Like a presidential candidate running for office, new University of Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino is seemingly preaching to a ready made constituency.
Razorback fans both reveled in the success of the team and were dismayed by the turmoil surrounding the program at the same time.
"One thing we are going to try and do is not worry about what was been done here in the past in any phase," Petrino said. "From the time the players get back here Sunday night and we get started on Monday, we are going to worry about going forward."
It's not that Petrino thinks anything has been done wrong in the past, it's just that he and his staff have their own way of doing things and feel confident in their abilities to be successful.
He admits that it was a strange situation being hired as the new Razorback head coach while the old staff – many of whom had already accepted jobs with Ole Miss – were coaching the UA for its bowl game.
"It was an awkward situation, there's no question about that," Petrino said. "It felt like we were walking the halls with the enemy. They are going to be across the river there in Mississippi and we have to compete and work to beat them.
"There is no doubt that you could feel the tension there from both sides," Petrino added. "I think both sides handled it well and again I think the situation came about because the interest of the players was at heart."
So it is no wonder that when he met the media again on January 9th with his full staff in tow that things were a bit more normal.
That staff included holdover assistants Tim Horton (running backs, tight ends, recruiting coordinator) and Bobby Allen, who will now coach the defensive tackles.
There are also a plethora of new additions such as defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, offensive coordinator Paul Petrino, quarterback coach Garrick McGee, cornerbacks coach Lorenzo Ward, defensive end and special teams coach Kirk Botkin, offensive line coach and assistant head coach Mike Summers and linebackers coach Reggie Johnson.
"I'm excited to finally get this staff together and get to work," Petrino said. "At first I was really nervous about waiting until Jan. 1 or 2 to get everybody here, but actually I think it worked out for the best because I was able to take my time, interview more people, talk to more coaches and really put it together the way I wanted to."
Petrino said he went into the hiring process with a plan and interviewed many of the coaches while in Dallas.
"It was important for me to get experience (with) guys, particularly in the coordinators, that had experience in college football and experience competing against guys at the highest level," Petrino added. "It was important for me to get some guys that had Arkansas ties, particularly to help us in recruiting.
"I think that any time you go to a university, it's important to get guys that know the history and can help the transition with the other members of your staff and I felt like we did that very well," Petrino said. "I was able to get some guys that had coached with me before who I was very familiar with, maybe who had played for me before and really understand how we want to operate when we get started."
The first order of business is getting the current players off and running on the off-season program and then finishing up the 2008 recruiting, getting ready for spring practice and jumping on 2009 recruiting.
"We are working hard at recruiting," Petrino said. "This is a hard time because it is a dead period. It's probably the longest dead period I can remember, so we've just been able to make the one phone call per week. Of course, the recruits can call us which is good because I think that's been happening a lot. We've been evaluating video and making new contacts and trying to make sure we hang on to the guys that said they were going to come here."
National signing date is Feb. 6 with the Razorbacks scheduled to host three different groups of recruits on the weekends of Jan. 18-20, Jan. 25-27 and Feb. 1-3.
"I think we do have to address our skill positions," Petrino said. "We certainly want to recruit speed. I think when you watch all the bowl games and you see the speed of the conference, particularly when Georgia played Hawaii and in the National Championship game the other night, that's something we're very conscious of and really need to address with our speed and our skills situation."
While Bobby Petrino projects an all-business attitude, there is an more personable air of excitement around his younger brother Paul, who will coach wideouts while also having the title of OC.
"It is real exciting, a great time and we kind of got here with our feet running and recruiting as hard as we can," Paul Petrino said. "We've been calling kids, watching film, evaluating them, kind of putting them in the order of who we want to get as our top guys."
The younger Petrino plans to help the program put out an exciting product.
"We want to put a great offense on the field and make it showtime," Paul Petrino said.
He said the philosophy of Arkansas' new offense is rather simple – FTS.
"The thing we do offensive – we call it FTS which is Feed the Studs," Paul Petrino said. "We are going to get the ball to our best players, whoever that is. As an offense we try to find the best way either by formation, or personnel or finding their weaknesses to try and get our best guys and take advantage of those."
It will be similar to a fast-break style in basketball.
"We are an up-tempo offense," Paul Petrino said. "We are going practice hard and fast and you guys will see we get a lot of reps in during practice. We are going to get a lot of reps in practice, we are going to get in and out of the huddle, play a real fast tempo, play with great enthusiasm.
