The career of Bobby Petrino is checkered with questionable decisions from the coach that has tarnished his reputation. Despite his on-field success, his antics off of it seemed to finally catch up to him when he lost his job with the Arkansas Razorbacks. What came from that was a Petrino that sounded contrite and committed to turning over a new leaf. But after another shady trick from Petrino on National Signing Day yesterday, it’s clear that Petrino has not changed in his second stint with the Louisville Cardinals.
Going back through Petrino’s career is a case-study in unethical professional behavior.
Back in 2007, the coach bolted Louisville just months after signing a 10-year extension and making proclamations that he wasn’t going to be going anywhere, taking over as the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons. He left the NFL just 13 games into his first season to jump back to college and took over the reins at Arkansas. There, he was forced out after it was discovered that he gave his mistress a job in the football office after the two crashed on his motorcycle. He found a new home with the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers and had a clause in his contract where he had to pay the school if he left early. Spoiler: he left early, anyways.
Petrino ended up back at Louisville, who had just lost Charlie Strong to the Texas Longhorns. The Cardinals were desperate to maintain their success they had under Strong as they transitioned into the ACC and turned to the familiar face of Petrino, the only other coach in recent history to have sustained success at Louisville. The move raised a lot of eyebrows since the school had already been burned by the slick coach once. Why would they put themselves in a position to have it happen again?
What we were told by Petrino and Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich was that this was a redemption story. Petrino was getting a “second chance” and would not make the same mistakes that he made the first time. The prevailing narrative throughout the early stages of his return to the program was the “new” Petrino was a different man and a better man.
But on National Signing Day, we saw the same dishonest coach that Petrino has always had the reputation of being. Three-star running back Matt Colburn, South Carolina’s Mr. Football, had verbally committed to Louisville back in June. Unlike other recruits, Colburn then shut down his recruitment, shunning other major programs that might have had interest in him because he believed he had a spot on the Louisville roster.
Mere days before Colburn was set to send in his LOI, the Cardinals pulled the rug out from under him. Linebackers coach Tony Grantham, because Petrino didn’t want to break the news himself, called Colburn to let him know that they had pulled his scholarship. Louisville’s recruiting class had filled up with more talent than they initially thought and they were bumping Colburn without warning to make room for other players. As a consolation, they offered him a grayshirt opportunity where he would sit out the season, hold off on enrolling in classes for a semester, and then would MAYBE have a shot at a football scholarship in 2016.
Colburn declined, deciding to try and find another opportunity instead of relying on the promise of a possible spot from a coach and a program that had just kicked him to the curb after eight months of commitment. The back has reportedly gotten some interest from programs with some room in their recruiting classes like the Marshall Thundering Herd, Kent State Golden Flashes, and Wake Forest Demon Deacons, but it hasn’t taken the sting out of what Petrino did, and his high school football coach and school athletic director Tom Knotts isn’t going to take it lying down.
Knotts let his frustrations be known, saying that this was “not the way to do business” and went on to ban Petrino and Louisville from recruiting at his school. The duplicitous Petrino has broken the “trust factor” for Knotts and he won’t subject his players to it any longer. And he might not be alone as he believes some other coaches will follow suit after getting yanked around by Petrino in the recruiting process.
And while Petrino may not feel the sting of losing this one three-star prospect, the ramifications of his actions will eventually catch up to him. Eventually, you run out of second chances and there simply aren’t any more bridges to burn. If more schools follow Knotts’ example of shutting their doors to Petrino and Louisville, it will negatively impact their ability to recruit. Without the players falling for Petrino’s act, his on-field success could start to spiral out of control in a hurry.
At some point, the way that Petrino conducts his business is going to be his downfall. A coach can only double-talk his way through so many recruits and administrators before things come crashing down around him. It appeared like that had already happened when things fell apart for him at Arkansas, but Petrino is obviously a hard-headed man that is stuck in his ways. Even with all the mistakes that he has been killed for in the public arena, he continues to operate like a sleazy used-car salesman, completely oblivious to how it will ultimately end up.
The NFL has already closed its doors on him for the way he jumped ship midseason with the Falcons. If Petrino continues to act like he has in the college ranks and gets shut out of a few more high schools, he’s going to run out of arenas to be a head football coach. If he doesn’t change his ways, the top recruits aren’t going to come to Louisville to play for him which will bury the Cardinals in the ACC.
It probably should not surprise us at this point the way that Petrino operates but it’s still incredibly disappointing. Just a year after being sold on a new and improved Bobby Petrino, we’re reminded that he’s still the same old coach using the same underhanded tactics.