Bobby Petrino returns to Arkansas and faces his previous

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Bobby Petrino is aware of what’s coming.

He has been referred to as many issues over time, however he isn’t naive.

The job he is performed in resurrecting a moribund Missouri State program and turning the Bears into FCS title contenders speaks for itself. However this week, Petrino’s previous, and never his current, would be the focus when his staff, ranked No. 5 within the newest FCS ballot, makes the 120-mile journey to Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

Petrino is nicely conscious the very first thing that pops up when doing a Google search of his identify is the image of him with a battered purple face and neck brace after the motorbike wreck that set off a sequence of occasions resulting in his dismissal at Arkansas and turning him right into a punchline.

Now, 10 years after the accident and the nationwide embarrassment that adopted, Petrino is returning to Arkansas to face the college he took to the doorstep of taking part in for a nationwide championship in 2011.

“Sadly, I’ll all the time get to hold that with me, the way it ended there,” Petrino informed ESPN.

Between the top at Arkansas and a earlier status for job-hopping and profanity-laced tirades (together with a complete lot of on-field success), Petrino is aware of there’s not a lot center floor in the case of his status.

“There’s immediately a response if you hear my identify, whether or not it is damaging or optimistic,” Petrino stated. “I want it was extra optimistic, nevertheless it’s most likely extra damaging and a variety of that is on me. However a variety of these individuals do not actually know me. They know what occurred once I was fired at Arkansas and the way poorly I dealt with the whole lot, and that is what sticks with them.”


JEFF LONG THOUGHT it was a foul April Idiot’s joke.

The then-Arkansas athletic director bought a name April 1, 2012, that his soccer coach had been in a bike accident, sliding off a winding two-lane highway close to Crosses, Arkansas.

Primarily based on what Petrino informed faculty officers, Arkansas launched an announcement saying the accident “concerned no different people,” Lengthy stated. On April 3, Petrino insisted on holding a information convention — towards the needs of Lengthy and others — by which he appeared within the now-infamous neck brace. As Petrino was exiting the room, a media member approached him and requested if he was alone on the motorbike, and Petrino stated he was.

However then, minutes earlier than an Arkansas State Police report was scheduled to come back out April 5, Lengthy stated Petrino acknowledged that Jessica Dorrell, a 25-year-old feminine workers member Petrino had employed and was having an affair with, was additionally on the motorbike. At that time, Arkansas launched an investigation and later that evening, Lengthy held a information convention asserting Petrino had been positioned on administrative go away with pay. Throughout the probe, Lengthy stated Dorrell disclosed Petrino had given her $20,000 to purchase a automobile.

On the night of April 10, an emotional Lengthy held one other information convention and introduced that Petrino had been fired for trigger.

“I feel it is necessary to do not forget that it wasn’t an extramarital affair that bought Bobby fired,” stated Lengthy, who himself was fired in 2017 after 10 years as Arkansas’ AD. “I could not hearth him for that even when I needed to. He lied and repeatedly lied, and that is why he was fired. It was the deceitful mendacity piece that bought him. All that stated, I stay a believer that Bobby is a hell of a soccer coach and knew that once I employed him.”

Shortly after, Petrino launched his personal assertion accepting “full accountability for what has occurred.”

“I let lots of people down, my gamers at Arkansas, all the good followers there who had been so good to us and supported us and all people in my household — however no one greater than my spouse [Becky],” Petrino stated final month throughout a sit-down interview with ESPN. “She’s the one it has been the toughest on. I embarrassed her nationally, however she’s been unimaginable, the rock of the household.

“I do not know that I may have come again from any of it had it not been for my household and them forgiving me. We caught collectively, fought collectively and cherished collectively.”

Whereas some donors and followers fought for Petrino to stay as coach, it was clear to the Arkansas administration that merely wasn’t attainable. Similar to that, a program that had gone 21-5 in its final two seasons and completed 2011 ranked No. 5 within the AP ballot was choosing up the items from a scandal that resonates to at the present time within the Ozarks.

