him at a news conference or public event.

Unlike U of L's gregarious basketball coach, Rick Pitino, who never met a person he wasn't anxious to talk to or a hand he didn't want to shake, Petrino is happiest in a dark room looking at tape or directing his players in a walled off football complex, far away from the public.

But, love or hate his personality or his wanderlust, I am here to proclaim that Bobby Petrino is a great leader and a master at getting the best of his players and building a better team, seemingly every year.

And SURPRISE...four years later, Petrino is still a Razorback. His 33 win, 16 loss record includes two years of re-building. The last two years, the Hogs are 20 and 4. Fans are excited, happy, and going Hog Wild.

Maybe the man has found inner peace and happiness in Fayetteville. Maybe he has simply grown up. Maybe he's enjoying being the state's highest paid public employee, or is just letting his stock rise before taking yet another "last, best job."

Whatever, I've decided to forgive Petrino's past transgressions, appreciate his talent and enjoy the ride.

Bobby Petrino, all is forgiven.

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I used to call this blog "Stranger In Town" but time goes by quickly. After a year in these parts, I realize people will still say, 'he's from off' but I now proudly claim I am a "Stranger No More"! After a lifetime in living in big cities, small town life has produced surprises, good and bad but, after more than a year, I love it (most of the time!). I promise to keep on writing about stuff that interests me and things I think of to complain about. I hope you will continue to check in occasionally to read and comment.