SEC: Bobby Petrino interview

Kicking it With Bobby Petrino, Part 2

August, 20, 2008
8/20/08
7:55
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

 
 Denny Medley/US Presswire
 New Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino has escaped a little bit of the criticism of his abrupt departure from the NFL's Atlanta Falcons by crossing state lines.

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- Without a doubt, the biggest influence on first-year Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino was his father, Bob Petrino, Sr.

The younger Petrino played quarterback for his dad at Carroll College, an NAIA school in Helena, Mont. A few years later, Petrino returned to Montana and worked under his dad as the offensive coordinator on the Carroll College staff. For all his genuis as a play-caller and offensive mastermind, Petrino said the most important quality he inherited from his father was a rigid work ethic at a young age.

"When I was a young kid, 14 years old, he came to me one spring and said, "You're not playing baseball this year,' " Petrino recounted. "I said, 'Really, I'm not?' He said, 'No, you're going to work tomorrow at A&W. I got you a job at 10 o'clock. You be there.' So I started flipping burgers. Every spring and summer from there on, I worked. I had jobs where I worked for the city, drove a produce truck, ran the dock at Clover Leaf Dairy and drove a milk truck. I was a milk man for a summer. This was from 14 all the way through college. It was hard work. But you know what? I enjoyed every job that I had and thought it was a great deal. I enjoyed it, had fun with it and liked working with different guys."

Petrino's father is currently in Fayetteville and will remain in town through the first game against Western Illinois on Aug. 30. Petrino discusses his dad, as well as the Falcons' situation in the second part of my Q&A with him:

Just about everybody in football agrees that you're one of the best play-callers in the business. What makes a good play-caller?

Bobby Petrino: One of the things I believe in most is the tempo, the ability to get the play in fast, get in the huddle, get out of the huddle and you work and get used to the same tempo and same rhythm. A lot of times if you're doing that, that's much better than thinking you're calling a great play, just the way you operate and how quickly you go and move. We do a lot of the play-calling during the week. A lot of it is done in situations. A fun part of coaching is when you pick a play because you feel this is the defense you're going to see. You go out and practice that and then you hit that call against that defense in the game, and it works.

Your dad's in town through the opener. Does he still weigh in and give you some coaching advice?

BP: Oh yeah. He always does. When I first got the job at Louisville, I brought him in that first spring and he worked extremely hard. I gave him a position to evaluate every day, not only the players, but the coaches. He would go to the meetings and did a great job and did that again this spring here. He gives you some insight that maybe you missed or you don't see.

What's the biggest adjustment you've had to make into this job?

BP: We've gone back to trying to build the program the way we did it when I first got to Louisville, with hard work, good character, making sure that we do things right in the classroom. We've had a couple of incidents here (off the field) that I didn't like. I think the other players on the team understand that's not the way we're going to operate.

How does this challenge compare to what you faced at Louisville when you took that job in 2003?

BP: It's a different challenge. When you went to Louisville, it was simply, 'Hey, let's try to build this program. Let's make sure we're not known as a second-tier, Division I school.' Here, the challenge is to win a national championship. Everybody understands that. It's SEC football, so we've got to get to Atlanta in the championship game and then play for a national championship and win it, if we're going to meet the challenge here.

Is it too unrealistic to think Arkansas can make the same kind of jump offensively in your first year as Louisville did in your first year there?

BP: I don't know about that, because the defenses are so good in the SEC. That's the biggest difference. We started out in Conference USA at Louisville, and there were much different defenses than what we're going to face here. The speed and talent on the other side of the ball in the SEC ... I don't think we're going to be worried about stats. We're going to be worried about trying to score one more point than the other team.

How much do you think your image has been tarnished by the way you left the Atlanta Falcons before the season was over, and is that something you've spent much time thinking about?

BP: I feel like my image is important. There's no question about that. I've worked hard at it in the state of Arkansas and the people that are important to the University of Arkansas. I certainly feel like the situation in Atlanta and all the criticism afterward ... that some of the criticism was warranted. The timing of the whole deal was something you don't wish on anybody. But the people that know me and the people that take the time to get to know me understand where I'm coming from.

If you could have done one thing different about your exit in Atlanta, would it have been telling the players personally and not leaving notes for them on their lockers?

BP: Yes, absolutely ... if you could have. But there was just no way. It was a situation where you couldn't do it. There was no way to have it work out that way and still have it work out here.

Many of your players over the years have said your coaching approach is more business-like and no-nonsense. How much has that changed over the years?

BP: A big part of coaching in college is to get young kids in here at 17 and 18 years old and help them grow up and be able to face what's in front of them when they're done playing. We do approach the game as a business. We do approach our practice and all of our meetings that way, but I've certainly had a lot of players walk through that (office) door with things bothering them. That's one of the fun things about college coaching, all the different things that come up.

Do you think you're a better communicator than you've been painted to be?

BP: I don't know how I've been painted, but I think I'm a good communicator. I think I communicate real well.

How many prospects' homes have you gone into where they quizzed you about the Falcons' situation?

BP: I'd guess probably just about everybody I recruited last year asked me about it. It came up continually, but they felt good about the way it was answered. We had a great recruiting class. I'm very fired up about the freshmen we have. Unfortunately, a lot of them are going to be playing. But it's a great class to build around.

When you're going to play as many freshmen as you are this year, what's critical?

BP: That as a coaching staff we're patient and don't ask them to do too much and everybody understands that we have to get better each week in practice. I've always believed th
at winning is the end result of doing everything right in practice.

Do you think your reputation of being a coaching nomad will persist until you're still at Arkansas seven or eight years from now?