“He was successful video games, so we knew some followers wouldn’t be comfortable about it,” stated then-school chancellor David Gearhart, who obtained nameless, threatening letters and spent a number of weeks afterward with a police officer stationed outdoors his workplace.

Till Sam Pittman took over in 2020, the Razorbacks have been nonetheless recovering from Petrino’s dismissal. In Petrino’s remaining two years, Arkansas received 12 SEC video games. Within the eight years that adopted, the Hogs received 13.

Now, with Petrino on the visiting sideline, the Hogs beneath Pittman are flying excessive, as much as No. 10 within the AP High 25 ballot.

“I am grateful for the man,” Pittman stated. “And you realize, clearly on Saturday, it will likely be totally different, positive. However with out him and what he did right here, I do not suppose we ever would have recruited as nicely as a result of we have been ready to make use of his success to point out that we are able to do it right here, and it wasn’t that way back.”

Petrino stated he hasn’t thought of what sort of reception he’ll get from the house crowd. This would be the first time he is been again to Fayetteville since being fired, though he spoke on the Little Rock Landing Membership in 2019 and obtained a standing ovation.

“It is going to be fascinating to see as a result of so many individuals equate him to getting Arkansas again to successful, and make no mistake, we have been rolling,” stated D.J. Williams, an All-SEC tight finish at Arkansas beneath Petrino and now a Little Rock information anchor.

“Coach Petrino was all the time adamant about his guys doing the fitting issues, and I do know a variety of the gamers have been like, ‘He preached this and preached that after which goes off and acts in ways in which’s not what being a person is about.’ However there’s such a factor as grace, and folks mess up. Everybody was telling us how nice we have been, and we thought we have been untouchable. Possibly he bought to that time, too.”


AFTER THE ARKANSAS debacle, Petrino spent 2012 out of teaching. However after one season at Western Kentucky in 2013, he returned to the Energy 5 when former Louisville AD Tom Jurich employed him for a second time. Jurich was one of many first individuals Petrino reached out to after he was fired at Arkansas.

“I informed him the one method I’d speak to him was face-to-face, and he drove all evening to Louisville,” stated Jurich, who was fired in 2017 at Louisville within the wake of a federal investigation into fraud and corruption in recruiting by the basketball program.

In Petrino’s first stint with the Cardinals, he guided the staff to top-10 finishes in 2004 and 2006, the one occasions at school historical past that has occurred. Jurich stated former gamers have been particularly vocal of their help to carry Petrino again.

“I ended up being a first-round draft choose due to the strain Bobby Petrino places on you daily to get higher,” stated Eric Wooden, who performed for Petrino throughout his first spherical at Louisville and was a Professional Bowl middle for the Buffalo Bills. “I nonetheless quote him usually to at the present time. Now, typically, I take away a curse phrase or two if I am round my household, however I realized loads from him.”

The tip to Petrino’s second tour at Louisville was ugly. The Cardinals unraveled after a heartbreaking 28-24 loss to Florida State in Week 5 of the 2018 season and weren’t even aggressive the remainder of the way in which, shedding their final 9 video games. Petrino was fired with two video games remaining by then-Louisville AD Vince Tyra with $14 million left on his contract.

Tyra, who resigned final December as Louisville’s AD, stated he wasn’t inquisitive about discussing any particulars of Petrino’s exit.

“I loved my time there and what we completed in athletics, however the time with Bobby was difficult,” Tyra stated. “I am positive he would agree.”

C.J. Avery, a senior linebacker on that staff, stated there “simply by no means was a connection” between the gamers and the coaches that remaining season. The Cardinals had gone 21-11 in league video games from 2014 to 2017 and received 9 video games twice in 4 seasons.

