Commentary

Petrino's been down this road before … and likely will again

Originally Published: December 11, 2007
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

In the coming days and weeks, the disingenuous drifter will say what Arkansas fans want to hear.

He'll look at them with blank shark eyes and tell them, in a monotone voice, how excited he is to be the coach of the Razorbacks. He will tell them how impressed he is by the tradition and the fan base. He will tell them that the Southeastern Conference is the place he always wanted to coach (and that might be the one true thing he'll say, given how many times he's tried to land a job in the league).

It will be a trumped-up stump speech, as sincere as a politician's pledge to cut taxes. It will simply be the latest pack of lies in a career full of them.

But it will be what Arkansas fans want to hear, and the poor saps will be desperate to believe him. During their arduous search to replace Houston Nutt, they've been used and abused by one-fourth of the coaches in the ACC -- first Butch Davis, then Tommy Bowden, then Jim Grobe. Auburn's Tommy Tuberville flirted for a minute as well.

So hiring a guy with a 41-9 college record will get the blood pumping. But those Arkansas fans ready to embrace their new hotshot coach and his pretty ball plays need to understand one thing:

[+] EnlargeBobby Petrino
Joe Robbins/US PresswireBobby Petrino gave Louisville fans plenty of reasons to smile by going 41-9 from 2003-06.

The disingenuous drifter doesn't love you or any other fan base. He doesn't love any school or any NFL franchise. He loves himself, his playbook and his bank account.

That's it. Don't expect it to change.

Bobby Petrino will return your embrace, Hog fans. But while he's hugging you he'll be looking over your shoulder, scanning the terrain for his next hook-up.

Even in a profession rife with dishonest posturing, Petrino is singularly mercenary. Loyalty, allegiance, commitment and honesty are foreign concepts to him. It must be a sad existence.

I apologize to Alabama's Nick Saban -- last year I named him president of the Liar's Club. He's been impeached and replaced by the disingenuous drifter.

Petrino's old boss at Louisville, Tom Jurich, took the high road when asked Tuesday night about the drifter's latest change of address.

"He's a great football coach," Jurich said, adding that he spoke to Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long about Petrino last week and "said nothing to discourage him" from hiring his old coach.

But Jurich did allow that he's "not totally surprised" Petrino would move on less than a year after leaving Louisville for a $24 million contract with the Atlanta Falcons.

"He's five for five," Jurich explained.

Petrino On Move

Bobby Petrino has been on the move for 15 years, with his four-year stint in Louisville the longest.

Year
Place
Role
1983CarrollGrad. asst.
1984Weber St.Grad. asst.
1985-86CarrollOff. coord./QB/WR
1987-88Weber St.WR/TE coach
1989IdahoQB coach
1990-91IdahoOff. coord./QB
1992-93Arizona St.QB coach
1994NevadaOff. coord./QB
1995-97Utah St.Off. coord./QB
1998LouisvilleOff. coord./QB
1999-2000Jacksonville (NFL)QB coach
2001Jacksonville (NFL)Off. coord.
2002AuburnOff. coord./QB
2003-2006LouisvilleHead coach
2007Atlanta (NFL)Head coach
2007ArkansasHead coach
What he meant: this is the fifth straight year Bobby Petrino has tried to get another job. Every single season he's been a head coach, he's ended it by pursuing something else.

Follow the grease stain that is the disingenuous drifter's career path:

• In 2003, his first year as a head coach at the University of Louisville, Petrino went behind the back of his employer and his onetime boss, Tuberville, to negotiate a deal replacing him at Auburn. He held a clandestine meeting across the Ohio River from Louisville in southern Indiana with Auburn officials, two days before both the Tigers and Cardinals played their final regular-season games.

It was, by any rendering, a spectacular bit of philandering by both interested parties.

