Photo courtesy of sportsillustrated.cnn.com
By Lloyd Spence:
As Head Coach Charlie Strong walked out the door last weekend to The University of Texas, the search for the next coach began in one of the strangest possible places.
University of Louisville Athletic Director aka “The Card-Father”, Tom Jurich, decided to start his search (despite major personal reservations) in Bowling Green, KY with the man that lead the Football program to places it had only reached under Hall of Fame Coach Howard Schnellenberger. As that search evolved, Bobby Petrino, who led the Cardinals from 2003 to 2007 and was the current Head Coach of Western Kentucky University, quickly became the “target coach” to lead the program into its new conference home, The ACC.
Let’s pause this story for a moment and consider what was just stated.
Motorcycle Ridin’, Girlfriend-on-the-side-having, Can’t commit to a school-ever, flamed out in the NFL, Bobby Petrino!
The very nature of that thought completely boggles the mind.
Bobby Petrino. The guy that, after committing to Louisville with a 10 year contract, turned around and completely ripped out the fans heart and left the university standing at the Big East altar, for the sexier Atlanta Falcons and the NFL.
I’m positive the initial thought from Jurich was “This is insane!”
Until he started to evaluate the truth.
Louisville Football is finally on the upward trajectory that it has been searching for the past ten years. Two BCS Bowls. A legitimate Heisman Trophy Pre-Season candidate and the possible #1 pick in the upcoming 2014 NFL Draft. Two back to back double digit winning seasons. Its all happening, and its being done the right way…..with integrity, hard work, dedication, and a strong determination toward academic and athletic success.
There is absolutely no way the program can start to take significant steps back. As Jurich told the players the Sunday after Charlie Strong’s departure, “We are not rebuilding…..We are building on!”
This hire had to be someone who could keep things going forward and upward. This hire had to be someone who could inspire the players, and reignite a disappointed fan base. This hire had to be one that came with a passion to win. This hire had to be able to compete on the highest level, and come into the ACC ready to make an immediate impact. After laying all of the candidates out on the table, there was only one name, one certainty that was staring Tom Jurich in the face.
The real question of hiring Petrino has nothing to do with coaching. The real question for Petrino was about character.
Can a 52 year old man, who was nationally humiliated, transform himself into a more humble, yet still passionate, football man?
It is a question that does not have an easy answer, especially for Bobby Petrino. Aside, from the obvious problems and character issues that were displayed for all to see, there are the personal demons that would cause him to act that way in the first place. There was the “swept under the carpet” incident with the athletic football trainer that never seemed to get addressed. Always a rumor. So many reservations. And the real question that will constantly follow a potential second run at Louisville…
Can a person truly change bad behavior?
Tom Jurich and Bobby Petrino sat down for a 9 hr meeting to discuss this. And they talked about everything. Tom met with Mrs. Petrino. They talked about everything. He met with Bobby again. And they talked about EVERYTHING!
And when the dust cleared, Tom felt he had found his man.
Not a crazed ego maniac that is condescending to staff and players. Not a womanizing Head Coach who acts like a wild teenager. Not a dishonest employee always searching for a better opportunity. Not a man in search of his career holy grail.
He found Bobby Petrino. The brilliant offensive mind. The Passionate football guru, and one of the country’s most creative and talented coaches ever.
He found a man that had been transformed by national public humiliation. He found a man that had been embarrassed and humbled by a life gone array. He also found a man, that despite all of that, had not lost his passion to do the one thing he loved to do….coach football.
The last time Tom Jurich took a chance at a man ready for redemption, it resulted in two Final Fours and a National Championship. This time, however, the stakes feel much higher, and the risk far greater. And the potential of complete failure seems more realistic, then the fantasy of a storybook finish.
But then again…………If this works……………..If Tom can reach and redeem the man…….he might also find his coach. The Coach who lead Louisville to that National stage it has been circling around for years. The Coach that will finally get Louisville to that ever elusive title opportunity and possible National Championship, again and again. The Coach that will mold young men and teach them to make better life choices than he made. The Coach that will graduate young men into professional careers, including the NFL. The Coach that is committed to the #L1C4 mantra that permeates throughout the University Athletic department and the community at large.
Tom hired Bobby Petrino. He has given him a chance at redemption. He has put his faith in the belief that the man he hired in 2003 is not the man he is today. He did so for one and only one, stated reason……
He believes in redemption.
This may work. It may not. But one thing is for certain.
This is Bobby last shot. It’s the Hail Mary pass at the end of the game. To have someone to believe in you, after so many public failures, is a rare thing. But Tom does. He Believes. The Question is…………
Does Bobby Petrino Believe in himself?