With the Atlanta Falcons clearly in his rearview mirror, new University of Arkansas football coach Bobby Petrino was all about the present and future on Tuesday.
Petrino, who announced he would be adding current UA assistant Tim Horton to his staff, held court with the media in a press conference - his first since the initial one that announced his hiring back exactly one week ago.
"I just wanted to reflect a little bit on the week," Petrino said. "It's been a lot of excitement, a lot of hard work, been very energized.
"I think the No. 1 priority was to get out in the state recruiting," Petrino said. "When I found out last Wednesday morning the short period we had for contacts until it went dead, we made a list and we got out. And I believe we saw everybody in the state of Arkansas that was committed to us."
Petrino noted that he was excited about what he found out about about the fans and high school football in Arkansas.
"I was very impressed with the reception; I was very impressed with the passion for football throughout the state," Petrino said. "And I was very excited with what the high school coaches are doing, the fact that there is so much of them are throwing the football and so many passing tournaments and just the development of receivers and quarterbacks. When the high school coaches are doing that, it's something that I think will really help us here in the future."
He also didn't have any interest in getting involved in defending himself against criticism from Atlanta owner Arthur Blanks, his former Falcon players and ESPN's on-air personalities had leveled.
"I'm not going to say anything in my defense,' Petrino said. "I'm very excited about where I'm at. I'm very excited in moving forward. I think we put all that behind us. We put behind what has happened at the university before, and we moved forward with the state of Arkansas, with the University of Arkansas and our success coming up in the future."
Petrino said the criticism meant nothing to him, but knows it has bothered his family.
"Like I just said, we're going to go forward," Petrino said. " We're not going to talk anymore about the Atlanta Falcons. We're talking about the University of Arkansas, the Razorbacks, what our future is here, what we have to do recruiting wise. We've got a lot to do. We've got to have a staff hired and in place by Jan. 3. We've got a short period of time before the signing day, and we need to get our players, make sure we're academically set and ready for the next semester. Get ready for spring football. So we have a whole bunch on our plate to be concerned about here and only here."
Petrino has hired his brother Paul to be his offensive coordinator at Arkansas and also announced the hiring of Horton.
"It's such a unique situation that we have here with the one staff coaching the bowl game and the timetable of actually when I can bring my staff in," Petrino said. " Right now, I've brought Paul, my brother, in as the offensive coordinator so we could get another guy recruiting.
Petrino was asked if there were any other current Razorback coaches who might be kept on the new staff.
"Yeah, I think there is," Petrino said. "I think I just have to sit down and have the opportunity to visit with a couple of guys."
Petrino talked about what his brother will bring to staff as the offensive coordinator.
"I'll call the plays," Bobby Petrino said. "Paul is a very energetic coach that goes out on the field and coaches extremely hard every day. He does a great job in taking over the room when I'm not in there making sure we get on track and getting the gameplan prepared.
"He has a tremendous amount to do with what we do offensively and what our style is, what our gameplan is," Petrino said. " The best thing is, when i'm not there and i've stepped out of the room he's an extension of my beliefs and what i believe in."
He noted what he was looking for in a defensive coordinator.
"Well what's most important for me on defense starting out wise is that we play good principles of defense. that we shed blocks, we run full speed to the ball, we tackle well, we get all 11 guys to the football. Any time you can do that and you understand that's where some of your individual time to be spent, you're going to be a better defensive football team. I also want to make sure we stop the run and we can do that soundly. then you have to be able to pressure the quarterback and hit the quarterback. combination of being in your base defense and utilizing zone blitz and utilizing man blitz is really what i like to do."
Petrino will attend Arkansas' Cotton Bowl date with Missouri on Jan. 1 in Dallas, but plans to stay away from the action.
"Yeah, I'm going to go to the bowl game. I'm going to watch from afar," Petrino said. "It's been, like I said, I'm calling it a unique situation. You could put difficult in there, too, I think and for everybody. I believe that the staff that's coaching them is working as hard as they can, and they're doing a nice job on their preparation for the game. I think the players have handled the situation with a tremendous amount of class.
"All my efforts are going to be toward recruiting, evaluating," Petrino added. " And even though we have quite a number of guys that are committed and believe will sign with us, the scholarships we have left, it's very, very important that we get the right guys to fill those slots. So that's really where I'll be spending most of my energy."
One of those recruiting assignments is trying to hold on to current Razorback tailback Felix Jones, who is considering declaring himself for the NFL draft along with teammate Darren McFadden.
"We sat down and visited, and that's a priority for us," Petrino said of he and Jones. "I do understand his situation. You do understand there is a lot that plays into it, but certainly we would love to have him back for another year."
Petrino said he got a feeling which way Jones is leaning.
"Yeah, I think I did, but I'm not going to share that with anybody else. Anytime we have a meeting in my office, it's between me and the young man."
There is a chance to sign a mid-term junior college transfer in the next month.
"It's a short window, but we never say never really when it comes to recruiting," Petrino said. "You know, got to get out there and watch them practice a little bit yesterday, which was fun for me. Paul has watched them practice a couple of times, so we're trying to figure out if we did make that run what exact positions would it be at."
As for recruiting needs, Petrino is still assessing that.
"I think it's a little early to do that because I've just one look at practice," Petrino said. "We have and gone back and watched some of the video from last year. Certainly, I like a lot of what I see of guys returning. I could see the offensive line being a big strength for us and depending what happens with Felix, whether we have to replace two running backs or not. That would be an area of concern."
He also talked about how many quarterbacks he would like on campus with the Razorbacks slated to have six on scholarship next fall.
"In a perfect world, you'd have a quarterback a class, one each class
as you come in," Petrino said. We're going to probably bring two in this year. That's what it looks like right now and I feel like that's what we need to do… You're going to try to recruit the best quarterback every year. When you get them on campus, it is a position where young men transfer. They all want to come in and play. they all want to play early. They believe in themselves then for some reason or not it's a situation where they transfer so they can get playing time. I understand that."
As far as areas he plans to recruit, Petrino said that playing in the Cotton Bowl should help in Texas, one area he plans to hit hard especially now with the Longhorns, Aggies and Horned Frogs on future UA schedules.
"Any time you can go home and play in front of your relatives, your mom and dad, it helps a lot," Petrino said. "The proximity is huge for us. it's something that we need to do. Then there's a train of thought you should recruit wherever your conference plays. I do think that's real important with the SEC. There's so many young athletes out there that grow up dreaming of playing in theS outheastern conference. i think that's important for us to make sure we are in those areas."
Asked if he had found out how being the UA coach in a state that mostly supports one team was a fishbowl, he said he had.
"It's a pretty small bowl," Petrino said while laughing.
Strangely Petrino finds himself not concentrating mostly on the bowl game, but knows that ‘s very much what the players need to do.
" This game does two things; we want our seniors to go out right. they want to make sure they put their best effort, their best foot forward and finish what they started this season," Petrino said.
"Number two for the underclassmen it really starts the 2008 season," Petrino added. "We want to win the game. We want to make sure we put on a good performance because it will have something to do with here we're rated, where we're ranked when we start next season."
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