|Western Kentucky and Bobby Petrino needed each other at the right time. Photo: USA Today Sports.|
America loves a good come back story. We latch on to those stories all the time in sports, whether it be an icon's return from retirement like Michael Jordan or one in which a player looks to get a hold of his life the way Josh Hamilton did years ago. The college football world has seen its share of comebacks as well, and this season includes one more comeback to pay attention to in the Sun Belt Conference.
When we last saw Bobby Petrino on a sideline he was leading Arkansas to a 2012 Cotton Bowl victory over Texas A&M, with the Razorbacks being floated as a potential BCS Championship contender in 2012. Arkansas had just gone 11-2, with the only losses coming against BCS Championship Game participants, and division rivals, Alabama and LSU. The Crimson Tide and Tigers had each soundly defeated Petrino's Razorbacks, but Arkansas ended the year in the top five and had a schedule and roster that looked like a championship contender heading in to the 2012 season. This is where the old VH1 Behind the Music narrator would come in to say "But then something went terribly wrong."
Petrino's secret relationship with Jessica Dorrell, a student-athlete development coordinator he had hired, was revealed after the two were involved in a motorcycle accident. Petrino's shenanigans led to lies to his boss, Arkansas Athletics Director Jeff Long, and soon after the truth caught up to Petrino. Long made a rather unpopular decision to remove Petrino as Arkansas football coach, sending the coach with a 75-26 college record to unemployment at the most inopportune time in the college football calendar. In April the college football coaching carousel was already wrapped up and all vacancies had been filled.
|Arkansas AD Jeff Long made an unpopular decision to some bu firing Petrino. Photo: USA Today Sports|
Odds are Petrino could have landed somewhere as an assistant if he was interested in 2012. Instead, Petrino stepped back and got back to fundamentals with his family. And it was his family that played a role in determining just when and where he would return to coaching. It was only a matter of time before Petrino returned to coaching, many of us have felt since the beginning. The question was really just a matter of where he would begin to return to the game. His name certainly still brings a certain pedigree worthy of big-name program consideration, but his track record also can play a role in the decision-making.
Petrino wins games in college football and he takes programs to new heights. When you look at Louisville today, fresh off a Big East title and a victory over Florida in the Orange Bowl, much of that credit goes to Charlie Strong. But the Cardinals really started to build to where they are today with Petrino as the head coach. Arkansas had developed form a good program in the SEC to a championship contender with Petrino at the helm after a failed experiment in the NFL. Despite the level of success experienced in the college game, a knack for not sticking around for too long is a legitimate concern.
When it came to deciding where his return to the college game would take place, it was all about the setting, situation and what the family wanted. Petrino has taken his time away form the game to rebuild his relationship with his family, putting them first and saying every chance he gets how special they are to him. With a daughter currently at Louisville, staying somewhat close to home was a priority.
"Western Kentucky was a real family decision," Petrino told Tommy Hicks in a Q&A for AL.com in May. "That's where my children feel like home is. My daughter is up at Louisville playing golf at the University of Louisville and we have family in the area is it was an easy decision."
The opportunity came at the right time as well for Western Kentucky. The program had just come off a second winning season and continues to be one of the programs thought to be on the rise. A move to Conference USA now looms in 2014 and Willie Taggart took up an offer from South Florida for the next stop in his coaching career. To keep form losing any mometum, Western Kentucky neededa coach who understands the game and where it is heading, and preferably one who has a recognizable name. Petrino fits that order with ease.
|Can Petrino work his quarerback magic at Western Kentucky? If so, the 2013 season should be fun.|
Having heard Petrino on various radio interviews since being introduced by Western Kentucky, it seems as though he is saying all of the right things right now. He is grateful to be back in coaching, where he truly feels he belongs. At the same time he is placing more focus on his family and, in a way, hitting the reset button on his life. Not so long ago Petrino was among the top of the mountain of college football coaches. He was adored at Arkansas and still has the support of many fans in Fayetteville. He was not quite an icon in the game, but he was well-respected as one of the top offensive minds in the game. Now Petrino faces an uphill battle in returning to that level of respect.
For Petrino, it starts with his family and is followed by Western Kentucky. And what a combo this could be.
Western Kentucky offers Petrino a program that was left in as good a shape is ever by former coach Willie Taggart (now the head coach at South Florida). In a recent podcast, WKU Insider's Jordan Wells told Crystal Ball Run the Hilltoppers have yet to receive a verbal commitment for the Class of 2014 but they appear to be holding off because they believe a good season will lead to some good, quality recruits. With Petrino as head coach, that should be expected. Whether or not he sticks around for long remains to be seen, but Western Kentucky is a program on the rise and preparing for a move to Conference USA in 2014. Having a coach like Petrino helps with the national exposure for a program that is beginning to spend less time explaining who and where they are and more time answering calls from interested recruits.
As much as Petrino is known for his offense, he may have to do some tweaking this season, as Taggart built the Western Kentucky program on more of a pro-style offense. What Petrino does with the offense inherited may not require too many adjustments. Western Kentucky will open the season in Nashville against Kentucky. Western Kentucky defeated the Wildcats last season, and Petrino is 4-1 against Kentucky in his coaching career. Another win for Petrino against Kentucky would certainly be getting off on the right foot.
There are plenty of reasons to be excited about Petrino's return to coaching. Now let's get ready to strap in and see where it leads us.