Pratt: WKU fans should thank Bobby Petrino, Louisville’s prodigal son

WKU head coach Bobby Petrino greets WKU president Gary Ransdell after the game. WKU won 35-26 against Kentucky at LP Field in Nashville, Tn on Saturday night.

Elliott Pratt

We all knew this day was coming sooner rather than later.

We all could safely have been under the assumption that what Bobby Petrino was saying during his introductory press conference as the head coach at Western Kentucky was tongue and cheek, and just a precursor to what was going to eventually happen at some school, as what happened at the University of Louisville Thursday morning.

How many were really sold on the idea he would be here to “consistently go to a bowl game” (that didn’t work this year), and “win a conference championship?” (WKU finished third in the Sun Belt Conference).

Did you think he would be here long enough for the team to “get to a position where we’re ranked in the top 25” (good grief), and “get in a position where we can compete in a BCS bowl game?” (please don’t paint Feix Field blue).

Petrino did exactly what he was supposed to do in his 13 months at WKU: hype up a program that was on the rise and build upon a foundation already slated.

Was he going to be here to guide WKU to be the next Boise State? Absolutely not. Not if we’re talking about the same Bobby Petrino whose name is always a hot topic of controversy at the water cooler.

For his entire career, flirting with other jobs (and in one instance, a former employee), has gotten him into trouble and placed a black cloud over his head everywhere he went. So should WKU fans be surprised he’s gone? Again, absolutely not.

But ever since everything fell from beneath Petrino following a scandal surrounding an affair he had with an employee that led to his firing, a plan was initiated.

A plan to start over – a clean slate – was what Petrino needed, and Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich was there to eventually wipe it spotless. Jurich even said that after the Arkansas scandal Petrino drove from Arkansas to Louisville just to talk with Jurich for guidance, who seemed to be the coach’s best option at providing a pathway back home.

“I went to Western Kentucky to get close to Louisville,” Petrino said. “This is our home.”

Louisville’s home because his greatest success as a college coach resides there, with a 41-9 record. It’s home because that’s where he has children that attend the university. Petrino made decisions he thought were more attractive that drove him away from where he was comfortable, eventually leading to actions that will forever label him with caution.

Bobby Petrino wanted to come home, and Tom Jurich wanted him back. Sound like a familiar story?

Petrino is the prodigal son who left thinking the grass was greener on the other side, when in reality he didn’t realize how good of a situation he had until he left his home. He had to humble himself and sit out of coaching for a year. The prodigal son hired himself out to be a citizen with the locals – flying under the radar. Petrino had to (and still will) deal with scrutiny and live forever knowing he made mistakes that hurt his family. The prodigal son was humiliated to the point of eating in troughs alongside swine.

“I told Bobby, ‘the coach I had eight years ago is not the coach I want to hire’, I want the new Bobby Petrino,” Jurich said Thursday.

Petrino set out to for change, and Todd Stewart offered him $850,000 a year to get back on his feet in the Sun Belt Conference – a league with only two bowl tie-ins.

Petrino couldn’t go to Louisville just yet because, at the time, the Cardinals still had a coach. Petrino had to prove to Jurich he really had changed. But when the when the door opened, the father stood with arms wide open to allow the son back home.

“It’s great to be back home. This is our home,” Petrino said to open his press conference.

“…I’ve made mistakes both professionally and personally. It’s something I’m never going to do again.”

Instead of blaming Petrino for leaving another job and going for his 16th different employment in 34 years of coaching, WKU fans should be happy for him and more importantly, forgiving.

Tom Jurich has proven to be one of the smartest athletic directors in the country. If Petrino’s attitude hadn’t truly changed, there’s no way Jurich would have hired him. Heck, even Todd Stewart wasn’t going to hire Petrino if he didn’t believe someone deserved a second chance.

Don’t think the job interview between Jurich and Petrino that lasted nine hours was a bed of roses either. Things got pretty heated.

“30 minutes of that interview, if I were him, I would have got up and left,” Jurich said. He continued to tell Petrino, “If you lie to me, I’m going to kill you.”

WKU did what it had to do to help Petrino return back home, Petrino did what he had to do to make the most of his time back in to football to prove that his on the field decisions haven’t changed. For that, WKU fans, you should thank him.

With Petrino’s buyout at $1.2 million, he will have paid WKU $350,000 to let him coach again. And what did the university get out of it? He was an influence in the university’s move to Conference-USA, a boost in attendance averages to the highest level it’s ever been at 18,334, more national exposure and a promising presumed successor-in-waiting, Jeff Brohm.

“I still feel that, based on where we were a year ago, where our program was, how we finished the season, to have an opportunity to have a head coach, who at that time, was 75-26, I believe, and had been to seven bowl games, to have somebody like that that we could afford, was something that we just couldn’t turn down,” athletic director Todd Stewart said.

The question that circles around anyone that leaves one job for another is whether they left their job in a better position than it was when they arrived. WKU wasn’t struggling when Petrino got here, but after 13 months, the outlook is looking polished.

Fans, thank Todd Stewart for giving someone a second chance. Thank Tom Jurich for giving Petrino a second chance to go back to Louisville. But more importantly, thank Bobby Petrino for 13 months of leading the Hilltoppers. He is back home, and WKU football is in a better condition now that he was here.