Love the Louisville football team. Hate Bobby Petrino and the Louisville program
Lamar Jackson is everything that makes college football the most exciting entity in American sports. The way the sophomore quarterback eviscerated Florida State’s defense in Louisville’s 63–20 win over the Seminoles last Saturday was yet another reminder of how wild and exciting college football can make our fall Saturday’s.
But as the Louisville Cardinals continue to rise up the Top 25 rankings and as Jackson’s national profile continues to soar with his incredible start to the season, we need to remember something else — the Louisville athletic program and head coach Bobby Petrino are the shining symbols of institutional failure within college athletics.
When it comes to integrity, you might find it within the Louisville locker room, but history tells us you won’t find it anywhere else within the athletic program. Jackson may be the most exciting player in college football, but the university he represents is full of hypocritical bureaucrats who will do anything to make an extra dollar at the cost of decency.
Louisville’s quick jump back to national prominence this season may be due in large part to the genius play-calling and coaching of Petrino, but we must not forget this man’s true character inside a program that has allowed its top coaches to get away with ignorant and incompetent decision making for too long.
Petrino is a fraud. His career arc shows us that. He cares about the money and the fame, and as soon as he see’s greener pastures — in let’s say the SEC — he’ll bolt for a bigger platform and payday.
You don’t believe me? Let’s diagnose the facts.
Bobby Petrino is a very good college football coach, but he doesn’t stay around long enough to see his program’s dreams come to fruition. He’s never spent more than four seasons at any school and didn’t even last an entire season as head coach of the Atlanta Falcons in 2007 (Petrino resigned after 13 games to take the job at Arkansas).
He’s also genius contract negotiator. In 2006, he signed a 10-year, $25.6 million contract at Louisville (Oh don’t forget, this isn’t Petrino’s first stint with the Cardinals). Less than a year later, he left Louisville and signed a five-year, $24 million contract with the Falcons. When Petrino left the NFL to return to college football, he went on to sign a seven-year contract for $3.56 million per year with Arkansas in 2010. And just this past July, Petrino signed a new seven-year, $30.625 million contract with Louisville that kicks in starting July 1, 2017.
What’s Petrino’s real talent? Is it winning football games or finding new ways to make insane amounts of money?
Here’s a few more facts.
For a football coach who makes top-tier money, he hasn’t produced top-tier results. In his 11 seasons as a college football coach, he’s won just two conference titles and neither of those were in the SEC or ACC (It was Conference USA and the Big East). Petrino has only one BCS win to his name — the 2006 Orange Bowl — and just two appearances overall. In the same amount of time, Ohio State’s Urban Meyer has made seven appearances in BCS (or New Year’s Six) games and has won three national titles. Yikes.
When Petrino does leave — which history tells us he will — it won’t be pretty either. After he signed the 10-year contract with Louisville in 2006, he told The Courier-Journal, “I also wanted to make sure that everyone understood — and I know I’ve said it — that [Louisville] is where my family wants to be and where I want to be. But I want everyone to really believe it when it is said.”
A year later, with his Falcons struggling at 3–8, Petrino told the press, “I haven’t given [leaving] one bit of thought. I certainly don’t want to get into any speculation and rumors and having to deal with that. I’m focused on our football team here.” A month later, Petrino resigned from the Falcons and left a one-paragraph letter in the locker room to inform his team of the decision.
Petrino may not have planned to abruptly leave Arkansas like his previous positions, but his exit in 2012 was just as embarrassing and even more telling of his true character. The then 51-year-old head coach was fired for having an affair with a 25-year-old assistant and former Arkansas volleyball player. The relationship was exposed when the two got in a motorcycle crash and the pending investigation discovered that Petrino gave the woman a $20,000 Christmas gift and hired her without disclosing the relationship to Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long.
Petrino played the politically savvy move, laid low for a year, and found a head coaching job at Western Kentucky in 2013. After a year with the Hilltoppers, Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich — a man who has stood by Rick Pitino’s side amidst all of the debauchery and embarrassment he’s caused Louisville over the years — decided to re-hire Petrino in 2014 even with all of the mounting evidence against him.
Petrino was back in business. Literally and figuratively.
So now Louisville is winning, Lamar Jackson has become the Heisman front-runner and Bobby Petrino is once again the genius who’s resurrected the football program.
He’s a changed man. He’s learned from his indiscretions. He’ll stick around this time to finish the job and take the Cardinals to the College Football Playoff.
That’s the narrative Louisville wants you to believe, but history tells us that won’t happen. Nothing in Petrino’s past can lead us to believe he’ll follow through on any of his promises. As soon as the first sight of a bigger paycheck and brighter lights comes calling, Petrino will bounce just as he has at every stop along the way. While some of you see a rehabilitated football coach who’s making the most of his second chance, I see a man who is using the skills of uniquely gifted player and team to advance his own agenda and paycheck.
So you see, it’s easy to fall in love with this year’s Louisville team. They’re fun, wild, flashy and a cause for chaotic mess in this year’s race for College Football Playoff race. But look above the field for a minute and you’ll see that Petrino and the Louisville athletic program are everything that college football has come to represent and desperately needs to wipe its hands from.
I’m rooting for Lamar Jackson and the Louisville football team, but every time I see a sideline shot of Bobby Petrino with his headset and half-hearted grin, I can’t help but think of this dynamic duo as the perfect dichotomy that has come to embody major college athletics.
If the NCAA has any interest in creating reform, they’ll stop enabling coaches like Bobby Petrino and start advocating for the rights of stars like Lamar Jackson.
After all, who’s the one that we’re really paying the price of admission to enjoy? Is it the guy calling the plays. or is it the 19-year-old quarterback making us reminisce about Michael Vick’s playing days?
I’ll let you be the judge.