Louisville's new head coach; Photo: USA Today Sports
When Louisville last had a head coaching opening, Athletic Director Tom Jurich hit a home run when he hired overlooked Florida Defensive Coordinator Charlie Strong. In his four year tenure, Strong put Louisville football back on the map and posted a 23-3 record in his final two seasons.
Where did Jurich turn when Strong took the head coach position at Texas? He made the most controversial decision of his career and one of the most bizarre hires in recent memory by choosing to re-hire Bobby Petrino, who had gone 41-9 with the Cardinals from 2003 to 2006 before leaving for a brief stint with the Atlanta Falcons in the NFL.
Why We Like the Hire:
There is no denying that Bobby Petrino has one of the best offensive minds in college football and that he is a winner on the field. With a 83-30 career college record, Petrino has won everywhere he has been. He was 41-9 at Louisville in his first stint, 34-17 at Arkansas and 8-4 at Western Kentucky. Petrino knows the college game and he knows how to produce winning football teams.
Why We Don't Like the Hire:
While Petrino is a winner on the field, he is a complete and utter disaster off it and when he decides to leave, he has a staunch scorched earth policy.
Petrino has a long history of being a sub-par human being. Whether it was leaving the Jacksonville Jaguars without telling the head coach, making a move for the Auburn job behind his AD's back (Jurich) and the Auburn coach (Tommy Tuberville; who Petrino was OC for in 2002 at Auburn) and lying about it, leaving Louisville less than a year after signing a ten year contract, leaving the Atlanta Falcons (after less than a year on the job) and taping a letter to players lockers to tell them the news after he left in the dead of the night (also leaving his brother behind to clean up the mess) during the middle of the season and of course, the whole motorcycle/mid-life crisis incident with the hot young football assistant.
Petrino is simply a man with no scruples, no conscious and no integrity and one or two years of being "clean" isn't going to change it. It's who he is and is engrained in him.
What Kind of Talent Does He Inherit?
247 Sports has done us the favor of factoring Louisville into their ACC recruiting rankings and it paints a pretty positive picture for the Cardinals. In 2011, Louisville had the 5th best recruiting class in the ACC featuring four 4-star prospects, in 2012 they were 8th but not that far from off from 2nd (FSU was way out in front), in 2013 they were again 8th but like 2012 there was not a big gap from 8th to the top of the conference. In 2014, with Petrino finishing off the recruiting cycle, Louisville had their worst finish in the last four years finishing 9th in the conference.
Based on talent, Louisville should be able to compete immediately in the ACC. They lose star Teddy Bridgewater on offense and a host of players on defense but they will enter the ACC with players who are capable of playing winning football in the conference.
Yeah, But Can He Recruit?
Bobby Petrino will never be confused with a great recruiter. But, he does a good job of recruiting offensive talent that fits his system. And his system doesn't require five star prospects to run.
At Arkansas, Petrino's classes ranked 8th, 9th, 11th and 9th (in the SEC). Despite not having the all-star talent that others in the conference had recruited (and not having a particularly good defense), Petrino was able to go 21-5 in his last two years and 12-4 in the conference and he had the Razorbacks on the verge of something special before his epic meltdown.
Bobby Petrino will win football games at Louisville. That we know. The question is how long will he be in position to win football games at Louisville. At what point will his nomadic lifestyle come calling? At what point will he make a poor decision that will not only affect his life but will embarrass the University that he represents? At what point will he turn his back on the team that he coaches?
Everywhere he has been (with the possible exception of WKU because he only spent one year there), Petrino has left in shambles. These were Tom Jurich's own words about Louisville after Petrino left…
We had to clear out a lot of discipline issues, and our numbers suffered. We cleared 21 kids out of here, and that's a lot. That's a big hit for anybody to take … . I don't know anyone that has. But we want to do things the right way.
Jurich now welcomes Petrino back because he thinks it's his best chance of maintaining consistency and winning on the football field in the short-term in the ACC. By bringing back Petrino, Jurich plays the role of the unsuspecting cuckold who stays with his wife even after he finds out about her affairs because he doesn't have the strength or foresight to think long-term.
If we are grading this hire strictly on winning on the football field for the next two years, I would give it a B. But this isn't about a two year hire and we all know that Petrino will have initial success and it will be followed by absolute disaster.
Coaching Grade: F