Dorm Report: Petrino's long road back to Louisville
By Nicholas DeLorenzo, Associate College Football Editor
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - From 2003 to 2006, Bobby Petrino built the Louisville Cardinals into one of the more successful programs in the FBS, culminating in a 12-1 record in his final season to go with a Orange Bowl victory.
After several detours along the way, Petrino has returned to the program nearly a decade later, looking to continue to rebuild his tainted image as well as further the tremendous success Louisville found under Charlie Strong over the past two seasons.
Beginning in 1983, Petrino served as an assistant at various programs, including as the offensive coordinator at Louisville in 1998 and the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars in 2001, before finally getting his shot at a head coaching position with the Cardinals. Petrino made the most of his opportunity by going an incredible 41-9 in four years while leading the program to its first-ever BCS appearance and victory.
Petrino's success was so great that he became a hot commodity elsewhere, and less than a week after winning the Orange Bowl, he accepted the head coaching position with the Atlanta Falcons, opting out of a 10-year contract extension he signed with Louisville the previous summer.
While Petrino's head coaching career was smooth sailing during his first stint in Louisville, his transition to the NFL was not pretty. He had signed on with Atlanta with the intention of focusing his high-octane offense around Michael Vick, but the star quarterback was arrested prior to training camp and never played another down for the Falcons. With a carousel of backup quarterbacks, Petrino went to 3-10 before abruptly resigning prior to the end of the season to accept the head coaching position at Arkansas in one of the most bizarre coaching changes in history.
Back in the college game, Petrino slowly built the Razorbacks into one of the SEC's best. After going just 5-7 in his first year in Fayetteville, Petrino improved his record in each of the next four seasons. In 2011, the Hogs went 11-2, won the Cotton Bowl and finished the season No. 5 in the AP poll.
Petrino was years removed from his controversial exit with the Falcons and back in the spotlight as one of the premiere head coaches in the nation, but he once again found himself in the headlines for the wrong reasons in April 2012. After lying to the university about both a motorcycle accident he was involved in and a benefits scandal involving his mistress, he was fired.
Petrino spent a year away from football before resurfacing in 2013 as head coach of Western Kentucky, where he went a respectable 8-4 in his only season.
Now, in what is effectively already the third act of his head coaching career, Petrino's rise from the ashes continues as he attempts to further Louisville's success in its transition to the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2014.
"It's great to get the opportunity to come back here," Petrino said to the media when he was introduced as head coach in January. "I get the opportunity to come home and finish my career here and I just can't be more excited to do that. I never had a second thought ... because this is my home. I went to Western Kentucky so I could get close to Louisville."
Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich, who was reportedly deciding between a list of seven candidates to fill his head coaching vacancy after Strong bolted for Texas, ultimately decided that bringing Petrino back was best for the university despite his checkered past.
"If it was the same Bobby that was here 10 years ago, I wasn't interested," Jurich said. "He is definitely a changed person."
A changed person or not, it's rare that a coach gets as many chances to redeem himself as Petrino, but then again not many coaches have been able to rack up a resume quite like Petrino.
The head coach has proven time and again to have a revolutionary offensive mind. The Cardinals ranked in the top 10 nationally in total offense in three of four seasons during Petrino's first go-round. Arkansas led the stout SEC in total offense in 2011 (438.1 yards per game) and WKU racked up a school-record 5,502 yards a season ago.
Petrino is also well known for his ability to mold quarterbacks. He has made the most of Ryan Mallet, Stefan LeFors, Brian Brohm, Jason Campbell, Chris Redman and Jake Plummer, all of whom got a chance to play in the NFL.
Petrino's habit of producing successful signal callers was arguably the biggest factor in bringing him aboard as the new head coach. Louisville is undergoing a three-fold transition this season, not only with its head coach and conference but under center as well.
Teddy Bridgewater (3,970 yards, 31 touchdowns, four interceptions and .710 completion percentage in 2013) has moved on to the NFL, and Petrino will get to start fresh with either Will Gardner, who was an astonishing 32-of-37 for 542 yards and four touchdowns during last month's spring game, or Patrick Thomas, one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the junior college ranks last season.
Considering the multitude of changes this year, expecting the Cardinals to repeat their success from recent seasons (23-3 under Strong in 2013 and 2012) would be a lot to ask out of Petrino in their first season in ACC, but in time, Petrino's track record suggests that Louisville will be back amongst the nation's elite sooner rather than later.
The bigger issue with Petrino is his commitment, especially when the grass always seems to be greener on the other side through his point of view, having left three of his previous four jobs prior to his contract being completed. This time around, however, Louisville has covered its tracks by including a $10 million buyout if the coach opts out of his seven-year contract early.
Trying to predict the future with Petrino, who is cyclically regenerated every few seasons like the mythological Phoenix, is a useless task considering his unpredictable road back to Louisville. All that's left for him to do in the short term is to prove his naysayers wrong.
"I always have a sign in our locker room that says, 'It's a show-me world,' so it's up to me to show it."
05/09 07:29:41 ET