Lorenzo Ward, Louisville’s assistant head coach and defensive backs coach in 2018, stated the loss of life of Petrino’s father affected him significantly that season. Bob Petrino Sr. had Parkinson’s illness and died every week earlier than the beginning of preseason camp. Petrino performed for his father at Carroll School, an NAIA faculty in Helena, Montana. Bob Petrino Sr. coached there for 28 years, and after his retirement, was a frequent customer at his son’s practices and wasn’t shy about providing his opinions.

“I do not suppose individuals notice what his father meant to him,” stated Ward, now the defensive coordinator at Chattanooga. “Bobby actually struggled with that, and I keep in mind sitting in a gathering that summer time and we needed to make him return residence to be along with his father. He did not need to go away the staff.”


TO FRIEND AND foe alike, Petrino is one thing of an enigma. An offensive guru who takes groups to unprecedented heights whereas usually leaving on poor phrases and alienating some gamers, coaches and directors. A loving father and grandfather who embarrassed his household on the most important of phases.

Tyler Wilson was Petrino’s quarterback on the 2011 Arkansas staff that received 11 video games and beat Kansas State within the Cotton Bowl. Wilson, who set 29 faculty passing information, stated Petrino was an acquired style.

“My honest assertion has all the time been that Bobby Petrino was one of many biggest coaches that I performed for or was round,” stated Wilson, who plans to be at Saturday’s sport. “I appreciated the mentality that he introduced, though most likely the primary two or three years that I used to be there, I used to be not in favor of it, did not prefer it and did not like how he talked to individuals and handled individuals.

“However, finally, I spotted that mentality and that demeanor wasn’t geared to a person. It was geared to everybody, and it was designed on objective — to create a more durable particular person, create a more durable particular person and create a more durable participant.”

From a soccer perspective, Petrino remains to be broadly thought of one of many brightest offensive minds within the sport. He coached a Heisman Trophy winner in Lamar Jackson, elevated Arkansas and Louisville to nationwide relevance for the primary time in years and has received 67.3% of his video games as a university head coach.

“He may take a gaggle of school college students on an intramural squad, put them on the market on the sector and assist them win soccer video games,” stated Purdue coach Jeff Brohm, who coached beneath Petrino at Western Kentucky and Louisville. “That is how good a coach he’s.”

Alabama’s Nick Saban added: “Having coached towards him — the issues they do on offense, the way in which his gamers are coached — it is phenomenal. I do not know Bobby very nicely personally, however I’ve all the time had the utmost respect for him as a coach. He is one of many hardest guys I’ve gone towards.”

And whereas his on-field success is simple, it was his demeanor, his status for all the time searching for his subsequent job and the way by which he left jobs that drew criticism lengthy earlier than the motorbike incident. In an trade {of professional} nomads, Petrino stands aside. Counting a few promotions, he is in his seventeenth teaching job at Missouri State.

There was the “JetGate” scandal in 2003, when Petrino was teaching Louisville and secretly interviewed for the Auburn job when his former boss, Tommy Tuberville, was nonetheless the coach. He additionally interviewed with LSU, Notre Dame and the Oakland Raiders — he turned down a five-year, $18 million supply from Al Davis — earlier than signing a 10-year contract with Louisville earlier than the 2006 season. After that season, he left to turn into the Atlanta Falcons‘ head coach.

However following Michael Vick’s imprisonment on dogfighting expenses, the Falcons suffered by a dreadful season, and with three video games remaining within the 2007 marketing campaign, Petrino abruptly left to take the Arkansas head job.

Petrino’s departure infuriated Falcons gamers and assistant coaches. He posted notes within the gamers’ lockers telling them he was leaving. His defensive coordinator on the time, Mike Zimmer, skewered Petrino a number of years later, calling him a “gutless bastard,” amongst different issues.

“There’s by no means a simple option to do it, however that is not the way it’s speculated to occur,” Petrino stated. “That is one I might wish to have again, however I’ve to personal it. The opposite factor is that I want I’d have gotten to know the gamers higher with the Falcons, simply communicated higher. I used to be too standoffish.”


