It wasn’t long ago that Bobby Petrino was one of the pre-eminent coaches in college football. He had a very successful tenure at Louisville, which vaulted him onto the NFL stage with the Atlanta Falcons, and then with the Arkansas Razorbacks in the SEC. The infamous scandal that led to him being fired by Arkansas, when he was found to be having an affair with a staffer after the two were involved in a nasty motorcycle accident, derailed his coaching career for a while. Just years later, he rebounded at Western Kentucky and then with a second stint at Louisville. That went well for a few years, with the emergence of Heisman winner and eventual NFL superstar Lamar Jackson, but the team absolutely bottomed out in 2018, and Petrino and his staff, which featured his son Nick Petrino and sons-in-law Ryan Beard and L.D. Scott, were also fired.
That doesn’t mean Petrino’s coaching career is done. Against the odds, it didn’t take him long to land yet another head coaching job. He is now at the FCS level, and just wrapped up his first year with Missouri State.
It is unclear whether he’ll manage to land back in the FBS after how bad things turned at Louisville at the end of his second tenure. His scandal-ridden history at Arkansas didn’t preclude Louisville from taking him back, but the way things fell apart quickly with that program, it raises serious questions.
It probably all depends on what happens with Missouri State. So far, the results have been pretty good, especially once the calendar turned to 2021. As a few FCS programs did, Missouri State squeezed in a few fall games, with a 48-0 thrashing at the hands of Oklahoma and a pair of losses to Central Arkansas. They were back on the field along with most of the FCS level in the spring, and went 5-1 before falling 44-10 to No. 7 North Dakota in the first round of the FCS Playoffs.
Bobby Petrino’s Assistant Coaching Career, First Stint at Louisville:
While many successful college football coaches come up through major programs as players, that wasn’t the case for Petrino. From 1980-82, the Lewistown, Mont. native attended Carroll College in Helena, where he played quarterback. The Fighting Saints play at the NAIA level. They went on to become an NAIA dynasty in the 2000s, but Petrino is probably the most notable alumnus from that program.
After finishing his playing career, he became a graduate assistant in 1983, and after a year as GA at Weber State, he was hired back at his alma mater as offensive coordinator from 1985-86. He then returned to Weber State, a 1-AA program, in 1987, where he coached wide receivers and tight ends for two seasons.
In 1989, Petrino moved to Idaho to coach quarterbacks, taking over offensive coordinator duties in 1990. In 1992, he made a big jump up to power conference D-1A football, coaching quarterbacks at Arizona State. From there, he bounced around western D-1A football programs, with stops at Nevada and Utah State, before his first stint at Louisville, where he served as offensive coordinator and QBs coach in 1998.
The following year, Tom Coughlin hired him to coach quarterbacks for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Petrino would again gain offensive coordinator duties for one year, in 2001. The following year, he returned to college, as offensive coordinator at Auburn, helping Tommy Tuberville‘s team to a share of the SEC West title, a year before the Tigers would go undefeated. In 2003, he’d take over Louisville, and immediately helped them launch to the top of Conference USA, following up a 9-4 first season with an 11-1 2004 season. The Cardinals went 8-0 in conference, and finished No. 6 in the AP Poll.
Louisville made the move up to the Big East the following season, but Petrino’s team continued kept rolling. Quarterback Brian Brohm and running back Michael Bush led a Cardinals team that went 9-3 in 2005 and 11-1 in 2006, winning the Orange Bowl that final season against Wake Forest. They finished No. 5 in the AP and No. 6 in the Coaches Poll at the end of that season. In July 2006, Petrino signed a giant 10-year, $25.6 million deal with the Cardinals. After the Orange Bowl, and less than six months after signing that deal with Louisville, he accepted the head coaching job with the Atlanta Falcons.
13 Games with the Atlanta Falcons, and a Return to College Football:
On paper, it’s hard to blame Petrino for taking the Falcons job. He was set to inherit one of the most exciting quarterbacks in the world just entering his prime, Michael Vick. His Falcons deal also paid almost as much across five years as his entire 10-year Louisville contract.
The 2007 season in Atlanta was about as hectic as possible, and Petrino didn’t even last the full season.
