Petrino eager to help elevate Falcons' passing game

Updated: January 8, 2007, 6:46 PM ET
Associated Press

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Bobby Petrino will have an impact on Michael Vick and the Falcons. Just ask team owner Arthur Blank.

Blank sees Petrino, who was hired away from the University of Louisville, "as a difference-maker."

"Bobby knows how to motivate," Blank said Monday. "He knows how to teach. He knows how to get the best out of his athletes. ... He'll push Michael Vick to higher levels."

"I think the No. 1 thing that drew my interest was Rich [McKay] being here. I was able to see the commitment that has been made here. I believe this is truly the best football job in the NFL. It was an easy decision for me."
-- Bobby Petrino

The Falcons, first in the league in rushing but last in passing, ranked 25th in scoring in their disappointing 7-9 season that cost third-year coach Jim Mora his job.

Vick made history this season as the first quarterback to rush for 1,000 yards. He also passed for a career-high 20 touchdowns, but his 13 interceptions, 52.7 completion percentage and 75.7 quarterback rating were indicators he had not made satisfactory progress as a passer.

Petrino, 45, polished his reputation as a top offensive coach in four seasons as Louisville's head coach. His 41-9 record included a 12-1 mark and No. 5 national ranking this season. The Cardinals ranked fourth in the nation in scoring and second in total yards.

After three years with Mora, who came to Atlanta with a background in defense, general manager Rich McKay and Blank agreed it was time to bring in a coach whose specialty is offense.

Falcons hire new offensive coordinator
Atlanta Falcons
ATLANTA -- Wasting no time in starting to assemble his staff, new Atlanta Falcons coach Bobby Petrino has hired Hue Jackson as his offensive coordinator.

Jackson, 41, served as the Cincinnati Bengals wide receivers coach the past three seasons.

Petrino said Monday, during his introductory press conference, that he will call the plays, just as he did during his four years as the Louisville head coach. Jackson, though, figures to have considerable input into game preparation and, as coordinator, will interact with quarterback Michael Vick.

The communication with and handling of Vick will be a key as the new Atlanta staff attempts to make him as effective as possible. Sources said that Vick would have preferred that any new head coach retained the current Atlanta quarterbacks coach Bill Musgrave, as offensive coordinator.

The Atlanta offensive coordinator for the past three seasons was the much-maligned Greg Knapp.

It is not known if Petrino has targeted any other assistant coaches for his first NFL staff. Falcons brass is expected to make suggestions from members of the current staff, but Petrino has control over the composition of his assistants.

Petrino and Jackson were on the same staff together at Arizona State from 1992-93 and the two have remained close friends.

Jackson began his pro coaching career with the London franchise of the NFL Europe League in 1991. He was the offensive coordinator on Steve Spurrier's staff with the Washington Redskins in 2003, then joined the Cincinnati staff in 2004. He has also served on four college staffs.

-- Len Pasquarelli

McKay and Blank spoke with other candidates but moved quickly on Petrino, making the hire Sunday -- the same day they had their first contact with the coach.

McKay said a provision of the agreement on a five-year, $24 million deal is Petrino will pay his $1 million buyout from his Louisville contract.

"I was certainly committed to the University of Louisville and staying there," Petrino said. "I did not go out and seek any other jobs and did not go make a phone call to any NFL teams, and then this came up."

Upon being introduced as Falcons coach, Petrino was hit with so many questions about Vick and his plans for the quarterback that finally he declared, "Michael Vick is our starting quarterback today. There's no question about that."

"This is my first day on the job," added Petrino, who said he had not yet talked with Vick. "I'm really looking forward to getting to know him and watching him and developing and working at it. We haven't been able to get out on the field yet. We haven't been able to get in the video room yet. But I know he's a great quarterback and a great competitor."

McKay said he was looking for more than a new quarterbacks coach for Vick when he recommended hiring Petrino.

"I really believe you don't go into it saying you've got to hire the right coach who fits one player, because that player could get hurt," McKay said.

Petrino called the hiring a "whirlwind" process. He said he had calls about other NFL jobs but "immediately told them no."

"I think the No. 1 thing that drew my interest was Rich being here," Petrino said. "I was able to see the commitment that has been made here. I believe this is truly the best football job in the NFL. It was an easy decision for me."

Petrino was quarterbacks coach for two years (1999-2000) and offensive coordinator in 2001 with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Mark Brunell, another left-handed quarterback, threw for 3,640 yards in 2000 and 3,309 yards in 2001.

While with Jacksonville, Petrino became familiar with McKay, then the general manager in Tampa Bay. McKay said he tried to hire Petrino as offensive coordinator for the Buccaneers in 2001, when Petrino left the Jaguars to become the offensive coordinator at Auburn.

But Petrino's knowledge of McKay did not bring immediate familiarity with the Falcons' offensive struggles.

"I saw that stat this morning of what we were in the passing game," Petrino said. "We definitely need to work on being balanced, there's no question. ... I'm looking forward to the challenge in developing the passing game here."

Petrino plans to call plays from the Falcons' sideline and said he hopes to hire a blend of veteran NFL assistant coaches and young assistants from his Louisville staff.

Petrino's brother, Paul, who was Louisville's offensive coordinator, is an obvious candidate for the Atlanta staff. Another possibility is Louisville co-defensive coordinator Mike Cassity.

No assistant on Petrino's Louisville staff has coached in the NFL.

Asked about his brother, Petrino said "I think he's a candidate [for the Louisville head coach position]. We'll have to wait and see."

One member of Mora's Atlanta staff already has found another job. Special teams coach Joe DeCamillas was hired by Jacksonville.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press