Good times are long gone, time for Bobby Petrino to go

Athletic Director Tom Jurich couldn’t blamed if he appeared to be having second thoughts about hiring Bobby Petrino as Louisville football coach during a January 2014 press conference (Charlie Springer photo).

A couple of weeks ago one was for giving Bobby Petrino the benefit of the doubt, believing he had earned a mulligan for one bad year because of all he had accomplished during his first eight seasons of guiding University of Louisville football.

After watching UofL flounder helplessly against Wake Forest and Clemson, however, has one been forced to reconsider. A very difficult proposition for the Observer who was thrilled to have Petrino back when he succeeded Charlie Strong in 2014. 

One of my favorite memories of UofL football was attending the Louisville-Wake Forest game in the 2007 BCSOrange Bowl in Miami, along with 35,000 to 40,000 fellow Louisville fans.  UofL was riding an all-time wave of popularity, with a Kentucky fan sitting beside me in a New Year’s Day bowl game before a national TV audience. The Cardinals were riding high, finishing with a 12-1 record and Bobby was considered an offensive genius.

The next day the same UK fan handed me a Florida newspaper with an article indicating that Petrino had accepted a job with the Atlanta Falcons. And just like that, Petrino was gone. He was done with Louisville, finally managing to get what he considered to be a superior job with all the accompanying recognition.

The excitement wouldn’t last long for Petrino, with him not making it through an entire season. He would wind up at Fayetteville, standing behind a microphone shouting, “Woo, Pig, Sooie” at an Arkansas press conference. A couple of years later he was gone, having disgraced himself with an extramarital affair and fired for lying to the school’s athletic director. After a year’s absence, he would wind up  at Western Kentucky University.

After Charlie Strong left for Texas at the end of 2013, Petrino was contacting Tom Jurich and Jim Ramsey, pleading for a second chance at Louisville. The outcome was predictable with Petrino getting the job. There were some concerned board members at the press conference, the concerns were outweighed by the outlook for Petrino’s offense and the prospects for a return of high-powered UofL football.

Five years later, UofL is struggling through its worst season in 20 years, with a 2-7 won-lost record, winless in six conference games, and coming off of a humiliating 77-16 loss to Clemson. There is no evidence of any improvement in any phase of the team’s game at any point this season. The opposite has been true, with the team getting progressively worse, incompetent and inept. 

The defense has to be the worst ever, with opposing teams running over, around and through UofL defenders with little or no resistance. The offense bears no resemblance to previous Petrino teams, getting outscored by an average of 19 points per game. Even worse, the players don’t appear to have any idea of what they’re supposed to be doing on either side of the ball. And it doesn’t seem to bother some of them very much.

Petrino needs to be gone, as soon as possible. The ideal situation would be to fire him immediately and name an interim coach. The problem is there doesn’t seem to anyone on Petrino’s staff anywhere near capable of replacing him. 

The reported $14 million buyout is steep, especially for UofL these days, but it would be the best thing for the future of UofL football. The sooner Petrino is gone, the better. Only after he’s gone will Louisville football be able to move forward again.

Expect Chris Mack to thrive but with no help from schedule

Cindy Rice Shelton photo

Nobody in their right mind believes the job is going to be easy for Chris Mack at the University of Louisville. He has already proven, however, that he’s fearless,  ready to tackle challenges that would have sent lesser individuals ducking for cover. 

Taking the UofL job even though the program was in the first year of a four-year probationary period with the NCAA. Taking it despite the fact that UofL was in the crosshairs of an FBI investigation. Taking it though he would be staring down the barrel of still another NCAA inquisition in the not-too-distant future.

Chris Mack knows what he's up against, just as he did when he first accepted the Louisville job.

There’s no way of predicting when the NCAA will act, and when it does, how the organization will deal with the basketball program. Despite the fact that University has replaced its president, athletic director and head basketball coach since then, the governing body could still come down hard on UofL.

Expecting the NCAA to recognize everything the school has done to transform itself would be an exercise in futility. Oversight committees generally  consist of academic bureaucrats and conflicted attorneys eager to show how tough they can be, especially with schools who make the investigations so easy for them.

The specter of harsh penalties possibly hanging over the program had fans and pundits predicting that it would be next to impossible to recruit blue chip talent to Louisville. A frequent refrain among UofL partisans was to encourage fellow fans to enjoy the current level of talent because it would take years for UofL to get back in the chase.

Then there was the notion of succeeding a man some considered a legend before all the scandals caught up with him. Rick Pitino is one of the best college basketball coaches ever, winning national championships at two different schools and taking three different schools to the final four. Equally impressive, spawning a coaching tree that has included more than 40 head coaches.

Not an easy decision for any of the above reasons. Chris Mack admitted, however, the Louisville job was “a new and unique challenge that I could not turn down.” Not with UofL’s long and storied tradition, a loyal fan base with an extraordinary level of passion, and so many resources, including sparkling new athletic facilities. A $4 million annual salary and a seven-year contract didn’t hurt either.

Mack has quickly earned high levels of respect from UofL fans for his willingness to take the job. But he has also endeared himself to former players and coaches, wanting them to be a part of the program, encouraging them to attend practices. He and his wife Christi recently hosting many of them at his new Louisville home.  Something that never happened during Pitino’s 11 seasons.

The 49-year-old UofL coach has been equally impressive on the recruiting trail, with a class that currently includes five 4-star players among the six recruits. At last check, the 2019 Louisville class was ranked No. 1 in the nation — something that never ever happened during Pitino’s tenure.