Petrino lied about having any contact with Auburn officials -- until two reporters for The (Louisville) Courier-Journal confronted him with documentation of the private plane that brought the university president and athletic director into Petrino's backyard. I was one of the two reporters. And even when faced with the evidence, Petrino resisted telling the truth until Auburn issued a statement owning up to the whole affair.

Boxed into a corner, Petrino asked forgiveness and chalked it up to the inexperience of a "young coach." Louisville forgave him because he was 9-3 and his offense blew up scoreboards.

It wouldn't be the last time Petrino toyed with the school's loyalties, or the last time he was forgiven for doing so.

• In 2004, Petrino interviewed for the Notre Dame job and had discussions with Florida and Mississippi about their jobs. Then, on Dec. 7, he pledged his loyalty to Louisville.

"I want to make it clear that I'm not interested in any other coaching jobs, and am happy at the University of Louisville," Petrino said. "… I'm very excited about our move into the Big East, the opportunity to play in a BCS bowl game and the chance to compete for a national championship. [School president] Dr. James Ramsey and Tom Jurich, through their hard work and dedication, have made this the best job in the country. As I've stated before, Louisville is the perfect place to raise a family and I plan for all four of my children to graduate from high school in Louisville."

On Dec. 21, Petrino signed an enhanced contract to stay with the Cardinals.

On Dec. 26 -- well before the Petrino children had graduated from high school -- he interviewed with LSU to replace Saban. On Jan. 1, 2005, when it became obvious that he'd lost out to Les Miles, Petrino pulled out of consideration.

On the inside, several Louisville administrators were disappointed they had to keep him. They were sick of the game -- but there was no firing a guy who just went 12-1.

[+] EnlargeBobby Petrino
Rex Brown/Getty ImagesBobby Petrino lost more games (10) in a partial NFL season than he did in four full seasons as a college head coach.

• In 2005, Petrino interviewed with the Oakland Raiders. That's after telling people for years that he had no interest in coaching the pros -- college was where he wanted to be. He ultimately turned down the job and professed his commitment to the Cardinals again.

• On July 13, 2006, Petrino signed a 10-year contract worth up to $25 million -- a staggering deal for a school of Louisville's modest football heritage and fan base. The day he signed it, Petrino vowed again that Louisville was home. He made a point of insisting that a $1 million buyout provision be put into the contract, putting his money where his dissembling mouth is.

"We did want to make a statement," the disingenuous drifter said that day about the buyout. "… I wanted to make sure everyone understood -- I know I've said it -- that this is where I want to be, where my family wants to be. But I want everyone to really believe it."

Sure, he wanted everyone to believe it. Not because it was true, of course. Just because he was tired of answering questions about his wandering eye.

Five months later, he was gone to Atlanta.

Even this time around, there have been recent pronouncements of commitment to the task at hand and the people who write his checks.

On Nov. 26, Petrino told the Associated Press that he was staying in Atlanta. "I haven't given it [college coaching vacancies] one bit of thought," he said.

Shockingly, that didn't hold up, either.

Early in his career, Rick Pitino was famously called Larry Brown on training wheels. Petrino isn't Larry Brown on training wheels; he's Larry Brown in a Maserati.

The good news for Arkansas is that it might be the last school willing to give this guy anything more than what he deserves: a one-year contract and a monitoring device on his ankle. The NFL certainly will never give him another chance as a head coach, not after fleeing with three games left in the season and undercutting an owner like Arthur Blank. And every college in the country should know by now how fickle Petrino can be.

Even in what appears to be a major rebuilding year for the Hogs in 2008, I predict Petrino will do better than expected. He's that good as a coach -- for my money, the best offensive game-planner and tactician since Steve Spurrier's heyday at Florida. That will be a welcome dynamic at a school that struggled to diversify its offense beyond Darren McFadden and Felix Jones the past two years.

But a little success can be a dangerous thing. It might tempt some deluded and desperate school to offer Bobby Petrino a job -- and that's a temptation the disingenuous drifter is powerless to resist.

Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.