The Read-Option: The return of Bobby Petrino to the Louisville Cardinals
Don’t call it a comeback! Bobby Petrino is reportedly set to return as head coach of Louisville, a relatively shocking development considering Petrino’s past with the Cardinals and overall stingy reputation as a college coach. The current Western Kentucky coach last oversaw a major program during the 2011 season at Arkansas before the Hogs fired Petrino when it was revealed that he hired his mistress onto his football staff. Now Petrino is back, and the question on everyone’s mind is this: Will Louisville’s risky hire work?
Zac Ellis and Martin Rickman discuss the topic in today’s Read-Option.
Martin Rickman: Now that it’s happened, it seems like it was inevitable all along. Bobby Petrino looks to be the guy in Louisville. Before the smoke clears and we’ve had more time to rationally get our thoughts in one camp or the other, what’s your quick impression of Petrino’s return to the Cardinals?
Zac Ellis: My first impression, honestly, is surprise, though I’m not necessarily surprised that Bobby Petrino made his way back to a major college football program. I kind of assumed someone would tab Petrino at some point, at least after he’d done his time outside the spotlight. I’m more surprised it’s Louisville, of all places, that took the plunge. And not just Louisville, but the same athletic director, Tom Jurich, who dealt with Petrino during his last stint with the Cardinals. I’m somewhat stunned Louisville would dive back into a coach with so much baggage. What’s your first thought?
MR: I know Jurich wants a winner, but he’s sure opening himself — and Louisville — up to a lot of scrutiny here. With Petrino’s past, there’s no room for error at all. He has to win at all costs, and right away, otherwise the move looks foolish. Plenty of other coaches who don’t have the past Petrino does could have come in and continued the progress Charlie Strong fostered in his time with the Cardinals. Jurich wants Louisville to be a nationally recognized program, but there are different kinds of attention. This only welcomes an awful lot of criticism. Every move Petrino makes is going to be analyzed and put under the microscope. Recruits are going to be told in all corners about Petrino’s indiscretions and his lack of loyalty. Why invite that? He’s a good offensive mind, sure. But what are the other positives here aside from “familiarity with the program”?
ZE: It’s obviously a high-risk, high-reward situation for Jurich because he does open himself and the school up to major scrutiny here. Personally I’m more interested to hear Jurich’s statements at Petrino’s opening press conference than Petrino’s comments. How will Jurich defend the hire after what Petrino did not only at Louisville, but basically everywhere else he’s been, too? Petrino is a winner on the field; there are no doubts there. But how can Jurich convince his players and staffers that Petrino is a different guy than last time? Because now Jurich is putting the continued success of this program in the hands of a coach who will have a very difficult time convincing the parents of recruits that their son is in responsible, trustworthy hands. Until now, very few people have questioned the moves of Jurich, who oversees perhaps one of the most successful athletic departments of the last few years. This move, however, seems like a win-at-all-costs maneuver from Jurich.
MR: So could this work? Is there any evidence to suggest Jurich knows something we don’t? What could Petrino have said in the interview process to leapfrog candidates like Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, for instance?
ZE: You don’t become as successful as Jurich if you aren’t smart and savvy along the way. Certainly he’s aware of the risks involved here, which makes me wonder exactly what Petrino said in his interview that convinced his former AD to re-hire him. Could it work? Absolutely, because Petrino wins, and he’s taking over a program that enters its first season in the ACC. As with anywhere, winning cures all, and I don’t doubt that upset Louisville fans will come around if Petrino proves he can win again. But that’s when Louisville could be in even more trouble because if Petrino’s winning, that means his name will be mentioned at bigger, better programs. Do you think he sticks around with the Cardinals?
MR: Nothing in his track record suggests he will. He coached Western Kentucky for about 13 months. He was with the Falcons for 13 games. If he was serious about changing his image, one would think he’d have done it by now. Although he’s running out of chances. The list of teams willing to take on Petrino and his demons is much shorter than the list of those who think he isn’t worth the risk. This could be it for him. Stick around and make The ‘Ville a certifiable contender in the ACC, or ride off in the sunset for good. You can only job jump for so long. Eventually there won’t be any disappearing Mario blocks left, and he’ll be stuck on his last one — or he’ll fall through space wordlessly. He might not have any replays left. This better work. Jurich and the whole Louisville athletic department have staked their reputation on it. And Petrino seems like an odd horse to back with all your previous winnings.
ZE: Who knows? Maybe Jurich knows something we don’t. Maybe Petrino really has turned things around. Unfortunately for Jurich, he doesn’t have much evidence to point to in that regard. If you had to guess right now, does this hire work out for Louisville? Or will the Cardinals again be left at the alter as Petrino jumps to a bigger job in a few years?
MR: I have no idea. I do know I’ll be paying attention to Louisville in 2014, even more than I thought I would before Strong and Bridgewater left. Maybe that was Jurich’s goal all along.
ZE: I know we’ll all be watching, and if that was Jurich’s plan, then he’s hit a home run.