Bobby Petrino, new coach of the WKU football team, was the most successful coach on the market when the 2012 regular season ended.
In four-year stints at Louisville and Arkansas, he recorded a 75-26 record and two BCS bowl berths.
His record wasn’t what caused schools like Auburn and Tennessee to hire other candidates for their coaching vacancies. The way Petrino left his former schools, as well as an abandoned NFL stint, concerned schools that considered the coach.
Petrino came up through the coaching ranks in the 1990’s before being promoted to offensive coordinator at Auburn for a year. He earned his first head coaching job when he was hired by Louisville, where he had once served as offensive coordinator, in 2003.
The Cardinals thrived for four seasons under the coach, earning wins in the 2004 Liberty Bowl and 2006 Orange Bowl. But while Petrino was building a national identity at Louisville, he was getting interest from other schools with coaching vacancies across the country.
He interviewed for the head coaching position at Auburn without telling Louisville officials, even while Tommy Tuberville remained Auburn’s coach.
Petrino signed a 10-year contract with Louisville in July 2006. Then in Jan. 2007, he spurned the Cardinals and accepted a job in the NFL as coach of the Atlanta Falcons.
His time in the NFL was tumultuous, as he was expected to lead the Falcons after the release of franchise quarterback Michael Vick in the wake of dog-fighting charges. Petrino instead resigned after compiling a 3-10 record and accepted the head-coaching position at Arkansas days later. He told his players by leaving a note in the locker room.
It was at Arkansas, however, that he encountered the biggest scandal of his career. After building the Razorback program for four seasons — culminating in consecutive Sugar Bowl and Cotton bowl berths — he was involved in a motorcycle accident in Arkansas. It was later revealed he was with Jessica Dorrell, a former Arkansas volleyball player who had recently been hired by the Razorback football program, and that Petrino was having an affair with Dorrell. He was fired days later.
He has spent the last eight months out of football — time he said he spent reconnecting with his family, who he said helped him make the decision to come to WKU.
“I’ve learned a lot — I’ve learned a lot about myself and about what to do,” Petrino said. “I’m really excited about this opportunity — I didn’t know if I would get it or if I would not, so it came down to this being a family decision, this being what we wanted to do, how we wanted to move forward.”
Athletics director Todd Stewart said he felt Petrino deserved another chance after being out of football for a year and he believes WKU will not regret it.
“He made a big mistake and he acknowledges that and he’s taken ownership of that and he’s paid a heavy price for it,” Stewart said. “But this is the United States of America, and we’re a country of second chances.
“I was confident after talking with him and with other people that he deserved a second chance and we are more than happy to give it to him.”
After spending eight months out of football, Petrino made his return to the college football scene Monday when he was hired by WKU.
Petrino said his contract, which includes a $1.2 million buyout if he terminates the contract for any reason in the next four years, shows the commitment he has to WKU.
“You can’t know what the future’s going to hold, but we tried to do some things contractually that shows the commitment we’re making to the university and the student-athletes,” Petrino said. “We hope that we can be here for as long as possible.”