Wednesday, December 12, 2007

What a pig ...

This is Bobby Petrino. He's a football coach - a successful one, for the most part. He was a major success at the University of Louisville, going 41-9 in his four years there and raising the Cardinals to a powerhouse in the NCAAs, after decades of being known as just a basketball school. He took that record to the NFL, signing a lucrative deal with the Atlanta Falcons prior to this season.

Bobby Petrino is a football coach.

He's also, as of last night, a coward and a quitter.

That's because Petrino's tenure as Falcons head coach also ended last night, abruptly, precisely 13 games into his NFL career. In fact, it ended less than 24 hours after he had led his team against the New Orleans Saints on Monday Night Football. Hours before that game, Petrino had told his boss, Falcons owner Arthur Blank, that he was with Atlanta for the long haul, despite the fact that the team had gone through a dismal season, a season that was doomed from the beginning after Michael Vick, their dazzling star quarterback, blew his career and his life by becoming the mastermind of a dogfighting ring and getting caught doing it. No, he told Blank, he had no desire to jump ship for the open job at the University of Arkansas, despite rumblings that Blank had heard in the background.

The next day, in the aftermath of the Falcons' 34-14 loss to the Saints - and Petrino's challenge to his players to ask themselves how they could improve the 3-10 team - the coach called Blank to tell him he was done. That night, he was at a press conference in Arkansas to accept the Razorbacks' coaching position.

How did he tell his former Falcon players? With a form letter hung in their lockers. It might as well have said "So long, suckers!" And just like that, Michael Vick - who was sentenced to 23 months in federal prison the morning of Petrino's last game with the Falcons - was no longer the most notorious person in Atlanta. At least for the time being.

We hear so much about how pro athletes aren't loyal anymore to their teams, their fan bases - that they're in it only for themselves and not the greater good of their respective franchises. But it's just as bad, maybe worse, when coaches pull the same act. Petrino is a doctrinaire coach, one based in discipline. He clashed with veterans on the Falcons, even cutting a popular and still effective lineman during the team's bye week as if to make a point about who was boss. He outlawed loud talking during team dinners. It was his prerogative to set team rules, as it is for any head coach - but Petrino seemed incapable of dealing with his players as men of respect. And then there was the absence of Vick, the talented QB Petrino was brought in to work with, to harness his skills into a form that would deliver those long-desired Super Bowl titles to Atlanta. The moment he was busted for the dogfighting, their season was effectively over. Petrino may have been dealt a bum hand, but he was being paid handsomely for it ($24 million over five years), and there was no reason not to suspect that he could right the boat next year, maybe the year after that.

Instead, he bailed out before his first year was even done, after effectively lying to his owner, his players and virtually everybody else in Georgia.

The Falcon players have condemned Petrino as a quitter and a coward and as less than a man, and why shouldn't they? After all, if one of them had pulled this act, the first person to blast them would have been Bobby Petrino. Blank says he feels "betrayed" by the move and also is pissed at Arkansas, whom he says didn't have permission to speak to Petrino. Almost everyone in the NFL family has blasted Petrino. Meanwhile, Arkansas apologists are speaking. "Forget everything you hear out of Atlanta," wrote Wally Hall in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette.

Yeah, Wally, remember that in two years when Petrino bails on Arkansas' ass to coach a larger NCAA program.

Falcons strong safety Lawyer Milloy may have said it best when summing up the sudden departure of his former coach. "This league is for real men," he said. "And I think he realized that he doesn't belong in it." At this point, I'm not sure what league Petrino belongs in. It surely isn't one I would be interested in watching.

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