WKU names Bobby Petrino next coach

Bobby Petrino meets with Hilltopper fans and students after being announced as the new football coach at Smith Stadium on Dec. 10.

Lucas Aulbach

The search for the next football coach at WKU lasted one weekend and ended with a big-name hire.

Bobby Petrino, former coach at Louisville and Arkansas, has been named the next coach of the Toppers.

“My vision for Western Kentucky football is to take it to the next level,” Petrino said at his introductory press conference Monday afternoon.

The WKU athletics department acted fast in the wake of former coach Willie Taggart’s move to South Florida on Friday.

Athletics director Todd Stewart said he sent a text message to Petrino Friday night, just hours after Taggart accepted the same position at South Florida.

“We made every effort to keep coach Taggart because of what he stood for and what he did,” Stewart said. “But at the same time, I was certainly realistic and knew that there was a chance that he could leave, and we couldn’t sit on our hands.”

The two discussed a potential contract on Saturday, Petrino flew into Bowling Green Sunday,and Monday morning he accepted the job.

“Based on his tremendous resume, along with his interest, optimism, and vision for our program, it was clear he was exactly what we were looking for,” Stewart said.

It is rare that a coaching search begins and ends within three days – Stewart said even he was surprised with how quickly the deal wrapped up.

“I certainly expected our search would last longer than three days,” he said. “However, when you begin a search, the first person that you contact is the No. 1 person on your list. And for us, the No. 1 person was Bobby Petrino.”

Petrino brings experience at the highest level of competition to WKU. He served as coach at Louisville from 2003-06 and at Arkansas from 2008-11, compiling a 75-26 record in that time. He won the Orange Bowl while at Louisville in 2006.

The coach also has part of a season of experience coaching at the NFL level. Petrino left Louisville in 2006 to take over as coach of the Atlanta Falcons but resigned after 13 games, taking over at Arkansas the next year. He had put together a 3-10 record with the Falcons at that time.

His career at Arkansas ended in controversy. Petrino was involved in a motorcycle crash in April of this year. An investigation of the crash revealed Petrino was having an affair with an employee of the Arkansas football program. He was fired on April 10 for a”pattern of misleading” behavior and has since publicly apologized.

Petrino is now at the helm of a program coming off consecutive 7-5 seasons under Taggart and is preparing for its first bowl game as an FBS program.

Petrino said Taggat left the program in good shape for him to succeed immediately.

“Willie did an excellent job here,” he said. “He set the foundation for success, and that’s what I’m looking forward to, is building on the foundation that Willie and his staff have set.”

Petrino said he will evaluate his assistant coaches after the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. Current interim coach Lance Guidry and the rest of Taggart’s staff will coach the Toppers through the bowl game.

While he said he is excited for WKU’s first FBS bowl game this month, Petrino said he intends to have WKU competing for more than just a postseason berth.

“We need to consistently – every year – go to a bowl game,” Petrino said. “We need to win a conference championship, be in the run for a conference championship every single year. We need to get in a position where we’re ranked in the top-25, and we need to get in a position where we can compete to be in a BCS bowl game. That’s where we see our program going.”

Petrino wants WKU to be at the top of the Sun Belt Conference, and he will be paid like the Toppers are already there.

Petrino’s contract is for four years, with WKU owing him $850,000 each year. It is loaded with incentives – $25,000 for being named national coach of the year, $10,000 per semester that his team posts a 3.0 or higher cumulative GPA, and $300,000 if the Toppers reach a BCS bowl game.

The contract also includes a $1.2 million buyout clause if Petrino terminates the contract without reason during those four years.

While including a clause about the potential of a BCS berth may seem far-fetched for a program that just earned its first FBS bowl berth ever, Petrino said WKU, like Boise State in the past and Northern Illinois, can play the role of a surprise BCS-buster if the Toppers do well on the field.

“When you look at the Boise States of the world and the teams that have been able to do that, that is our expectation,” Petrino said. “That is where we feel we have the opportunity to go.”