Bobby Petrino has coached at Louisville twice before. Will the third time be the true charm for the Cardinals? Photo: USA Today Sports
I am pretty weird when it comes to song lyrics. As much as I enjoy music and as much influence as it has had on my life, when it comes to lyrics I am the worst. For many of the most popular songs out there through the years, if you gave me some of the lines to the song I guarantee you I would struggle to come up with the song title and artist. It is embarrassing on so many levels, but I live with it. Yet, there are some songs that for one reason or another I have no problem identifying or recalling. I am far from a huge Jon Bon Jovi fan, but Who Says You Can't Go Home resonates with me. I have a feeling some folks at Louisville feel the same way.
Bobby Petrino will be introduced as the new head coach of Louisville's football program today. He succeeds Charlie Strong, who left the Cardinals to coach at Texas, seven years after leaving Louisville for a shot to coach in the NFL with the Atlanta Falcons. His downward spiral and path to redemption since then has been a fascinating one to watch unfold, which should leave the door open for some fair questions about the "new" coach Louisville is putting back in charge of their program.
The first thing to remember about Petrino is he is largely the man who helped put the football program on the map in the first place in today's college football world. Before Petrino was named head coach of the Cardinals prior to the 2003 season, Louisville had started to build something under John L Smith with three straight years appearing in the AP top 25 for the first time in program history. When Smith left for a head coaching job at Michigan State, Petrino returned after spending time in the NFL as an assistant and as Auburn's offensive coordinator. Louisville flourished.
Petrino turned in a record of 41-9 with the Cardinals from 2003 through 2006. He coached Louisville to an Orange Bowl victory and two separate top ten rankings at the end of the season. In 2006 Louisville climbed as high as third in the rankings after a move from Conference USA to the Big East. things looked promising as Petrino showed off his offensive mind with a quarterback in Brian Brohm at his disposal. His success was noticed by the Atlanta Falcons, but it was not transferable to the NFL team. Petrino's success at Louisville was not echoed by Steve Kragthorpe, who failed to get to a bowl game in three seasons. Petrino fizzled out in Atlanta, leaving the team high and dry in one of the worst possible ways imaginable and seeking shelter back in the college game with Arkansas, where he once again was a success until he crashed his way out of a good situation. His ego had gotten the best of him and his personal life and poor decisions proved to be too much to overcome. Petrino was fired in a year the Razorbacks had high expectations.
Since being ousted by Arkansas, a decision the program continues to try and rebuild from two years later, Petrino has set out to be an improved person off the field. It was only a matter of time before he got back in the coaching game because coaches sometimes have a hard time stepping away for good and Petrino is just too good of a coach to stay away for long. His return to the sideline was offered by Western Kentucky, and although the Hilltoppers may have failed to meet some expectations it was clear Petrino was just getting his feet wet before taking on another higher profile job.
Who knew it would be Louisville to offer him a chance to see his head coaching career come full circle?
Is Louisville getting a new and improved Petrino? Probably, and it could not have come at a better time. Louisville is undergoing a massive state of transition in 2014. Petrino will lead the Cardinals in the ACC next season, and he will have to put together a new identity for the Cardinals, who lose Teddy Bridgewater and Devante Parker to the NFL a year early. Louisville's momentum is moving forward as a program, so it will be up to Petrino to continue along that path. If Petrino is successful in leading Louisville in the next few years, the program may be put to the big boy test if other programs come sniffing around for a new coach. Petrino's track record suggests he will have an ear open to potential opportunities. If Louisville has built itself up to be a destination program, keeping a coach like Petrino could prove the program has reached that status.