With Urban Meyer’s resignation at the University of Florida, Arkansas Razorbacks Fans now face concerns seeded in our consciousness from public criticisms and perceptions when Bobby Petrino was hired at Arkansas. Epitomized by ESPN’s Pat Forde commentary, the echoes of these words linger.
“In the coming days and weeks, the disingenuous drifter will say what Arkansas fans want to hear. He’ll look at them with blank shark eyes and tell them, in a monotone voice, how excited he is to be the coach of the Razorbacks. He will tell them how impressed he is by the tradition and the fan base. He will tell them that the Southeastern Conference is the place he always wanted to coach (and that might be the one true thing he’ll say, given how many times he’s tried to land a job in the league). It will be a trumped-up stump speech, as sincere as a politician’s pledge to cut taxes. It will simply be the latest pack of lies in a career full of them. But it will be what Arkansas fans want to hear, and the poor saps will be desperate to believe him. During their arduous search to replace Houston Nutt, they’ve been used and abused by one-fourth of the coaches in the ACC — first Butch Davis, then Tommy Bowden, then Jim Grobe. Auburn’s Tommy Tuberville flirted for a minute as well. So hiring a guy with a 41-9 college record will get the blood pumping. But those Arkansas fans ready to embrace their new hotshot coach and his pretty ball plays need to understand one thing: The disingenuous drifter doesn’t love you or any other fan base. He doesn’t love any school or any NFL franchise. He loves himself, his playbook and his bank account. That’s it. Don’t expect it to change. Bobby Petrino will return your embrace, Hog fans. But while he’s hugging you he’ll be looking over your shoulder, scanning the terrain for his next hook-up… — for my money, [Petrino's] the best offensive game-planner and tactician since Steve Spurrier’s heyday at Florida. “ Pat Forde, ESPN.com Criticism, Dec. 11, 2007
Understanding whether Forde was right then and whether the University of Arkansas will have a head football coach beyond the next few days are not easy tasks and are admittedly not entirely knowable. We knew this day would come when Coach Petrino accepted Arkansas’ head coach position, and the best way to explore some of the issues are to read posts originally written in 2008 and 2009 and republished within the last year on Hog Database.
The first, Petrino Understood — Part I, is necessary preface to understand Coach Petrino’s story although it tends to rehash information commonly published. The analysis continues with Petrino Understood — A Long Road But Farther To Go as it looks at the question of where Coach Petrino stood in the grand scheme of college coaches when he took his first head-coaching job at Louisville. The piece is an attempt to understand how someone with Coach Petrino’s obvious drive and coaching talent might perceive his position upon taking his first head-coaching job at Louisville. That understanding then moves to introduce what it might have taken for Louisville to hold Coach Petrino. Petrino Understood — Making the Summit at Arkansas looks at why the Louisville head coaching job would not work for Bobby Petrino and attempts to understand why Coach Petrino would find the University of Arkansas as a suitable place to make his career. For those who cannot get past the issues of Bobby Petrino and money, greed, disloyalty, and personal courage, there is nothing more compelling than Darek Braunecker’s full account as reflected in Petrino’s Battle for Arkansas. Plainly only parts of the story are mine as was the effort of the transcript. Full and complete credit for the story goes to Darek Braunecker and Shawn Arnell and Wally Hall via their radio show, The Sports Animals.
There are so many angles to assimilate, and this part will likely be revised later today as time and developing circumstances permit. A few thoughts are most important. Coach Petrino has been in the position of negotiating a contract and having a school contact or want to contact him, while at the same time having to prepare for a bowl game. Twice Coach Petrino dealt personally with a suitor which has been foreign to us at Arkansas given that Jimmy Sexton, HDN’s agent, likely gave Nutt cover as different schools considered hiring him. Coach Petrino might have a preference for dealing with it himself. His first instance was the secret meeting with an informal, officious Auburn group which drew fire for both the secrecy and the meeting. In the second instance, Petrino met with LSU officials before a bowl game. This time it was public but more criticism was heaped upon him because he had just inked a new deal with Louisville. Coach Petrino had the Oakland Raiders reportedly throw $5,000,000 at him which he declined.
People repeatedly characterize this as an issue of money. Rather, in the college ranks it was truly an issue of opportunity and competing against the best. His situation at Louisville is best understood with this passage:
It’s truly hard to imagine that a nearly undefeated football team doesn’t sell out a 42,000 seat stadium, but in 2005, of the 6 home games that Louisville played, only 2 broke the 42,000 attendance mark. See 2005 NCAA Louisville Stats at ncaa.org. Even during its 2004 run, home game attendance set a school record at 40,351 on average for 5 games, but it was still less than stadium capacity. 2005 Louisville attendance in terms of money spent, 41,000 Louisville Football Fans paying an average of $50 per ticket (single game seats were actually $32 in 2005) would generate ticket revenue of $2.05 million per home game. By contrast, in 2005 Churchill Downs on-track handle was $1.85 million per day on average for its 52-day meet. Churchill Downs 2005 Louisville Cardinal football, as suggested in a previous post, was (and will likely always be) fourth behind Horse Racing, Louisville Basketball, and sippin’ Kentucky Bourbon.
Other parts of these posts consider Louisville’s position even if it won. While still in Conference USA, and to some extent in the Big East, Louisville was followed by strength of schedule assessments with the same “but” which follows Boise St. Not as a matter of money, greed, or wanderlust was the position at Louisville intolerable, it was intolerable professionally. His team could always be the best, but it would never be considered to be the best. To be the best, he would have to guide a team to beat the best.
Money and opportunity probably did lure Petrino to the Falcons, but as a practical matter, how many can throw stones by saying that they have refused one, or all offers, to be paid at $5,000,000 per year? That was roughly Petrino’s salary at Atlanta. Too, it’s common knowledge and documented in Darek Braunecker’s story that Coach Petrino accepted a substantial pay cut to come to Arkansas and without substantial negotiation.
While Arkansas does not have the resources of Florida, Tennessee or Georgia, we have built fine facilities, have great support, and if the team wins, it competes for a National Championship. But Coach Petrino was not born with nor does he seem to expect to have a silver spoon in his mouth. If he did, he probably would have waited for another job to open instead of taking the Louisville position in the first place. Following his father on the field at Montana’s Carroll College, everything about Coach Petrino says that he finds value in and loves the challenge of making his system work against the best and when his background is considered, there is a measure of attractiveness in becoming the best when the best players are not instinctively attracted to the place he is. The idea is at the heart of You Can’t Get There From Here. But the place where he is has to meet criteria which Arkansas meets in terms of fan support, facilities, and to some measure the respect which is reflected in his pay.
As long as Arkansas keeps up its effort toward Bobby Petrino, we’ll be alright. Both sides have taken leaps of faith before. If there were any message to Coach Petrino now, it would be this. If you were to bluntly, publicly state no later than tomorrow that you are not a candidate for the Florida position, you’ll find that the level of respect you’ll gain from Arkansans and from those across the country will be substantial. Moreover, this is not a situation to leverage. People will “Answer the Call” voluntarily even when they were not inclined to do so before because you decided to stay unconditionally, but they will consider it differently if the increase is simply because of bargaining position. While I believe you’ll do the right thing and stay, close this door sooner rather than later and you will not be disappointed! WPS! — SharpTusk