Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich is one of the most respected administrators in collegiate athletics. But he just made the biggest gamble of his career, all in the name of three letters:
It is inconceivable that Jurich would make such a high-risk hire in Bobby Petrino without a pending move to a new league home. Louisville simply cannot afford to take any steps back as it faces a much tougher league and much tougher schedule beginning in 2014.
So Jurich decided to hire a proven on-field winner in Petrino despite every sign that should have stopped him. This move is not about the welfare of the student-athlete or integrity or honor, loyalty, commitment, character or values. Petrino stands for none of those.
This move is about winning.
Hey, at least Louisville has nakedly telegraphed its intentions here. Where others speak in hollow platitudes about molding men, Louisville has kept it real. In the big-business world that collegiate athletics has become, winning generally trumps all.
So Petrino -- identified as one of the biggest villains in Louisville football history -- is now being welcomed back to a place he seemed eager to ditch in nearly every waking moment he previously held the job. The only plausible explanation is because he knows how to win.
And the urgency to win has increased since Monday night, when Florida State won the national championship, serving notice it is now a force once again.
Louisville must now face Florida State every year in the Atlantic Division. Louisville also must face Clemson every year in the Atlantic Division. As much as outsiders have made it a hobby to disrespect the ACC, the two-headed monster atop the Atlantic is a formidable one. One of those two schools has played in the ACC championship game for five straight seasons. Both made BCS games this year. Both won.
As if that is not difficult enough, the 2014 schedule also features a trip to Notre Dame and a rematch with Miami, making this one of the most difficult slates Louisville has played in recent memory. Louisville went 12-1 in 2013 but failed to earn national respect because it played one of the weakest schedules in the country. The Cardinals finished No. 15 in the AP poll, behind 11 teams with multiple losses.
"When you look down on the schedule and see who we get to bring here and play and where we get to travel, it's a great challenge," Petrino said during his introductory news conference Thursday. "I'm not going to have a lot of sleep, but it's also what Tom and Dr. (James) Ramsey have worked towards for so many years, to be in a conference like we're in."
Petrino knows how to deal with difficult schedules, too. When he coached at Arkansas, he took the Razorbacks to a BCS game out of the stacked West Division following the 2010 season, beating three ranked teams along the way. In his final two years there, Petrino took Arkansas to double-digit wins and 6-2 division marks.
His success in the SEC West serves as a better measuring stick for potential ACC success than his 41-9 record at Louisville from 2003-06, if only because he won in a much more difficult conference. When he took the Louisville job back in 2003 -- the first head-coaching job of his career -- the Cardinals were in Conference USA.
They are a far cry from there today. Louisville has an $85 million athletics budget, which would rank it No. 1 in the ACC. The expectation is to continue on an upward trajectory after former coach Charlie Strong got the program back to where Petrino had it before leaving for the NFL.
All the W's and L's and X's and O's show Petrino gives Louisville that chance. His high-flying style of offense fits right into the league, and the Atlantic in particular. But that is all he gives Louisville -- a chance to win games.
Whether that ultimately overshadows the unseemly part of this hire is on Jurich.