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Bobby Petrino’s Potential Next Job(s) October 19, 2012

Posted by intellectualgridiron in Sports.
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The approximate half-way point in the college football regular season is upon us, and while many surprises and other developments surely await us fans, some coaches are already feeling the heat…the heat of the hotseat, that is!  Deny it as they might, certain fanbases are restless, and already talking about who might replace their failing current head coach.  One candidate that keeps emerging in water cooler conversation is none other than Bobby Petrino.

Yes, as mentioned in a previous blog entry, he is so mercenary as a coach that he gives other mercenaries a bad name, to borrow a line from Paul Freeman’s character in Raiders of the Lost Ark.  But he wins, and has proven to do so at Louisville (taking the Cardinals to the Orange Bowl at the end of the 2006 season), and at Arkansas, making the program so strong as to merit a preseason top-ten ranking in the eyes of the voters.  Had he not exhibited a horrible lapse in judgment in putting his mistress on the department payroll – to say nothing of having a mistress in the first place while being a married man – there is no telling what sort of memorable season the Razorbacks would be having right now.

A coach that can win like that, despite his baggage and his less-than-loyal track record, will surely have offers by season’s end.  The teams that will likely extend that offer – the likelihood being of a considerable varying degree from team to team – are listed and explained as follows:

Kentucky:  Despite his denials at SEC Media Days earlier this summer – denials of him “not feeling any heat” — Joker Phillips, as decent a man as he may be, is clearly in over his head as the coach of Kentucky’s program.  Rich Brooks left the program in decent shape (actually, in very good shape by Kentucky’s standards), but Joker is a reminder of the inevitable program decay that follows when one promotes the long-time loyal assistant to the head man role instead of an ambitious outsider.  In two-and-a-half seasons as head coach, Phillips has only managed to go 12-20.  Given his geographical disadvantages (it is Kentucky, after all), and that UK plays in the SEC, any coach faces an uphill challenge.  But the fans nevertheless have been understandably grumbling, as the empty seats in Commonwealth Stadium attest.  Could Petrino be brought in to turn things around?

It’s Possible:  Given how mercenary Petrino is, he could very well coach against Louisville.  In a weird way, it would be somewhat fitting, given that his recruiting techniques were pioneered by Fran Curci, the head coach back in the late 1970s.  Petrino himself perfected the recruiting technique (recruiting talented athletes that are potentially, er, troubled) by adding a new layer to the approach with his own, patented system of keeping the potential troublemakers in line and on  a short leash.

It’s Impossible:  Joker’s current salary is $1.7 million a year.  Not bad, but Petrino would expect a lot more to make up for the fact that his team will take a back seat to basketball team due to the UK faithful’s perpetually misplaced priorities.  The bigger problem, though, is in Petrino’s skill set.  The program will be in something of a mess.  Some head coaches are skilled at being turnaround CEOs (think:  Steve Spurrier, or, more to the point, Howard Schnellenberger; in the pros, think:  Bill Parcells).  But turnaround CEOs do not always do well long-term because their skillset is turning a struggling program around into a respectable one, in good working order.  Petrino’s skillset is that of a caretaker CEO; taking programs that are already in decent working order and tweak them slightly to gradually make them better and better.  It is not proven that he can take a program struggling as badly as Kentucky is and take them to where Arkansas was prior to his sudden ouster.

Alabama:  Try not to laugh.  Yes, Nick Saban continues to solidify his bona fides as one of the best coaches in the business while the Crimson Tide is on course to vie for yet another national title.  But there is a potential drawback in this.  Saban is so good in part because he is highly aspirational, and highly aspirational people get bored very easily.  One more national championship, and it is quite likely that Saban will be looking for a new challenge, either another program to rehab, or a franchise if he chose to go back to the pros.  Keep in mind that he built his reputation as a capable coach under Bill Belichick with the Cleveland Browns, before he left the defensive coordinator job there to become the new head coach of Michigan State back in 1995.  Not only might he get bored after winning yet another national title, but he could also be sick of dealing with the insane fans and boosters, having to recruit all the time, and not being able to go to the grocery store for fear of getting mobbed by a fanbase that has been known to love its program to death.  All these things ought to be kept in mind.

It Could Happen:  Timing, in this case, is everything.  If Saban leaves after this year, and Petrino does not have many more appealing choices, this could work.  Alabama has demonstrated they are willing to pay top dollar for the best coaching talent and will commit whatever resources the circumstances require to be a perennial championship contender.  It could work, if certain potential developments first occur.

It Ain’t Gonna Happen:  As ambitious as Petrino is, does he really want to coach in what has been acknowledged to be the biggest pressure cooker in all of football, college or pro?  His ambition would surely be put to the test with such a job.  Aside from that, the timing could be bad.  Saban might not leave for newer challenges after this year, assuming he does so at all any time soon.  Petrino is not going to hold his breath while other programs might come calling.

