Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Updated: December 12, 7:27 PM ET
Petrino resigns Falcons post after 13 games, goes to Arkansas
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- Barely 24 hours after another blowout
loss with the Atlanta Falcons, Bobby Petrino was back in college
Petrino was hired Tuesday by Arkansas, capping a whirlwind day
in which he stunningly resigned from the Falcons after just 13
games. Petrino succeeds Houston Nutt, who stepped down at Arkansas
two weeks ago and became the head coach at Mississippi.
"Today was a day of decision," Petrino said at a late-night
news conference in Fayetteville. "It was difficult on one side,
very easy on the other. It was difficult to leave Atlanta, the
staff, players, fans. The timing of it probably is the thing that
made it most difficult. Coming to Arkansas was the easy part."
Petrino got a five-year deal worth $2.85 million per year to
take over the Razorbacks, according to an athletic department
In January, Petrino left as head coach at Louisville to take
over in Atlanta, agreeing to a five-year, $24 million contract
handed out by a team that felt he could help Michael Vick reach his
However, the star quarterback came under investigation for a
grisly dogfighting operation that led him to plead guilty to
On Monday, Vick was sentenced to 23 months in prison
without ever taking a snap for Petrino. That night the Falcons lost
to New Orleans 34-14, and hours later Petrino left the team with a
3-10 record to return to the college ranks.
Arkansas had been looking for a coach for two weeks to replace
Nutt, who resigned after a tumultuous season of his own. The
Razorbacks came close to hiring Wake Forest's Jim Grobe last week,
but Grobe remained with the Demon Deacons and Arkansas fans had to
wonder whether the school could attract a big-name coach.
In Petrino, the Razorbacks found one. Petrino went 41-9 in four
years at Louisville, coaching some of the highest-scoring teams in
the country before leaving in January to join the Falcons.
In 10 seasons at Arkansas, Nutt built the Razorbacks into one of
the Southeastern Conference's top rushing teams. Tailback Darren
McFadden finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting the last two
years, but Nutt's teams often lacked balance. Petrino said his
Arkansas teams will be aggressive.
"You have to be able to run the football when you want to, and
run the football when you have to," Petrino told a crowd full of
Razorbacks supporters. "You have to be able to pass the football
when you want to, and pass the football when you have to."
Petrino said he didn't speak with anyone from Arkansas about the
job until Tuesday.
"It was one of the most difficult things I've had to do," he
said. "I truly believe from the bottom of my heart that I made the
Jeff Long, Arkansas' incoming athletic director, handled the
search for a new coach. Long takes over for Frank Broyles, who is
retiring at the end of the year.
"It is a tremendous honor for me to be named the 30th head
coach at Arkansas, particularly on a night when we honored coach
Broyles for his 50 years of service," Petrino said, referring to
former head coach. "He's such a legend and I can't wait to develop
a friendship with him."
Long said he wasn't deterred as the search appeared to drag on
and many wondered if the Razorbacks needed to lower their
"I wasn't listening or reading," Long said. "I was going to
work to find the best coach."
Petrino's stint in Atlanta was one of the shortest for a
non-interim coach since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger. Pete McCulley was
fired after starting out 1-8 with San Francisco in 1978, and Sid
Gillman lasted only 10 games in his second stint as San Diego
coach, going 4-6 in 1971 before quitting.
In an interesting twist, Lou Holtz coached the New York Jets for
13 games in 1976. He went 3-10, then left the team with one game
remaining to become the coach at Arkansas.
Atlanta owner Arthur Blank and general manager Rich McKay were
scheduled to hold a news conference Wednesday. There was no
immediate word on who would take over for the team's final three
After losing Vick, Petrino tried three quarterbacks without
success. The Falcons have lost four straight, all by double-digit
margins, and are assured of the 32nd season of .500 or worse in
their 42-year history.
"Anytime you're without one of the best athletes in the
National Football League, it's going to be tough," cornerback
DeAngelo Hall said earlier in the season. "Take Peyton Manning
from the Colts, and they'll go through a little slump."
Arkansas played in the SEC championship game in 2006, but the
Razorbacks finished that season with three straight losses and Nutt
faced unrest from fans and dissension in the program.
Fans used the Freedom of Information Act to investigate Nutt's
cell phone records. As the team struggled this year, planes were
spotted at games towing anti-Nutt banners.
This season started with Nutt's longterm status shaky, and the
mood in Arkansas worsened when the Razorbacks began SEC play 0-3.
They finished strong, beating then-No. 1 LSU in their
regular-season finale to go 8-4.
However, within days of one of his biggest victories at
Arkansas, Nutt departed and defensive coordinator Reggie Herring
was named interim coach.
Herring will coach the 25th-ranked Razorbacks when they face No.
7 Missouri in the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 1. Then Petrino is the only
person in charge.
"I knew I wanted to come back and coach in college football,"
Petrino said. "I'm very excited to get back and work with the
Petrino leaves players letter
ATLANTA -- When players arrived at the Atlanta Falcons' practice facility on Wednesday morning, they were greeted by a four-sentence farewell from their former head coach, bobby Petrino.
Inside each player's locker stall was the following letter:
Atlanta Falcons players:
Out of my respect for you, I am letting you know that, with a heavy heart, I resigned today as head coach of the Atlanta Falcons. This decision was not easy, but it was made in the best interests of me and my family. While my desire would have been to finish out what has been a difficult season for us all, circumstances did not allow me to do so. I appreciate your hard work and wish you the best.
Because the Falcons players had Tuesday off, and there were no team meetings scheduled, Petrino did not personally address his squad. Several veterans said that Petrino did not call them to apprise them of his departure.
There was a palpable tension much of the season between Petrino and the players, and most of the veterans felt the first-year coach was aloof and lacked solid communications skills. On both radio and television here, players such as middle linebacker Keith Brooking and cornerback DeAngelo Hall ripped Petrino for leaving the franchise with three games remaining in the season.
-- ESPN senior NFL writer Len Pasquarelli