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Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Updated: December 13, 4:13 AM ET
Blank composed, but upset by Petrino's departure

ESPN.com news services

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons Owner Arthur Blank said on Wednesday he felt betrayed by Bobby Petrino's shocking decision to resign midseason to take a job coaching the University of Arkansas.

Petrino's resignation on Tuesday came one day after the Falcons lost to the New Orleans Saints 34-14 and quarterback Michael Vick was sentenced in federal court to 23 months in prison for taking part in an illegal dogfighting ring.

"I do feel a sense of betrayal, a sense of trust lost that just was not right given the circumstances," Blank told a news conference at the team's headquarters.

"This year was a perfect storm for us in a negative way but we will get through that and we will move forward," said Blank, who named veteran assistant coach Emmitt Thomas to serve as interim coach for the season's remaining games.

Petrino was in his first season as coach and Blank said he did not blame him for a string of poor results that had left the Falcons with a 3-10 record and bottom of the NFC South division.

But Blank said he had expected Petrino to commit to the team for a longer period of time. Petrino told him on Monday he would remain the Falcons' head coach, Blank said.

General manager Rich McKay said he would get to work Wednesday night going over the list of potential candidates for the permanent job, a task he never expected to be doing just 11 months after hiring the last coach.

Petrino had little to say about his short tenure in Atlanta during his news conference in Fayetteville, alluding to it briefly when asked how tough it was to deal with the loss of Vick, who pleaded guilty to dogfighting charges and was sentenced Monday to 23 months in prison.

"It was a difficult thing, there's no question about that, and everybody has difficulties," Petrino said. "What I want to focus on is the future and move on."

Blank said he has no reason to believe that Dallas owner Jerry Jones, an Arkansas alumnus, was involved in Petrino's sudden resignation, and McKay said NFL tampering rules don't apply to college jobs anyway. NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said the league didn't have enough information to comment.

During his final days with the Falcons, Petrino expressed to both Blank and McKay his concerns about dealing with pro athletes. There were plenty of warning signs he wasn't coping well with players who weren't afraid to speak their minds or question the coaching staff.

"This league is not for everybody," safety Lawyer Milloy said. "This league is for real men. I think he realized he didn't belong here."

The first sign of trouble was Pro Bowler DeAngelo Hall's sideline confrontation with Petrino in Week 3, which led to the cornerback being fined $100,000 and held out for the first half of the next game.

A couple of weeks later, Alge Crumpler complained about Petrino's offense and said the veterans felt they were being phased out. Those concerns came to a head when 35-year-old Grady Jackson, one of the team's most effective interior linemen, was surprisingly cut during the bye week.

"It just shows his true color, like a coward with a yellow stripe down his back," said Jackson, who now plays with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The Falcons were particularly upset about Petrino's jovial demeanor at his first news conference in Arkansas, where he even participated in the school's "calling the hogs" cheer. It was the first time any of the players could remember him smiling.

"The slap in the face was ultimately when he showed up at a 11 o'clock, or whatever time it was in Arkansas, doing the 'pig sooey' hog call," Milloy said. "It seemed like was right in rhythm with the beat. He had been practicing."

All Petrino left on his way out the door was that letter.

Milloy had a copy of it taped above his locker, with a red "X"

through Petrino's words and the player's own assessment written in: "Coward." Center Todd McClure didn't even bother keeping his copy.

"I think it's already in the trash," he said bitterly.

Defensive end Jamaal Anderson, the Falcons' first-round pick from Arkansas, was asked what he would tell his alma mater about its new coach.

"One word: Disloyal," Anderson replied.

Information from Reuters and The Associated Press was used in this report.