<
>

Petrino eager to help elevate Falcons' passing game

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Bobby Petrino will have an impact on
Michael Vick and the Falcons. Just ask team owner Arthur Blank.

Blank sees Petrino, who was hired away from the University of
Louisville, "as a difference-maker."

"Bobby knows how to motivate," Blank said Monday. "He knows
how to teach. He knows how to get the best out of his athletes. ...
He'll push Michael Vick to higher levels."

"I think the No. 1 thing that drew my interest was Rich [McKay] being here. I was able to see the commitment that has been made here. I believe this is truly the best football job in the NFL. It was an easy decision for me."
-- Bobby Petrino

The Falcons, first in the league in rushing but last in passing,
ranked 25th in scoring in their disappointing 7-9 season that cost
third-year coach Jim Mora his job.

Vick made history this season as the first quarterback to rush
for 1,000 yards. He also passed for a career-high 20 touchdowns,
but his 13 interceptions, 52.7 completion percentage and 75.7
quarterback rating were indicators he had not made satisfactory
progress as a passer.

Petrino, 45, polished his reputation as a top offensive coach in
four seasons as Louisville's head coach. His 41-9 record included a
12-1 mark and No. 5 national ranking this season. The Cardinals
ranked fourth in the nation in scoring and second in total yards.

After three years with Mora, who came to Atlanta with a
background in defense, general manager Rich McKay and Blank agreed
it was time to bring in a coach whose specialty is offense.


McKay and Blank spoke with other candidates but moved quickly on
Petrino, making the hire Sunday -- the same day they had their first
contact with the coach.

McKay said a provision of the agreement on a five-year, $24
million deal is Petrino will pay his $1 million buyout from his
Louisville contract.

"I was certainly committed to the University of Louisville and
staying there," Petrino said. "I did not go out and seek any
other jobs and did not go make a phone call to any NFL teams, and
then this came up."

Upon being introduced as Falcons coach, Petrino was hit with so
many questions about Vick and his plans for the quarterback that
finally he declared, "Michael Vick is our starting quarterback
today. There's no question about that."

"This is my first day on the job," added Petrino, who said he
had not yet talked with Vick. "I'm really looking forward to
getting to know him and watching him and developing and working at
it. We haven't been able to get out on the field yet. We haven't
been able to get in the video room yet. But I know he's a great
quarterback and a great competitor."

McKay said he was looking for more than a new quarterbacks coach
for Vick when he recommended hiring Petrino.

"I really believe you don't go into it saying you've got to
hire the right coach who fits one player, because that player could
get hurt," McKay said.

Petrino called the hiring a "whirlwind" process. He said he
had calls about other NFL jobs but "immediately told them no."

"I think the No. 1 thing that drew my interest was Rich being
here," Petrino said. "I was able to see the commitment that has
been made here. I believe this is truly the best football job in
the NFL. It was an easy decision for me."

Petrino was quarterbacks coach for two years (1999-2000) and
offensive coordinator in 2001 with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Mark
Brunell, another left-handed quarterback, threw for 3,640 yards in
2000 and 3,309 yards in 2001.

While with Jacksonville, Petrino became familiar with McKay,
then the general manager in Tampa Bay. McKay said he tried to hire
Petrino as offensive coordinator for the Buccaneers in 2001, when
Petrino left the Jaguars to become the offensive coordinator at
Auburn.

But Petrino's knowledge of McKay did not bring immediate
familiarity with the Falcons' offensive struggles.

"I saw that stat this morning of what we were in the passing
game," Petrino said. "We definitely need to work on being
balanced, there's no question. ... I'm looking forward to the
challenge in developing the passing game here."

Petrino plans to call plays from the Falcons' sideline and said
he hopes to hire a blend of veteran NFL assistant coaches and young
assistants from his Louisville staff.

Petrino's brother, Paul, who was Louisville's offensive
coordinator, is an obvious candidate for the Atlanta staff. Another
possibility is Louisville co-defensive coordinator Mike Cassity.

No assistant on Petrino's Louisville staff has coached in the
NFL.

Asked about his brother, Petrino said "I think he's a candidate
[for the Louisville head coach position]. We'll have to wait and
see."

One member of Mora's Atlanta staff already has found another
job. Special teams coach Joe DeCamillas was hired by Jacksonville.