BP: I kind of feel that tag on me is not real. This is my second college head coaching job. I had one stint in the NFL. When I was an assistant, I was at Idaho with John L. Smith, at Utah State with John L. Smith and at Louisville with John L. Smith. I spent a lot of time working with him, and that's what assistants do. They get opportunities that come up and then they go. I think the only job that I sent in a resume and made a phone call to get was to go to Weber State from Idaho. That's the only one where I made the initial contact. It's just that the situation with me being in the NFL for only one year ... certainly you're going to hear about that for a while.

Don't you think your interviewing for the Auburn head job while Tommy Tuberville was still the head coach (in 2003) also factors into that image of you being a nomad?

BP: Yes, it probably does. But the only thing I can do anything about now is what happens from here.

Kicking it with Bobby Petrino, Part 1

August, 20, 2008
8/20/08
7:01
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- Mention Bobby Petrino's name most places, and his messy departure as the Atlanta Falcons coach last year with three games still remaining will invariably come up.

Mention his name in the state of Arkansas, and he's the offensive guru entrusted with returning the Hogs to prominence in the SEC. Make no mistake, Petrino has this state buzzing. Yes, he understands his image took a beating with how everything went down last year in Atlanta, and he also understands that the glare will be as bright as ever in Arkansas given the attention the Hogs command in this state.

But he's ecstatic to be back in college football, thinks the Hogs aren't that far away from being a contender again and thinks he's been unfairly cast as a coaching nomad despite his hasty exit in Atlanta last year. One thing nobody debates is his ability to coach football and construct high-powered offenses.

He was 41-9 in four years at Louisville, and to give you an idea of how quickly he works, the Cardinals were 97th nationally in total offense the year before he came. They soared to fifth during his first year there. Petrino sat down with me Wednesday afternoon in his office for a wide-ranging interview and didn't dodge any questions. Here's the first part of that Q&A:

With the opener less than two weeks away, where are you with this team compared to where you thought you'd be at this point?

Bobby Petrino: You really don't know. You've got so many young and new guys that we're going to have to get better each week and concentrate in practice and play that game that week. I feel comfortable in some of the things we're doing, some of the things Casey Dick is doing at quarterback. Defensively, we've just got to get 11 guys on the field to be together for a week, because we've had some guys nicked up and missing practice. Our continuity hasn't been real good.

How many freshmen will you play this season?

BP: It looks like a lot. I was thinking going into the year maybe six to 10. It's leaning more toward 10 and maybe even higher. We need help at both linebackers and have three freshmen there, and two of them (Khiry Battle and Jelani Smith) have been taking a lot of reps with the first team and the other one (Tenarius Wright) would be, but he's had an ankle. (Free safety) Elton Ford has been playing quite a bit with the first team.

You put a lot of pressure on your quarterback. How much has Casey Dick developed into the type of quarterback you want in your system?

BP: He's worked hard on really trying to understand our offense. I think he has a good grasp of it, and he's working hard on learning defenses. They kind of have to work together, because you have to know both. I think he came out of spring ball with confidence, because he played well in the scrimmages and the spring game. He came back and kind of started over a little bit, and now he's starting to get his timing back and get his accuracy on the ball and throwing them where they're supposed to go. There was a point in two-a-days where his arm wasn't as live, all those little things you've got to struggle through during two-a-days, but I think the last week he's started to get back to where he was at the end of spring ball. He has a pretty good comfort level, I think, in terms of his knowledge of what we're doing.

Can you do all the things you want to do in your offense with Dick at quarterback?

BP: I think we can, because what we do is that we've always molded the offense to the quarterback. When Stefan LeFors was our quarterback, we did things he did well. When (Brian) Brohm came in, we did the things he did well. We have a big enough package that now's the time we start molding it for what his strengths are and what we feel like he can do well. That's why each year, it kind of changes a little bit. The identity of your offense changes.

What's the strength of your team right now?

BP: I think our offensive line and defensive line, which is a good place to start. You'd be real nervous if it was the other way around where your youth and inexperience were up front. That really gives us an opportunity to get better each week and bring some of the young guys around and have consistency with what we do up front.

Has everybody bought into you, your system and your approach, or is that still evolving?

BP: I think it's always evolving, but I was real happy with how we came out of spring ball. I think they did an excellent job throughout the summer. Our strength and conditioning staff is very good, and we really try to correlate the two, what we do in the weight room and what we do in conditioning with the same themes we carry over to football. So they've been hearing it now for quite a while. What we really need now is to have some guys take over the leadership of this team. I think they're right there and they're ready to, but now we need some guys to make sure they go over the fence.

Who are your leaders?

BP: Jonathan Luigs and Casey Dick on offense. Michael Smith has done a nice job on offense. He's not real vocal. But when you watch him behind the scenes, he helps those freshmen out a lot and gets things going in the right direction. Defensively, Elston Forte was doing a good job, and he got nicked up and missed practice. That hurt us a little bit. Malcolm Sheppard is a great leader by example of how to play hard, go full speed and try to do what you're coached to do, but he's young and doesn't talk a whole lot.

Arkansas is probably different than any other school in the SEC in that the Razorbacks are the state's "professional" team and the team everybody in the state identifies with. What's that been like for you?

BP: It's been very unique and something I've enjoyed throughout the recruiting process and throughout the booster season where you go travel and speak. You see the fact that everyone throughout the state are Razorback fans. That's unique and something I'm excited about.

What question have you gotten most from fans?

BP: They all want to see the ball in the air. The thing you want them to understand is that we are going to be a balanced offense. We like throwing the ball. I like throwing the ball, but I do believe you have to run it to win. That's something we always did real well at Louisville. People had to defend our passing game, and then we ran the ball real well.

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