During that summer, ahead of Petrino’s first training camp with the team, Vick was arrested for his involvement in an illegal dog fighting ring in his native Newport News, Virginia. The case against him derailed his 2007 season, leaving Petrino with the underwhelming trio of Joey Harrington, Chris Redman, and Byron Leftwich at quarterback. Each started at least two games for the team, with Harrington getting most of the work.
After a 3-10 start to the season, following a 34-14 loss to the New Orleans Saints, Petrino resigned from the job to take over as the head coach at Arkansas. He famously left notes in the lockers of his Falcons players, which have been widely mocked for years now:
“Atlanta Falcons Players:
Out of my respect for you, I am letting you know that, with a heavy heart, I resigned today as Head Coach of the Atlanta Falcons. This decision was not easy but was made in the best interest of me and my family. While my desire would have been to finish out what has been a difficult season for us all, circumstances did not allow me to do so. I appreciate your hard work and wish you the best.
While he could not have foreseen the Vick situation, Petrino is regarded as one of the worst hires in recent NFL history.
Remember when Bobby Petrino couldn’t quit like a man so he had a Falcons staffer leave this note in his players’ lockers in the middle of the night because he was too important to do it himself and then we all had to watch his dumb ass yelling “Woo pig sooie” on TV? Good times. pic.twitter.com/wMIThF5XQM
— Jeanna Kelley (@jeannathomas) November 11, 2018
Petrino’s Arkansas Tenure, and the Affair/Motorcycle Accident Scandal:
After 10 seasons at Arkansas, Houston Nutt left for the job at SEC West rival Ole Miss, where he replaced Ed Orgeron. To fill the opening, the school took a big swing, prying Petrino from the NFL, and handing him one of the more difficult jobs in the SEC. It didn’t take long for him to turn the Hogs into contenders.
After a 5-7 2008 season, the Razorbacks bounced back with a solid 8-5 season in 2009, headlined by a blowout win over No. 17 Auburn at mid-season. Petrino’s team would rattle off five wins in its last six games, including an overtime win over ECU at the Liberty Bowl.
The team would vault into the upper-echelon of the SEC over the next two seasons. In 2010, the team finished the regular season on a six-game win-streak, beating ranked South Carolina and Mississippi State teams on the road, and beating No. 6 LSU in Little Rock. They lost a narrow Sugar Bowl to Ohio State to finish 11-3 (6-2), and second place in the SEC West. The Razorbacks ended the year ranked No. 12 in both polls.
The team was among the SEC’s strongest once again in 2011. The Razorbacks’ only losses came on the road at No. 3 Alabama and No. 1 LSU. A Cotton Bowl win over No. 10 Kansas State put Arkansas into the No. 5 spot in both polls at season’s end. Petrino looked to have Arkansas ready to compete for national titles, when scandal tore down his career in Fayetteville.
Since Bobby Petrino fell off a motorcycle in April of 2012:
Arkansas is 37-62 straight up, the worst win % in the SEC.
The Razorbacks are also -3.4 ATS ppg!
That's the second-worst ATS ppg margin in the country behind Connecticut! pic.twitter.com/oBOsYJb0Rz
— Brad Powers (@BradPowers7) July 17, 2020
On April 1, 2012, he was involved in a nasty motorcycle crash on Arkansas Highway 16, riding with Jessica Dorrell, a former all-conference volleyball player at the school. Just days earlier, Dorrell was hired by the football program as a student-athlete development coordinator. Days after the accident, Petrino, who had originally said he was alone when the crash occurred, admitted that Dorrell was also riding with him, and that the two had been having an affair.
Athletic director Jeff Long fired him on April 10 for cause. During the investigation into Petrino’s conduct, the school discovered cash gifts made to Dorrell, and Long stated that Petrino had not disclosed the relationship when the program hired her, and that she would not have been hired under the circumstances.
Things have been very difficult for Arkansas football since the Bobby Petrino scandal. John L. Smith was a joke around the college football world after taking over as interim head coach in 2012, leading the team to a 4-8 season. Bret Bielema, who was hired away from Wisconsin, had some success with bowl seasons in 2014-16, but was fired after a 4-8 season and 7th place finish in 2017. Chad Morris‘ tenure was an abject disaster, as the team went 4-20 over two years.
