5 Reasons Why Hiring Bobby Petrino Was a Mistake for Louisville Football

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5 Reasons Why Hiring Bobby Petrino Was a Mistake for Louisville Football

bobby petrino
Jim Brown - USA TODAY Sports

The Louisville Cardinals have turned to a familiar face to be their next head coach, hiring former head coach Bobby Petrino to lead the program into the ACC in 2014. Petrino returns to Louisville to replace Charlie Strong who left after four seasons to take over the Texas Longhorns. While Petrino brings with him a reputation for building explosive offenses and has a history of on-field success for the Cardinals, athletic director Tom Jurich has made a terrible decision hiring Petrino.

Since leaving Louisville in the lurch to jump to the NFL and coach the Atlanta Falcons, Petrino has only continued to sully his reputation as a coach. He left Atlanta after just 13 games in his first season in charge to jump back to college to lead the Arkansas Razorbacks. After four seasons with Arkansas, Petrino saw his tenure end quite unceremoniously after what has now become an infamous motorcycle accident that opened a whole can of worms on the unscrupulous lifestyle of Petrino.

Then, after taking a year away from coaching to “focus on family” Petrino was back in the game as the head coach of the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers in 2013. Now, after one season there, he’s jumping ship to Louisville where he promises to end his career after a long tenure of coaching. And with a reputation like Petrino’s, how could you possibly doubt that he’s being completely honest?

There are a laundry list of reasons why Bobby Petrino was a terrible choice for Louisville that the school and Jurich seem to have ignored before making their decision. Here are five reasons why hiring Bobby Petrino was a massive mistake for Louisville football.

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5. Off-Field Distraction

bobby petrino
Beth Hall - USA TODAY Sports

Do you enjoy motorcycle accident jokes, Louisville? Well, too bad because you’re about to be inundated with them. Petrino has become a punchline in college football not only for his tendency to leaves jobs in the middle of the night without telling anybody, but now also for his abuse of power when he was with the Arkansas Razorbacks. You remember that one, Louisville? Where he hired a young woman (possibly illegally) over more qualified applicants to carry on an extramarital affair that was discovered when he crashed his motorcycle with both on board? That sounds like a good ambassador for your program, right?

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4. Stepping Backwards in History

bobby petrino
Jim Brown - USA TODAY Sports

Hiring a re-tread like Petrino isn’t a move that usually works out so well. There’s always some residual bad blood when a coach leaves a program, especially considering the way that Petrino did it last time. While he certainly had significant success on the field, he was completely duplicitous and scheming his entire time on the job. What are the chances he captures the same lightning in a bottle that made him successful last time he was at Louisville? This isn’t Conference USA or the Big East he’s jumping into, either. If he struggles early, will those hurt feelings come out to sour this relationship a second time?

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3. Wake of Destruction Left Behind Him

bobby petrino
Jim Brown - USA TODAY Sports

While Petrino will try and keep the focus on the accomplishments of his teams on the field (particularly the offense), there’s a lot of stuff to overcome once he’s left a job. Here’s what Tom Jurich, the AD who just hired him, said about cleaning up after Petrino in 2008:

“Bobby went to areas where he thought he was strong recruiting and some of them panned out and some didn’t. That’s the nature of it. But listen, we had to clear out a lot of discipline issues. And our numbers suffered. We cleared 21 kids out of here, and that’s a lot. That’s a big hit for anybody to take, Eric. I don’t know anyone that has. But we want to do things the right way.”

And “anonymous” SEC coaches on the mess left at Arkansas:

“They are going to be slim in a lot of spots. It’s going to take them three years to get a good foundation. It’s a product of bad recruiting – which is typical of a Bobby Petrino school. It’s the same thing that happened at Louisville that got Steve Kragthorpe fired. Petrino didn’t leave him any players. It’s the same thing at Arkansas. They have no players on defense. Petrino would load up on offense and leave the cupboard bare. That’s why he can’t ever get over the hump.”

Bobby Petrino: the toxic waste of college football coaches. You’ll never stop cleaning up his mess.

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2. Commitment to the Job (or Lack Thereof)

bobby petrino
Beth Hall - USA TODAY Sports

When Jurich started the search to replace Charlie Strong, he said that he wanted a coach that saw Louisville as a destination job and that would stay at the school long-term. While Petrino said that this is where he wants to end his career during his introductory press conference (similar to what he said before leaving Louisville last time), his track record would say otherwise. Petrino has held 15 different coaching positions in his career and left seven of them after just one season. He has never held a job longer than four years, which he has done twice with Louisville (2003-06) and Arkansas (2008-11). When looking for a “long-term” coach, why choose a serial job-hopper that has already left you once?

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1. Great Assistants Ready to be Head Coaches Available

chad morris
Joshua S. Kelly - USA TODAY Sports

The two most successful coaches at Louisville in the last 10 years (Petrino and Strong) have been first-time head coaches that Louisville gave opportunities to. There are so many great assistant coaches right now in college football that are ready to take over the program, it’s mind-boggling that the Cardinals would stray from the formula now. Chad Morris, Pat Narduzzi, Kirby Smart and a whole host of other coordinators would have made great fits at Louisville to lead the Cardinals into their future in the ACC. Instead, Jurich is turning to a retread in Petrino who already burned them once and relying on the infamously slick coach’s word that he’s a changed man. What could go wrong?