Auburn:  Don’t laugh.  Sure, Gene Chizik is only two seasons removed from winning the BCS national championship in a thrilling game against Oregon.  But he is only 1-5 thus far this season.  Football fans in the Yellowhammer State, either pro-Tide or pro-Tiger, will not stand for such a disgrace.  As Doug Gillett of EDSBS reminds us, Winston Churchill, one of history’s greatest statesmen, was given the pink slip by British voters just 58 days after the Allies’ victory over Nazi Germany.  Auburn already courted Petrino on the sly before while the mercenary coach did his stint at Louisville.  He was the offensive coordinator before deciding to lead the Cardinals starting in 2003.  His ties to the loveliest little village on the Plains is thus well-established.

It’s Possible:  Only if Chizik sets a new record for the quickest time a coach is fired after winning a national championship.  He already has been [ahem] ‘awarded’ as “Desperately seeking….ANYTHING” in the CFB Week 7 Awards.  The upcoming Vandy game is, at this rate, a toss-up, and Texas A&M, Georgia and Alabama remain on the schedule.  Will the War Eagle faithful countenance a potential 4-8 year?  If not, guess whom they might call.

It’s not Possible:  Only if the above scenario of ousting Chizik after only two years when we won the whole darn thing does not come to fruition, and be mindful that it would set a new record/precedent if it did.

Texas:  Let’s face it; Mack Brown’s record against hated rival Oklahoma is spotty at best.  The Sooners have to recruit Texas in order to be successful.  This template dates back to the days of Bud Wilkinson (!).  The Longhorns have the built-in advantage of, well, already being there.  The University of Texas is THE flagship school/program of the biggest, best football state in the entire U.S. of A.  They have the pick of the litter; first dibs on the cream of the crop.  Yet they were given a 63-21 butt-whipping at the hand of Bob Stoops’ Sooner squad in the Cotton Bowl this past week.  Losing to a high-powered West Virginia team was one thing, but losing this badly to Oklahoma is too bitter a pill to swallow for the Texas fans, as thoroughly decent and gracious a man as he may be (indeed, on that front, one of the classiest acts in the business.)

It Could Happen:  If enough movers and shakers in Longhorn Nation think that the game has passed Mack Brown by, a vacancy will open.  If enough of said movers and shakers are committed to the idea of never allowing such a loss to Oklahoma to happen on their watch, guess whom they might call.  If they do, the potential upside is tremendous.  As things currently stand, the team is not a mess, just short on playmakers.  With Petrino at the helm, the Horns could become an overnight juggernaut that would give Stoops and Co. in Norman, Okla., more than cause for notice.

It Couldn’t Happen:  There is a great duality to Longhorns fans.  Yes, they care very, very deeply, but unlike the Alabama faithful, they have something called “lives.”  This gives them perspective on things that other devoted fans sometimes lack, and might not call for Mack Brown’s gentle ouster until things could get worse.  Again, as mentioned before, Petrino is not exactly a man to hold his breath, even for the best job in all of college football (along with USC).
(Addendum 10-21-21) Tennessee:  One reader very simply commented, “Tennessee?”  Such an obvious suggestion, and it makes me kick myself in the pants for not adding this [theoretical] possibility to the list in the first place.   So what about it?  The Volunteers are current 3-4, having just lost to Alabama, arguably their most hated rival in a conference that is certainly full of them, to varying degrees.  Earlier in the year, the Vols blew the game against Florida, seemingly a winnable contest at the time.  The loss to Georgia may be understandable, but losing to Mississippi State is still a hard one to swallow, no matter how much improved the Bulldogs are.  To say that Derek Dooley is on the hot seat is therefore an understatement, and it will not get any easier next week, as they must a South Carolina team looking to get well on them — in Columbia, no less!  Make no mistake about it, the Volunteer Nation is grumbling, and a potential 7-5 year will not necessarily pacify them.

It might happen:  Already plenty of Tennessee fans are calling for Dooley’s head on a plate, and let us not forget that he was essentially a stop-gap/default hire after Lane Kiffin’s sudden departure.  Of all the coaches in the SEC, Dooley might be on just as thin ice as Joker Phillips at Kentucky.  If the ice were to break, it is not much of a stretch of the imagination as to whom AD Dave Hart might call.  Tennessee has the resources to pay Petrino a competitive salary; the tradition, fan base, and resources are there to make it a “destination job,” and he would no doubt get the administrative support he would need.

It might not happen:  Only if the fan base and administration are happy with another [potential] 7-5 season and a  mediocre-to-lower tier bowl game.

Other (very) longshots:  Forget Arkansas; no way they will re-hire someone whom they fired for egregious indiscretions in the first place.  Florida might have been on people’s radar screens as a potential job opening, as the fans and media alike were not, for a while, sold on Will Muschamp as their guy.  But he seems to have righted the ship this year with a very stingy defense and improved QB play, meaning that he could be Gator Nation’s guy after all.  Organizationally, Petrino would be a good fit for Florida, and would kick butt like nobody’s business, but things are currently going fine in Gainesville, at least for this year.  If any of you dear readers would like to speculate on where else BP could end up, please offer your thoughts in the comment section!

Comments»

1. Tom Laney - October 21, 2012

Tennesse?


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