This is the United States of America. And this is a country of second chances.
-- Todd Stewart, Western Kentucky athletic director
Bobby Petrino’s second chance was when the Atlanta Falcons hired him from Louisville six months after he signed a 10-year contract, and not long after he interviewed for the Auburn coaching job while the Auburn coach was still there.
Bobby Petrino’s third chance was when Arkansas rescued him from a 3-10 record with the Falcons, where he told his players he was gone by leaving goodbye notes in their lockers.
Bobby Petrino’s fourth chance came on Monday, when Western Kentucky hired him in spite of … OK, this will take a minute … in spite of the discovery that he was sleeping with the tall blonde who was on the back of his Harley when he wrecked it in April, which would be his business, even though he was married, except that he had also awarded her a job in the Arkansas football department over 158 other applicants -- and then kicked in an extra $20,000 as a gift.
If we’re going to count chances, let’s at least count right.
Western Kentucky hiring Bobby Petrino was not about second chances, or redemption, or family, or any of those things that he and Stewart said with such straight faces. It was about one thing only: winning.
A few years ago, Western Kentucky went all-in on football. The Hilltoppers had been a successful school in Division I-AA (now known as the FCS). But they moved into Division I-A (now the FBS), spent $49 million on stadium improvements, and promptly lost 26 games in a row over three seasons.
But the team rebuilt under coach Willie Taggart, a former star quarterback at WKU, and went 7-5 the past two seasons. What happens when you succeed at a smaller school? Bigger schools come calling. Taggart left for South Florida.
Which left Western Kentucky in need of a winner.
Throw out the Falcons disaster; as a college coach, Bobby Petrino wins. He went 41-9 at Louisville and 34-17 at Arkansas. Last year he went 11-2 with basically the same Arkansas team that went 4-8 this year under John L. Smith. (Of course, the way Petrino left gives him some responsibility for that 4-8.)
So what we have is an arranged marriage. Western Kentucky is getting an SEC-level coach at a Sun Belt price. Petrino is getting back in the game eight months after he nearly ended his career. The groom might not be completely sober, the bride’s got a suspicious belly bump, but everybody seems happy. Hundreds of WKU fans showed up for Petrino’s news conference. When he was introduced, they gave him a standing ovation.
Let’s agree on what’s likely to happen here. Western Kentucky will win a lot of football games. Petrino’s goal is a BCS bowl -- he dangled the magic words, Boise State, in front of the WKU crowd -- and he’ll surely be worth an upgrade from this year’s appearance in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl.
And then a few years from now – no more than three, right? – a bigger school will hand him a slip of paper with a large amount of money on it, and Petrino will sign the deal. Assuming he hasn’t done something to embarrass his school and his family first.
Ah, family. “This was a family decision,” Petrino said, mentioning his Kentucky ties – one daughter is a student at Louisville and another graduated from there. Petrino said he has been in counseling and is working on his relationship with his wife. He said the whole experience has made him a better coach and a better person.
As Todd Stewart said, this is the United States of America, a country of second chances. But Bobby Petrino at Western Kentucky is the most American thing of all – a business transaction. Western Kentucky has decided it has to win. So it’s welcoming and celebrating a coach who has left little but anger and confusion behind him.
It has a chance to be wonderful. Until that day when it’s not.
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Questions? Comments? Challenges? Taunts? You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @tommytomlinson. Did you know before today that Western Kentucky is located in Bowling Green, Ky.? There’s also a Bowling Green State in Ohio. Geography is baffling sometimes.