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Back to school : Petrino bolts NFL s Falcons for Razorback country

BY NATE ALLEN Northwest Arkansas Times

Posted on Wednesday, December 12, 2007

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One night after telling Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank he's staying as coach of the Falcons, first-year coach Bobby Petrino resigned Tuesday afternoon, flew to Fayetteville, signed a five-year contract for $ 2. 8-million per year and was announced as the University of Arkansas'head football coach at a 10: 30 p.m. press conference.

At the University of Arkansas, the former University of Louisville head coach (41-9 at Louisville from 2003-06 ) replaces Houston Nutt, who resigned Nov. 26 to become the head coach at Ole Miss on Nov. 27.

After a brief address by UA Chancellor John White, incoming UA athletics director Jeff Long announced Petrino's appointment.

"When our search began for the next head football coach on Nov. 26, our objective was to find the best head football coach for the U of A," Long said. "We wanted to find a proven coach with an established track record of success on the field who could bring innovative ideas and philosophies to both sides of the football who had won conference championships and competed and succeeded in the BCS.

But just as importantly we wanted someone who exhibited an record of discipline and accountability with their student-athletes while maintaining exemplary citizenship."

Now the 30 th head football coach in UA history, Petrino has been considered an Arkansas possibility since Nutt's resignation but appeared to have removed himself from consideration after Blank said Monday that Petrino told him he was sticking with the Falcons, 3-10 with three games still to play.

What changed his mind ?

"It really wasn't a change in mind," Petrino said. "It was working out the details and the ability to get here. I wanted to get back to coaching college football. I truly believe in the student-athlete."

Petrino said he had not phoned in his resignation as had been reported by media earlier in the day but talked face-to-face with Rich McKay, the Falcons' president and general manager.

"That was one of the most difficult things I had to do was walk in and do it," Petrino said. "A tremendous amount of thought and prayer went to it. It was very difficult but I truly believe from the bottom of my heart I made the right decision."

In his opening statement, Petrino said it was an "easy decision"to come to the UA though he said he had not talked with Long face-toface until Tuesday's meeting in Atlanta.

Presumably, Chuck Neinas, of Chuck Neinas Sports Services who assisted Long in the search, talked with Petrino's agent prior to Long's "eye-to-eye "meeting Tuesday.

"I'm very excited to be coming back to the SEC, the best football conference in the United States," Petrino said. "It's very easy to come to a university that has the commitment, the facilities and the passion to win the national championship. I can tell you one of the most attractive things about the U of A is the fan base that extends from Northwest Arkansas to Little Rock to West Memphis. I look forward to being the main show no question."

Petrino was asked if he might have stayed with Atlanta had incarcerated star quarterback Michael Vick been available instead of suspended for the season and facing a 23-month jail sentence for his involvement in illegal dogfighting.

"That's all speculation," he said. "I wish Michael the best. It's been a tough situation for everybody, mostly for him. Hopefully he can learn and grow from the difficulty facing him the next two years."

Petr ino said it is his understanding that the current Razorback staff, headed by interim coach Reggie Herring, will coach the Razorbacks for their Cotton Bowl game, Jan. 1 in Dallas.

Petrino said his first job is recruiting, including visiting the 19 players that have verbally committed to sign with Arkansas.

Though a native of Montana, Petrino, 46, has experience coaching in the South at Louisville, first as an assistant and then as head coach and coaching in the SEC as a former assistant to Tommy Tuberville at Auburn.

A graduate and quarterback at Carroll College, Petrino began coaching in 1983 as a grad assistant at his alma mater.

He had one year as a grad assistant at Weber State before returning to Carroll College in 1985 as offensive coordinator.

He became a full-time Division I coach as an assistant at Weber and Idaho from 1987-91 and got his first major break as quarterbacks coach at Arizona State in 1992 where he coached eventual NFL quarterback Jake Plummer.

Petrino was an offensive coordinator at Nevada, and Utah State and as offensive coordinator at Louisville in 1998.

He coached three years in the NFL as quarterbacks coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars before going back to college coaching as Auburn's offensive coordinator in 2002. He became Louisville's head coach in 2003.

[i] If he never changed his mind, isn't he basically admitting he lied to Blank and McKay when asked if he was bolting for Arkansas??

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