Now comes the tough part, with the beginning of the 2018-19 season starting next week. The schedule is probably the strongest ever for a Louisville team, with a slate that includes seven of college basketball top 10 all-time winningest teams. And with a roster still heavily loaded with players from last season’s 22-14 team.

Not the best conditions for his debut, Mack is faced with the toughest schedule in the nation. There’s a steep learning curve ahead, and the likelihood of more valleys than peaks for a roster that has only 10 scholarship players.  

Chris Mack knows what he’s up against, just as he did when he first accepted the Louisville job. Based on his performance thus far, however, this observer expects the new UofL coach to continue exceeding all expectations. Enjoy the ride.

Rumors and rumors of rumors

Rumors. Rumors of rumors. 

Crazy times for football coaches when their teams are off the track. Just ask Bobby Petrino whose University of Louisville squad has lost five of its first seven games. The word spreads quickly around town Monday  that the current UofL coach will be gone by the end of the week.

The rumor mill is fueled when Lachlan McLean, a sports talk jock on ESPN680, says some “more Bobby news” would be forthcoming and “could be good or bad based on which side you’re on.” From that point on, the speculators are off and running, with the suspected behavior becoming progressively worse.

As of Wednesday morning, no one is certain whether there is any substance to the rumors or not. There are never any details or specific accusations, just insinuations and innuendo. The rumors feed upon themselves, as if keeping them going will somehow result in some actual facts. 

After a certain p0int, when nothing has been verified, some people start to doubt the veracity of the information. The insiders go silent, the rumor mill goes into neutral, but people are convinced something has happened and are still expecting some shoes to drop. Fans in suspended animation as Petrino runs his troops through drills on the practice field.

The problem with this cycle is that people’s reputations are harmed during the process. A quick response from someone in authority would help to alleviate the situation. Waiting just gives the rumors time to spread and evolve. 

Time for someone at UofL to acknowledge the existence of the rumors, and address them.

Petrino getting bum’s rush as expectations plummet

Cindy Rice Shelton photo

Bobby Petrino is not going to be fired this week or next. Still hard to believe people are already calling for his head.

Petrino’s immediate dismissal is what a sizeable segment of University of Louisville fans is clamoring for, as if an early dismissal would somehow make the season turn out better.  Local sports talk radio jocks, seemingly unaware of his accomplishments, are stirring up the fan base, some of them advocating replacements for Petrino.

Many just want him gone, as soon as possible. Never mind that there’s no one on Petrino’s staff remotely qualified to be head football coach, not even on an interim basis. His staff is conditioned to his brush style, staying out of his way, taking orders, not leading.

One talk show pundit, in a continuing effort to demonize Petrino, suggesting Petrino didn’t have a press conference this week because he didn’t want to face the sports media. The fact is Petrino never has press conferences during bye weeks.

Granted, this season’s Louisville football team is falling fall short of the standards Petrino has set over seven seasons. The offensive line is almost non-existent, the quarterbacks don’t seem to have a clue, and there is no consistency in the passing and running offense. 

If by some miracle he is able to turn things around, Petrino will quickly be restored to sainthood status. 

Fans who were so joyful when Petrino was rehired at UofL have been drained of enthusiasm during a season when the capacity of Cardinal Stadium was expanded by 6,000 seats to a capacity of 60,000. A glorious venue, the apex of UofL athletic facilities, but now the scene of one of the most disappointing failures in the athletic program’s history.

These have been some challenging times for Bobby Petrino. Over the last year or so, he has lost some important people in his life. People who supported him, people he counted for friendship and advice, are gone.

The first loss was Tom Jurich, one of his best friends, who was fired following the latest UofL basketball trauma in 2017. Jurich was the man who helped Petrino put his life back together after the motorcycle accident and the sex scandal at Arkansas. Jurich not only helped Petrino get back in the coaching business at Western Kentucky University and then signed him to a lavish contract at UofL.

Petrino also lost one of most staunch supporters when his father, Bobby, Sr., passed away at the age of 81 in late July. Bobby, Sr. was the head football coach at Carroll College from 1971 to 1998. Petrino, along with his brother Paul, both played quarterback at Carroll, running their father’s option offense. Bobby, Sr. spent much of his time in Louisville, attending every game, making many practices, making most coaching shows. He was always around the program.

There was also the loss of a former Heisman Trophy winner who made offense look so easy. But Petrino said the offense would be even better without Lamar Jackson. Everyone believed Petrino, only to be disappointed.

Not so long ago Petrino was practically worshipped by fans, considered an offensive genius, courted by some traditional football programs. Now that he’s lost four of his last six games, Petrino is toxic, facing an onslaught from the many of the same people who thought he could do no wrong. Small wonder coaches tend to stay at arm’s length with media and fans.

The 57-year-old Petrino is still UofL’s second all-time winningest coach with an overall record of 77 wins and 31 losses. The coach who won a BCS trophy at the Orange Bowl in 2007, a game that attracted more than 35,000 fans to Miami. He ranks first in program history in conference winning percentage (.653%), home wins  with 40, Associated Press top 25 victories with seven, and AP Top 25 finishes (five). 

The biggest obstacle to bringing in some new blood is Petrino’s $14 million buyout, a price few Power 5 teams can afford to pay. The next challenge would be attracting a proven coach who would come with a similar price tag attached. One is looking at some astronomical numbers. Best to wait a while, at least another season, hoping he can turn things around.

Petrino’s current team may very well continue to perform poorly, lose the rest of its games and wind up with a 2-10 record this season. His team may wind up playing in front of half-empty or worse Cardinal Stadium seats. But if by some miracle he is able to turn things around, Petrino would quickly be restored to sainthood status.  Regardless of whether that happens or not, Bobby has earned another season.