Love and Football: Bobby Petrino And Louisville Play Double or Nothing

Before LeBron James and Cleveland or Ted and Robin, there was Monica Wright and Quincy McCall.

Before LeBron James and Cleveland or Ted and Robin, there was Monica Wright and Quincy McCall. He's been the subject of scorn and ridicule, but at its core, Bobby Petrino’s story is a sordid tale about Love and Football. 

LeBron James’ return to Cleveland was a victory for small media markets with a penchant for being on the losing end of the sports “brain drain”. Petrino’s biggest issue was thinking with the wrong brain.

This exodus is often marked by the best and brightest developing a wanderlust directed towards major metropolitan hubs or more established companies.

It’s rare to find a maven in his field willing to stick it out for the long haul, especially in today's sports landscape.

Bobby Petrino was not that guy.

However, James’ letter to Cleveland might as well have been penned by Petrino in his return to Louisvillle, which was a small, private college until 1970.

Petrino’s return evoked a more mixed reaction than James'..

College football coaches are notoriously ambitious and nobody should blame them for that.

However, Petrino took his wanderlust to an extreme.

Petrino was the Quincy McCall archetype in a nutshell.

The commitment issues exemplified by Omar Epps’ character are an allegory for Petrino’s career kryptonite.

He had a good thing going with Louisville; but he got gluttonous, went pro, got in over his head and fell flat on his face. During his first season at the helm of Louisville, he subversively took part in an attempt to oust his former boss Tommy Tuberville by interviewing with boosters for the Auburn job.

Despite overwhelming evidence, including the Auburn President’s flight log, Petrino denied the interviews took place until the school released a statement coppin’ to the whole ordeal. 

Over the course of the next three years, Petrino interviewed with the Raiders, Notre Dame and LSU.

Petrino’s shrewd eye of Sauron was always scouting for another expedient come-up, probably because he knew he was a more brilliant offensive guru than his peers and his superiors. Unfortunately, his sheer acumen with a playbook was counterbalanced with a void where charisma should be. Football is his passion and the outlet for his polyamorous desires.

Petrino left Louisville because it seemed he like he had bumped his head on the glass ceiling in the Big East as a basketball school. During the course of the next seven years, he’d learn the value of Tyler Perry’s 80-20 rule in both his personal and professional life.

In a shocking twist, realignment and bad decisions have resulted in Petrino returning to his old stomping grounds with a whole new perspective and appreciation of Louisville football.

Ultimately, Petrino and Louisville have discovered a deeper appreciation for one another.

The transition from Petrino to Kragthorpe the second time around was a debacle. A decade earlier, Petrino was replaced by Kragthorpe as offensive coordinator of Louisville after puppeteering the No.1 offense in college football.

Ironically, Petrino left the collegiate game for the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars. Tom Coughlin called Petrino “the best play-caller he’d ever been around" until the unprofessional opportunist accepted the aforementioned offensive coordinating position on Tuberville’s Auburn staff without informing Coughlin.

In 2007, Kragthorpe inherited touchdown machine Brian Brohm, as well as a slew of returning offensive starters who’d recently won the Orange Bowl, went 6-6 and barely became bowl-eligible.

The forward momentum that Louisville had enjoyed for two decades since Howard Schnellenberger’s revitalization of the moribund program was eradicated.

In a reversal of fortunes from Louisville’s days on the other end of Petrino’s philandering ways, Louisville began actively trying to hook Kragthorpe up with a new job that would get him out of their hair.

Charlie Strong was not only responsible for course correcting, but he led them to their biggest win in program history. Defeating FlorIda in the 2013 Sugar Bowl Capped off an undefeated season and raised the target for their upward trajectory. 

In 2003, Petrino originally took charge of a program that was growing too big for its Conference USA britches and will now be embarking on its inaugural season in the ACC, where a power vacuum exists below Florida State on the totem pole. An audience with Florida State on a regular basis should do wonders for the Sunshine State pipeline that’s been forged for years.

To say Petrino experienced a few bumps and bruises on the road since putting Louisville in his rear view mirror would be a gross understatement.

The stars were the limit when Petrino took his show on the road to the NFL. Instead, Petrino encountered major obstacles at the launch and his escape pod plunked into the Atlantic. Thirteen games into a turbulent season that saw Mike Vick begin a 23-month sentence for a felony conviction related to a dogfighting ring, Petrino fled to the collegiate border with Robert Snowden-like efficaciousness.

The images of Petrino leading Arkansas boosters and athletic director Jeff Long in a Calling of the Hogs, a few days after a Falcons loss, while his players were left with a terse locker room note was too much to stomach.

However, none of his prior offenses compared to his nadir on the side of an Arkansas road, 23 miles outside of Fayetteville. Petrino’s recidivist wandering eye ultimately derailed his career two years ago when it wandered outside his marriage and culminated with a calamitous motorcycle wreck. Petrino’s bones healed, but his reputation was irreparably scarred.

Days after his post-accident presser, details began emerging about Petrino’s inappropriate relationship with 25-year-old Jessica Dorrell, whom he’d recently hired for a position on the Razorbacks football staff.

Arkansas canned Petrino and set Petrino down a new path.

Charlie Strong’s amicable and well-executed departure from Louisville for Texas left him in good graces, but with the program swimming in revenue, staring out from its shiny new practice facility, stadium, getting off on the right foot and building over Strong’s foundation was a pivotal factor in their search.

Unlike four years ago, the Cardinals chose a proven winner and a known commodity.

Days after Strong filled the Texas opening and left with great aplomb, students hug a “Bring Back Bobby” banner over the student activity center.

From their power of position as “the team” for the first time on the opposite side of the looking glass, Louisville embraced their opportunism and snatched up Petrino after season of humbling at Western Kentucky, because they recognized the unique opportunity in front of them.

However, being an offensive genius with the track record to back up the label, is akin to a business mogul facing felony criminal charges. He gets afforded sentencing leniency where most coaches get the (play)book thrown at them (see: Kelvin Sampson).  

Teddy Bridgewater may have been the savviest quarterback to ever take a snap under center for the Louisville Cardinals, but Petrino represents the return of an era of exhilarating offense that was non-existent under Charlie Strong by design.

Disciplined, conservative offensive football was Strong’s preference. The previous regime was more adroit at deflating offenses than they were at matriculating the ball downfield offensively. There’s different strokes for different folks, but there are only so many Strong’s willing to coach at Louisville.

Petrino’s character flaws hid the fact that his power spread offense was the toast of college football for over a decade. More importantly, he’s familiar with Louisville.

There are no more stepping stones for Petrino to ascend. However, the football program’s ceiling has been raised significantly.

Love and Basketball’s been romanticized to an unhealthy extreme over the last decade plus, but what I saw at the denouement was a desperate Quincy grasping for an anchor.

Like Quincy, Petrino is limping back to Louisville with a crushed ego. The expectation is that this time, he’ll spend the time he usually does searching for the exit, devising the path of least resistance to the end zone.

Petrino wasn’t going to become a coaching legend offering his services to the highest bidder. His renewed vows with Louisville are a commitment he can’t break. 

If Petrino goes careening off this road, it may be his last straw as a major college football coach. It's double or nothing for his second ride with Louisville.