12 December 2007

Bobby Petrino Departs Atlanta

Bobby Petrino, we hardly knew you. Here are the three questions I look at:

1. How good was and is Bobby Petrino?
2. Has Michael Vick’s departure been the sole cause of this season?
3. Was this the right decision for Bobby Petrino?

How good was and is Bobby Petrino? You will hear that Petrino is an offensive mastermind, and you’ll hear about his 41-9 record at Louisville. We won’t know what he would have done this year at Louisville as they fell to a .500 team, but let’s look closer at what he did there during his four years at Louisville.

You won’t hear that he was 4-4 against Top 25 teams (actually 4-5; who knew TCU was a Top 20 team in 2003?), with the 2006 win over West Virginia as his benchmark victory. He beat a .500 Miami team early last season when they were ranked and finished with an Orange Bowl win against Wake Forest. His only other Top 25 win was against an upstart Boise State team in 2004. Their schedule was filled with Syracuse, East Carolina, Pitt, and Cincinnati in conference, never looking like the week in/week out grind of the SEC or even the Pac 10 or Big 10. Offensive geniuses have started breaking out of the woodwork as the spread offense and its hybrids have flourished, so we’ll find out soon enough what he is made of.

Has Michael Vick’s departure been the sole cause of this season? Yes and no. First, let’s revisit the statistics of last season. Last year, they finished 7-9 after a 6-2 start, similar to the 2005 year. The Falcons led the NFL in rushing and were dead last in passing, putting them in 12th in offense for last year. This year, they’ve dropped to 24th overall, plummeting to 26th in rushing while climbing to 16th in passing. Vick gained over 1,000 yards last season, but they have a top back in Warrick Dunn and one of the fastest running backs in the NFL in the underutilized Jarious Norwood. With quarterbacks dropping like flies around the NFL, Petrino showed a lack of adjustment to the personnel he was dealt. He tried to turn a running offense into a passing offense lacking a QB and really any top receivers excluding Alge Crumpler. Granted he lost a second 1,000 rusher who was unique, but his inability to maintain a strong rushing attack is telling. His defense is 24th in the league vs 22nd last year. The Falcons have been unable to stop the run, dropping from 9th to 27th in rushing defense this year while moving from 29th to 19th in passing defense. The Falcons have been a mediocre team with an electrifying star in Vick since his arrival, and really only during last year’s slide were there serious grumblings about Vick’s lack of passing skills.

Was this the right decision for Bobby Petrino? Absolutely the right choice for him and his immediate future. Petrino still glistens today with the mantle of offensive genius that built the Louisville program from nothing. Add mediocre 2008 and 2009 seasons to this year's disaster, and his head coaching prospects would be few and far between. Steve Spurrier and Nick Saban had both won National Titles in the SEC, and they had a greater ability to boomerang back to the college ranks than Petrino did. His salary went from $2.5m at Louisville up to $3.0m at Arkansas, with a quick bump at the Falcons thrown into the mix. He knew he was in quite a mess in Atlanta, one that was going to take a great deal of effort to overcome. NFL clubs can be turned around quickly, but the Falcons fall in the basket with the Saints, the Bengals, the Cardinals, and the Lions of historically inept franchises. He understood there was more downside risk if he failed over the 2008 and 2009 seasons than any upside gain if he somehow righted the ship over those two seasons. Arkansas will be no slam dunk, mind you (just ask Nick Saban). Before Halloween next year, he’ll play Saban’s Alabama, Texas and Florida before heading to a perennial war with Auburn. I’m sure Mr. Tuberville remembers his 2003 escapades quite well. Add Kentucky the following week then finish your season with Ole Miss, Mississippi State, South Carolina, and LSU. Welcome back to college, coach. You just might be longing for your days in Atlanta after your first trip through the SEC.

Petrino's Arkansas Press Conference

DeAngelo Hall's Response
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