The program has a glimmer of hope after year one of the Sam Pittman era. The 3-7 record doesn’t jump off the page, but that comes during an All-SEC schedule mandated by COVID-19, and it featured wins over No. 16 Mississippi State, Ole Miss, and Tennessee, and very competitive games against LSU and Auburn. Even so, the team is just 40-69 in the years since Petrino’s ouster.
Second Louisville Stint, Fired After Disastrous 2018 Season:
Bobby Petrino’s personal reputation took a major hit after the scandal, but he was the coach that had just turned Arkansas into a national power. It felt like just a matter of time before he’d land another job, and ahead of the 2013 season, Western Kentucky brought him in to lead the Hilltoppers, after Willie Taggart‘s departure for the job at USF.
Petrino signed a four-year deal worth $850,000 per year, and would have to repay the school $1.2 million over six months if he left early. After an 8-4 season, including a win over Kentucky, he got the call from his old school: Louisville. The Cardinals hired Petrino back, less than a decade after he walked out on a 10-year deal, to replace the Texas-bound Charlie Strong.
Petrino picked right up where he left in 2006, now with Louisville playing in the ACC. In his first game back, the Cardinals blew out Miami, 31-13. They’d finish 9-4, with relatively close losses to both Clemson and Florida State, falling to Georgia in the Belk Bowl at the end of the year. Louisville finished No. 24 in both polls.
UL put together a similar season in 2015, finishing 8-5 (5-3), with another near-miss against Clemson. The end of the season showed reasons for serious optimism. The Cardinals won six of their last seven games, including a Music City Bowl against Texas A&M. That final game featured a dominant performance from freshman quarterback Lamar Jackson, who became a bigger focal point of the offense as the year went along.
In 2016, he absolutely exploded, throwing for 3,543 yards, 30 touchdowns, and nine interceptions, and rushing for another 1,571 and 21 touchdowns en route to the Heisman Trophy. The Cardinals went 9-4, with a 7-1 ACC record, losing in the Citrus Bowl to LSU. Jackson was brilliant as a junior once again in 2017, but the team took a somewhat surprising step back, going 8-5 with a 4-4 ACC record.
One would think that coaching Lamar Jackson, one of the greatest players college football has seen, would open serious doors in recruiting and unlock Louisville’s full potential. A year after he left campus, the program absolutely cratered. Petrino was fired after a 2-8 start, with an 0-7 ACC record. The Cardinals had losses of 20 or more points to Alabama, Virginia, Wake Forest, Clemson, and Syracuse. After a 54-23 loss to the Orange on Nov. 9, Petrino was fired.
Bobby Petrino Reemerges At Missouri State, Personal Life, His Son And Brother’s Coaching Careers:
Once again, Bobby Petrino defied odds and rebounded with a new job just a few years after a pretty disgraceful end to his time at a major program. This time, it is at Missouri State, an ambitious FCS-level program in the Missouri Valley Conference.
Petrino is being paid $250,000 per year, in his new five-year deal with the program. That is actually a downgrade from how much the program was paying Dave Steckel, though Petrino doesn’t have a ton of leverage, even over an FCS program. Another successful career rehabilitation stint is probably worth more to him than the salary.
Kyle Moats, Missouri State’s AD, worked at Louisville during Petrino’s first tenure there. School president Clif Smart was way out front in celebrating the hire, calling him one of the best coaches in the sport when he was hired. With an FCS Playoff berth under his belt, so far so good for the program, but as we know, things burn very hot and very fast when Petrino takes over a program.
Coaching is a family affair for Petrino. His brother Paul Petrino was on his Louisville and Arkansas staffs. He has been head coach at Idaho since 2013, and has racked up a 28-55 record, topping out at 9-4 in 2016, when the team won the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. The team moved down to the FCS level after the 2017 season.
Nick Petrino, Bobby’s son, attended Louisville during his father’s first tenure there. He’d become a student assistant at Arkansas and Western Kentucky under his father, and then a graduate assistant during his second Louisville stint. He has not followed his father to Missouri State, and is now the co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at UT-Martin at the FCS level, his first job on a staff other than his father’s. Petrino and his wife Becky have three more children: Kelsey and Katie, both Louisville alumnae, the latter of whom played golf at the school, and Bobby Jr., who attended Arkansas.