Bobby Petrino opens his second stint as head football coach at the University of Louisville on Monday night, when the Cardinals host new ACC foe Miami at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. It’s been a wild ride for Petrino — with one ride in particular getting far too wild — but in the end, it’s brought him back home.
Here’s what you need to know about the coach of the Cardinals.
1. He Holds a 41-9 Record at Louisville
If Petrino’s second stint as Cardinals head coach is anything like his first, happy days are in Louisville’s future. Louisville gave Petrino his first head coaching job in 2003, and he delivered immediate results. After going 7-6 the year before under John L. Smith, the Cardinals went 9-4 in their first year under Petrino, although both seasons ended with a loss in the GMAC Bowl. The next year, however, the Cardinals went 11-1 with a perfect 8-0 record in Conference USA, ending the year with a 44-40 win over Boise State in the Liberty Bowl and a No. 6 national ranking.
In 2005, Louisville joined the Big East, and once again, it took just two years for Petrino to guide the Cardinals to the top. After a 9-3 season in 2005 that ended with a loss in the Gator Bowl, Petrino led Louisville to a 12-1 record in 2006 and the Big East title. As Big East champs, the Cardinals earned their first BCS bowl berth, and Louisville didn’t disappoint, as quarterback Brian Brohm led the way in a 23-14 win over Wake Forest in the Orange Bowl.
As Petrino returns to Louisville, Wake Forest is now a conference rival. The Cardinals begin ACC play in 2014, and will host the Demon Deacons on September 27.
2. His Departures Are Often Controversial
Days after coaching Louisville to its Orange Bowl victory over Wake Forest, Petrino left Louisville, accepting a five-year contract to become the new head coach of the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons. It was a natural move given Petrino’s success at the college level and his NFL experience with the Jacksonville Jaguars, but it also wasn’t the first time he had looked into leaving Louisville.
During his first season as Cardinals head coach, Petrino attended a secret meeting with officials from Auburn University – where he had served as offensive coordinator under Tommy Tuberville – about the possibility of replacing Tuberville as head coach. The revelation that Petrino had met with Auburn provoked a number of angry responses, including one from Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich. While he refrained from public criticism of Petrino, Jurich said, “The national perception of how a university leader would come into my own back yard, behind my back, is highly disturbing.”
If Petrino faced any repercussions from his clandestine meeting with Auburn, they took place away from the spotlight, as he signed a 10-year contract extension with Louisville following the 2005 season. Just six months later, however, he took the Falcons job. That tenure, however, came to an infamous end, as Petrino quit with three games left in the campaign to return to the college ranks as the head coach at Arkansas, ending his Falcons coaching career with a record of 3-10.
Petrino’s departure – which he announced via a four-sentence letter to the Falcons players – provoked a number of angry responses, with team owner Arthur Blank telling the New York Times he felt “betrayed and let down” and quarterback Joey Harrington saying that Petrino “preached team and he preached family and then he quit on us.”
Petrino quickly put his disastrous tenure in Atlanta behind him, guiding the Razordbacks to a 34-17 record in four seasons. That run, however, came to a screeching halt after the 2012 Cotton Bowl.
3. He Claims To Be a Changed Man After the Motorcycle Accident That Ended His Arkansas Career
In April 2012, Petrino was in a motorcycle accident on a rural road near Crosses, Arkansas. In the days that followed the accident, it was revealed that Petrino was riding with Jessica Dorrell, a former Arkansas volleyball player whom Petrino had hired four days earlier as a student-athlete development coordinator, and that Petrino had had an extramarital affair with Dorrell while she was working as a fundraiser for the Razorback Foundation. The revelations of Petrino’s affair, his motivations for hiring Dorrell and his efforts to hide the relationship from Arkansas officials led to university athletic director Jeff Long firing Petrino on April 10, 2012.
After taking the 2012 season off from coaching, Petrino took over as head coach at Western Kentucky University in 2013. The Hilltoppers went 8-4 last season, but were not invited to a bowl game after finishing third in the Sun Belt Conference. After Charlie Strong left Louisville to become the new head coach at Texas, Jurich spent a long day with Petrino on the Louisville campus before inviting him to return. In comments to Sports Illustrated, Jurich expressed his belief that Petrino’s claims to be a changed man are genuine, saying, “Bobby’s no actor” and, “You wouldn’t cast him to play a role.”
4. Bobby Is Rarely the Only Petrino On Campus
While Petrino had to do serious work to repair his family life after his affair at Arkansas came to light, one usually doesn’t need to look very hard to find Petrino’s family when Bobby is on campus.
His younger brother, Paul Petrino, coached under him at Louisville and Arkansas, as well as with the Falcons, and is currently the head coach at the University of Idaho, where Bobby served as quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Both of Petrino’s sons, Nick and Bobby, Jr., attended Arkansas, while his youngest daughter, Katie Petrino is a redshirt sophomore on the Louisville women’s golf team, having matriculated at the school two years before her father’s return. Katie’s older sister, Kelsey, graduated from Louisville in 2009.
5. Bobby Petrino Says His Marriage to Becky Petrino Is Better Than Ever
In a recent feature in Sports Illustrated, Petrino said that his marriage to his wife, Becky, is “the best we’ve ever been.” That covers a long span of time: the couple met as students at Carroll College in Montana in the mid-1980s.
After Bobby was fired from Arkansas in 2012, he and Becky moved to a three-bedroom house in Rogers, Arkansas, where they set about repairing their marriage. The process involved counseling, and a series of long road trips that saw the two of them alone in the car together for hours at a time.
The couple has four children: Kelsey, Nick, Bobby Jr. and Katie.