THE MISSOURI STATE soccer program was in dire straits.

In 2019, the Bears completed 1-10, their tenth consecutive shedding season. That they had not gone to the FCS playoffs since 1990. Missouri State president Clif Good stated it was to the purpose the place there was critical dialog about disbanding this system.

Enter Petrino, who sat out in 2019 after being fired at Louisville. He spent the yr writing a e book about soccer and touring to go to totally different coaches and associates. Two hiring cycles had come and gone, and Petrino did not get even a sniff for a head-coaching alternative. However then Missouri State’s job grew to become open late, greater than every week into January 2020. Missouri State AD Kyle Moats labored with Petrino in his first tenure at Louisville, and Petrino had informed him he’d be keen to work within the FCS ranks.

“We wanted to make a daring transfer to alter the sport,” Good stated. “I might say Bobby has performed that and performed it in a short time.”

Some referred to as Petrino’s hiring a Hail Mary. Good, who grew up in Arkansas and bought sodas at Hogs’ video games as a child, referred to as it an “straightforward threat” to take.

“Soccer drives the whole lot in school athletics, so we did not apologize then and we do not now,” Good stated. “Whether or not he is right here for yet one more yr or 10 extra years, he is proven us that we are able to win in soccer at Missouri State and do it the fitting method.”

Larry Benz, a longtime member of the Louisville board of trustees, instantly really helpful hiring Petrino when Good referred to as searching for enter. Good and Benz have been outdated Military buddies.

“Bobby’s an excellent instance of the proverb ‘fall down 9 occasions and rise up 10,'” Benz stated.

Petrino, 61, is surrounded by household in Springfield, together with his eight grandchildren. All of them name him “Coach,” not less than those who’re sufficiently old to speak. His son, Nick, is his offensive coordinator. One son-in-law, Ryan Beard, is his defensive coordinator, and one other son-in-law, L.D. Scott, is his defensive position coach.

Petrino’s small workplace on the second ground of the 42-year-old Forsythe Athletics Heart is noticeably void of mementos from previous teaching stops. There aren’t any pictures from memorable wins, helmets of earlier groups or bowl trophies. As a substitute, his cabinets are stuffed with household pictures, most of that are of his grandkids.

“I’ve seen a variety of totally different variations of him. This is likely to be the happiest,” stated Scott, who performed for Petrino on the 2006 Louisville staff that went 12-1 and received the Orange Bowl in addition to coached beneath him at Arkansas, Western Kentucky and Louisville.

After 34 years in school teaching, Petrino shrugs on the considered being caught within the FCS ranks, not sure if he’ll ever get one other shot on the large stage. His beginning wage was $250,000 and is now $325,000, lower than most SEC place coaches make. The Bears trip a bus to about half their highway video games, together with these 5 hours away, and capability at Plaster Stadium is 17,500.

Again-to-back FCS playoff appearances beneath Petrino have helped attendance figures at Missouri State, and there are plans for a venture that may home a brand new locker room, assembly rooms, coaches’ places of work and membership seating.

“I am in a very good place proper now, mentally and bodily,” Petrino stated. “And the most effective half is we’re giving a variety of youngsters second probabilities right here at Missouri State.”

Star quarterback Jason Shelley is certainly one of 47 transfers on the Bears’ roster. He began his profession at Utah and transferred to Utah State earlier than touchdown at Missouri State and incomes Missouri Valley Convention Offensive Participant of the Yr honors final season.

“I sort of gave us a bit of nickname, the ‘Dangerous Information Bears,'” joked Shelley, who threw 5 landing passes in Missouri State’s 35-30 win over UT Martin final Thursday. “Everyone has a narrative right here. Everyone has a wrestle they went by that introduced them so far, even Coach Petrino.”

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