Editorial: Petrino’s past is shaky, WKU’s future isn’t

THE ISSUE: After WKU hired Bobby Petrino last December, criticism almost immediately followed the decision. Petrino’s personal past is not as stellar as his professional past, which has led some to say WKU is excusing ethics in exchange for football wins.

OUR STANCE: While Petrino may not have the most savory of pasts, he has a lot riding on this job and is unlikely to make the same mistake twice. His coaching abilities can benefit WKU football, so we should just let him do his job.

In the wake of former head coach Willie Taggart’s swift exit from campus for the University of South Florida, our football program was at its peak. The team’s first-ever bowl game was approaching, but uncertainty about the program’s future muted the excitement.

Enter Bobby Petrino.

Petrino enjoyed several wins at the University of Louisville from 2003 to 2006. From there, he moved on to the NFL to coach the Atlanta Falcons, where he quit midseason to go to the University of Arkansas. There, Petrino went 34-17 and was in the national title hunt every year for four seasons.

Then something happened that has since caused many people to doubt the benefits of his hiring at WKU.

Petrino had a motorcycle accident in April 2012. With him had been a former Arkansas volleyball player who had just started working in the football department. Petrino, married with children, had been having an affair with her. He was fired April 10 and stayed out of football until coming to WKU Dec. 10.

Despite his unethical actions and lack of judgment, it doesn’t stop the fact that WKU was looking for the best man for the job, and Petrino is one of the top five coaches in the country. Coming to a program that has just recently pulled itself up by the bootstraps is an opportunity for him to prove he’s still got it, and it’s an opportunity for our football team to keep improving.

Coming to WKU is also a chance for Petrino to show he can do right. This is arguably his last chance in football, so he really has no other choice than to be on his best behavior. Not to mention his contract — in which he makes $850,000 a year — states he must pay WKU $1.2 million if he terminates the contract before four years are up.

Taggart’s departure has left several gun-shy, and these people have predicted Petrino will leave WKU just as he has left other schools. This is a valid concern because the wildly popular, widely loved Taggart left, which shows how difficult it is for any school to keep a coach for very long. But if Petrino does leave after a year, WKU will come out ahead according to the contract stipulations.

Perhaps the biggest criticism has been that Petrino will give WKU a bad name. Petrino is the football coach, not the university president. His position does not make WKU a worse school academically nor should he affect the school’s reputation or its graduates. And because of his impressive track record with wins, why not let the man coach and show us what he can do?

His past actions are not commendable, but how long will he be punished for a lapse in character? He issued a very public, very sincere apology and took full responsibility for his wrongdoing. It would be a shame to let his talent as a coach go to waste now.

The spirit — not the football coach — makes the master at WKU.