Tuesday, December 6, 2011
Paul Petrino leaves Illinois for Arkansas
By Brian Bennett
Illinois will be without another major piece of its coaching staff for the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl against UCLA.
The school fired head coach Ron Zook one day after a season-ending loss at Minnesota. Now, offensive coordinator Paul Petrino is jumping ship and reportedly heading back to Arkansas to coach for his brother, Bobby. Defensive coordinator Vic Koenning is the Illini's interim head coach, but he said Sunday night that there's no guarantee he wouldn't leave before the bowl game if he found the right opportunity elsewhere.
Losing Petrino causes more uncertainty for the players, but perhaps this offense could use a shakeup right now.
Like his brother, Paul Petrino is an excellent playcaller, and Illinois averaged 32.5 points per game during his first season as coordinator last year. The offense was scoring at a similar clip in the first half of this year, but it suddenly ground to a halt over the last six games, all losses. The Illini averaged just 11 points per game in the final six and put up at least one scoreless half in each of those games. You can't blame that all on Petrino, but it was odd how the offensive line got worse as the year went along and how quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase's production and confidence dipped after a strong freshman campaign.
One of the main reasons Petrino left Arkansas was because he wanted to become a head coach, and he felt he needed to get out of his brother's shadow to do so. When Koenning was named interim coach, it became clear that Petrino wasn't going to succeed Zook. Now he heads back to Fayetteville to replace Garrick McGee, who was named head coach at UAB.
Quarterbacks coach Jeff Brohm reportedly will serve as Illinois' offensive coordinator for the bowl game. Brohm has experience as a playcaller, having served as offensive coordinator at Louisville under Steve Kragthorpe. He also was an assistant under Bobby Petrino at Louisville and helped tutor his brother, Brian, at quarterback. His knowledge of the Petrino-style offense should make this as smooth a transition as possible, and Brohm deserves a shot at being a coordinator again after getting a raw deal in his one year under the embattled Kragthorpe.
Ultimately, the Illinois coaching situation won't start to settle until athletic director Mike Thomas hires a new head coach.