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  • JP

    It’s late, I’m bored, might as well be the first to comment on this. Full disclosure I am a Louisville fan, but I disagree with four of the five points you make.

    1. Distraction – Can’t argue there. His past will be a constant conversation piece and it would seem tougher to speak effectively to recruits parents with a rampant history of lying. The only caveat I can offer is that America is a very forgiving society and if people are able to turn their lives around then the past becomes a non issue. Bill Clinton is one of the most influential people in the world, Chris Brown sells millions of records, Michael Vick plays in the NFL, and Tiger Woods is still the most popular golfer in the PGA. In time Petrino will just be another successful coach.

    2. Hiring a ‘re-tread’ – History shows mixed results with hiring these coaches. He did not pan out in the NFL, but neither did Steve Spurrier and he has SC winning 11 games every year. Louisville also hired a coach fresh off professional league failure when it nabbed Rick Pitino years ago and now they are the defending national champions. Petrino has had great success at every college he’s coached, so why do you expect that to change? You mention this isn’t C-USA or the Big East, but neither was the SEC where he took a middling Arkansas program to a BCS game his third year and a top 5 ranking his fourth, battling in a stacked SEC West with perennial powerhouses Bama and LSU.

    3. Leaves a trail of destruction – All the complaints of him ‘leaving the cupboard bare’ are just lesser coaches making excuses. In my opinion Petrino is actually one of the games best at developing talent. His first stint in Louisville was four seasons from 2003 to 06. From 2005 to 2008 Louisville had 19 players drafted that were coached and recruited by Petrino, much higher than Louisville’s norm. Many of these were 2 and 3 star recruits that turned out to be really good like Kerry Rhodes, Elvis Dumervil, William Gay, Breno Giacomini, and Harry Douglas. I will say Petrino is a tough act to follow. A local reporter wrote a good article detailing perhaps why the drop off under Steve Kragthorpe was so severe.
    http://www.wdrb.com/story/19625175/crawford-why-post-petrino-life-is-no-picnic

    I might buy a bare cupboard argument in an Urban Meyer situation where you just lie to get out and then take a new job a year later, but not in any of Petrino’s cases. Petrino interviewed for other jobs every year from 03 to 06, which was awful, but he would’ve left behind teams he managed to go 32-5 with from 04 to 06. He left a stacked team in 07 that was preseason top 10. As a fan it was excruciating to watch the same players that performed beautifully the year before descend into an undisciplined and unmotivated team that could flat out not execute under Kragthorpe.

    4/5. Lack of commitment/Quality Assistants – I’ll tackle these together since my argument for both goes hand in hand. In Petrino and Louisville’s situation, he is the best candidate for staying with the program long term. He is tainted, most schools will not touch him with a 40 ft pole. For a school like Louisville that is trying to raise tiers this can be a good thing. Tom Jurich is like a god when it comes to program building but no one can sustain success if you have to find a new coach every three years, or one if you’re Arkansas St. Jurich will pay top tier money and moving into the ACC Louisville will be on the same level field as the rest of the big boys. I don’t see Petrino getting many offers or jumping ship even if he does. There were decent assistants available but how long would they stay? Smart would probably jump at the first SEC offer that came along. Morris is a Texas guy who would probably bolt for a bigger job if offered as well and Mason is west coast based. Hiring Petrino gives Louisville a coach that isn’t likely to be offered other jobs and he already has ties to the recruiting grounds in Florida, Georgia and Alabama where Louisville gets most of its players.

    Apologies for the length of this post, thanks to anyone who read it in its entirety.

    • http://www.rantsports.com/ncaa-football/author/tylerbrett Tyler Brett

      Those are fair arguments. This could pan out really well for Louisville and this could be Bobby Petrino 2.0, all the coach, none of the nonsense. But at the time of the hire when this was written, it felt like a step back for a program that had been building what felt like a possible perennial top-15 team. The “re-tread” argument isn’t against guys who have failed in the professional ranks at all, but someone who has been at the school already and burned some bridges on his way out of town. Petrino just felt like a hire with more baggage than Louisville needed to take on. The guy is a talented coach, there’s no question, it’s just been the other aspects of him that have caused trouble.

      • JP

        Okay, I misunderstood the re-tread point. I’ll agree there will be tension among university staff members that were treated poorly by Petrino during his first stint and probably harbor ill will toward him to this day. Hopefully Petrino has apologized and they can move on without a festering hatred causing continual problems. I’ll also say I didn’t even see the rant sports piece by your colleague giving 5 reasons why Petrino was a good hire until after I posted the rebuttal. Bottom line for me is that yes, he carries considerable baggage, but he is a proven winner and as weird as it seems, probably the most likely candidate to stick around for the long term to get Louisville to that perennial top 15 perch.