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Petrino and Lane Kiffin


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Arkansas provided leverage

Nancy Gay

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

(12-11) 21:05 PST -- Who could have imagined a middle-of-the-pack Southeastern Conference school could cause so much turmoil in the NFL?

Arkansas had an opening for a head coach, then proceeded over the next two weeks to dangle a list of college candidates and possible NFL replacements that included everyone but Vince Lombardi.

In the insular world of high-level coaching employment, that Arkansas job was like a gift from heaven. Every coach out there, whether he was coaching at the Division I level or itching to get out of an undesirable NFL gig, wanted his name in the ring for the job.

Why? Leverage.

Look who toyed with that Razorbacks' job and what it got them: Tommy Bowden got a contract extension from Clemson when it became known Arkansas was interested in him; Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe reportedly turned down the job and received a healthy "compensation package" in return. Auburn's Tommy Tuberville flirted with Arkansas and received a deal to stay that will pay him close to $3 million a year.

That's what leverage gets you.

There were plenty of NFL coaches in the mix, but their interest was more about escape rather than sweetening the deals they already had. The Raiders' Lane Kiffin, whom Razorbacks' boosters remember as the USC co-offensive coordinator who had piled up 70 and 50 points on them in 2005 and '06, was at the top of the list, until his employer, Al Davis, demanded too much of a payoff.

Those who know Kiffin well say he desperately wanted the Arkansas job.

"More money, more control," was how one person put it.

Word was, Kiffin thought he was back at the top of the Razorbacks' list Tuesday morning. But oh, how the day unfolded.

Bobby Petrino also was an Arkansas candidate from the start.

Petrino - the successful (41-9) Louisville coach - was dealing from a better deck than was Kiffin. Petrino knew he was in a no-win situation coaching the Atlanta Falcons. He simply wasn't cutting it, overseeing an undisciplined NFL team that lost its franchise quarterback to federal dogfighting charges and assorted other players to injury. Petrino's "my way or nothing" philosophy didn't work at all with highly paid professional players who did not buy a word he said.

Remember, Petrino dumped two successful coaches now in Oakland, offensive coordinator Greg Knapp and offensive line coach Tom Cable.

All along, Petrino, whom owner Arthur Blank had awarded a five-year, $24 million contract, had his eyes on a bigger prize, several sources said Tuesday.

Like LSU.

All that ended when Les Miles worked the interest from Michigan to get a lucrative contract extension from LSU. When Miles reiterated Tuesday that he would not leave LSU to be Lloyd Carr's successor in Ann Arbor and a possible escape route closed in Baton Rouge, Petrino acted quickly.

His Falcons (3-10) were an embarrassment Monday night. Players sported public displays of loyalty to jailed former teammate Michael Vick. DeAngelo Hall, who openly had defied Petrino all season, drawing a $100,000 fine at one point, walked into the Georgia Dome with a sign reading "Free Michael Vick." Teammate Roddy White wore a T-shirt with the same message.

Blank nonetheless told the "Monday Night Football" announcing crew that he stood behind Petrino and appreciated his head coach.

Then Petrino's team went out and got waxed by the Saints 34-14. You think Petrino's head was in that game? If it were, he would not have permitted anyone in a Falcons uniform to embarrass the organization by wearing tributes to a disgraced former teammate.

We know Petrino didn't care, because he resigned Tuesday afternoon to take the Arkansas job for a reported $3 million a season.

Petrino will be remembered in NFL circles as a quitter, even more so than former Miami coach Nick Saban, the onetime LSU coach who lasted two seasons with the Dolphins before bolting to Alabama. More than Lou Holtz, who quit the Jets after going 3-10 in 1976. Holtz, coincidentally, left the Jets to coach at Arkansas. At least Holtz didn't pretend he was NFL material.

Petrino misled the Falcons on the field and he misled them off it, judging by his side dealings with Arkansas the past couple of weeks. He did the franchise and its owner, one of the NFL's finest, a disservice Tuesday. He left them behind in their darkest hour.

Maybe the kids at Arkansas will buy what Petrino is selling. The NFL knows better now.

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