Petrino's legacy will be tough to reshape

August, 9, 2012
8/09/12
3:00
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I’m convinced that Bobby Petrino will coach again.

He’s too good a coach, too good a play-caller and too proven for somebody not to give him another chance.

I don’t necessarily think that chance will come at a high-profile school in a power conference.

Then again, when prominent boosters get desperate and a once-proud program is down on its luck, anything’s possible in big-time college sports.

[+] EnlargeBobby Petrino
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesBobby Petrino may have a tainted reputation, but that likely won't stop a football program from requesting his services next season.
Still, a more probable path for Petrino back to the bright lights of the SEC, Big Ten, Big 12 or Pac-12 will take him through a locale that doesn’t have $35 million to spend on a new football complex, doesn’t play on national television just about every weekend and doesn’t take bowl trips for granted.

And that’s probably the way it should be.

Petrino has made mistakes, and he’s admitted those mistakes.

He’s still a commodity as a football coach and probably always will be. But he’s also a risk and dragging around with him some serious baggage that would put any school president or athletic director on alert.

He may not have to prove himself as a football coach. But as a husband, a father and a person you can genuinely trust, he has his work cut out.

Petrino’s reputation even before he and Jessica Dorrell went spiraling into that ditch on a motorcycle during the spring was already shaky at best. There was his abandonment of the Atlanta Falcons as head coach with three games to play in the 2007 season to take the Arkansas job. He let his players know he was leaving by tacking a short letter on each of their lockers.

There was also the clandestine interview with Auburn officials in 2003 for a head coaching job that wasn’t open. Tommy Tuberville was still the Tigers’ coach, and not only that, but Petrino had worked under Tuberville at Auburn as offensive coordinator the previous season.

Granted, there are a lot of coaches out there who win big and make big bucks, but they’re never going to be accused of being saintly. The same goes for attorneys, business owners, actors, even sportswriters.

At some point, though, even those coaches with the most gifted football minds lose their credibility with moms, dads and grandparents when they have to go in some recruit’s living room and tell that recruit’s family members to ignore their past transgressions and that they’ve learned from those transgressions.

Again, I have no doubt that we’ll see Petrino coaching football again, and I’m equally confident that he’ll have success again. He was exactly what Arkansas had hoped he would be until his affair with Dorrell, whom he hired to work in the football office, became public.

The Hogs won 21 games the past two seasons, played in their first-ever BCS bowl game in 2010 and finished No. 5 in the final polls a year ago.

Petrino’s most difficult task will be finding somebody who’s willing to pull the trigger on him and absorb what will undoubtedly be a public relations bloodbath.

But as they say, winning cures all ills.

Petrino certainly sounds sincere when he says he’s truly sorry and working one day at a time to become a better person.

His harshest critics will contend that the only thing he’s truly sorry about is that he got caught and threw away $21 million in potential earnings.

None of us are in a position to judge.

But once Petrino returns to the sidelines, and he will during the 2013 season, the most daunting challenge of his career will await him.

Reshaping a legacy that has been soiled by betrayal.

Chris Low | email

College Football

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