"We will get the plays in fast, get out of the huddle fast, get up to the line of scrimmage, get set and go," Paul Petrino added. "We want to put the pressure on the defense. The more pressure we put on the defense, the more we can wear them down."
Although many get the idea that the Petrinos will flip the ball all over the field, Paul Petrino and his brother both emphasized the need for a stout running game.
"We are going to be a balanced offense, try to run the ball 50 percent of the time and throw the ball 50 percent of the time and make sure we adapt," Paul Petrino said.
The head coach expressed the same sentiment.
"We run a lot of multiple formations and we want to make sure we are balanced and can run the ball and throw the ball when we want to do either one," Bobby Petrino said.
Paul Petrino noted that he and Horton will be in the press box while Bobby Petrino and McGee will be down on the field with the offense.
While he is the offensive coordinator, Paul Petrino left no question about who would call the plays.
"The best thing that he does is call plays so it would be really silly for him not to do that," Paul Petrino said of his brother.
…"Bob does a great job when you give him recommendations – he knows when to use it, how to use it, by down and distance, by field position," the younger Petrino added. "A lot of the stuff we will have game-planned already and we know it is going to be called, but we can adjust and he is really good at that."
For those who think it is it might be a strange fit for your brother to be your boss, Paul Petrino shrugged that off.
"It is a real good working relationship because we both know what our strengths are and how we work off of each other ," Paul Petrino said. "I know exactly what he wants and that plays a big part in it. I think a lot of it is that we were both raised by a football coach in the same house and he got the same lessons on organization, how to go out and coach on the field and how to play and coach with enthusiasm."
Bobby Petrino says he and his brother have meshed well in the past.
"It has worked real well," BobbY petrino said. "I am a lot older than Paul even though I don't look it, I am a lot older than Paul, so I missed out some when he was growing up. We were able to (work together) a couple of years back with John L. Smith. I started out being the offensive coordinator and (Paul) coaching the wide receivers. Then when I got the head job at Louisville, he was the first guy I wanted to hire and he became the offensive coordinator.
"I actually gave him the choice to coach the quarterbacks or the receivers and he wanted to continue to coach receivers because it had worked so well before. There is a comfort zone of preparation during the week. When I step out of the room, I know things will get done and operated the way we want them to."
Paul Petrino said that he prefers to work with the wideouts than the quarterbacks.
"I will coach the wide receivers and I
I think that is one of my big strengths," Paul Petrino said. "Every where we have been we have always had a receiver or receivers who have been tops in the country.
"I will get my personality across to the whole offense out of the field better by coaching the wide receivers more than just coaching one guy like a quarterback."
Bobby Petrino also feels a match mentally with Johnson, the Razorbacks defensive coordinator who comes over from Mississippi State and also coached at Alabama.
"I think what I admire the most is that he plays defense the way I like it," Petrino said. "That is with very sound fundamentals, principles of getting hard and strong to the ball, hitting the quarterback, stripping the football and much more than just beating somebody with a scheme."
"First we want to be able to be balanced, second be able to stop the run and third, hit the quarterback and it kind of depends on what you have to do to hit the quarterback," Bobby Petrino said. "You certainly have to put a clock on him and make him get the ball out of his hands."
Johnson admitted that he was planning on headed to South Carolina to coach for Steve Spurrier, but circumstances dictated that he ended up in Fayetteville.
"I am very excited to be here," Johnson said. "I have had several trips to Arkansas and not many of them ended up pleasant. I know a lot about atmosphere here…I have great respect for the program and some knowledge of the history up here."
Johnson's philosophy is one rooted in the fundamentals of the game.
"It is a very general philosophy," Johnson said. "I believe you have to start coaching fundamentals before you start coaching plays, Xs and Os. You win the games by football players making plays. That is an old saying from (former Alabama head) Coach (Gene) Stallings.
"It sounds very simple, but the problem with coaches is they sometimes forget that," Johnson said. "They think you go win games with the playbook. You win on defense with discipline, tackling, fundamentals, effort and speed, speed, speed."
That defense will come out of a 4-3 formation.
"Basically It stems for a 4-3 foundation," Johnson said. "You use that to fit your personnel. You want to do what the players can do. Whenever given the choice between any playbook matters or scheme matters, I am always going to go with putting the fastest and the best players on the field."
Ellis and former Arkansas defensive coordinator Reggie Herring are friends and visited about what the Razorbacks have coming back on defense.
"Having seen this team play, I think they have got a good young nucleus of players coming back," Johnson said. "I think there was a drop-off from 06 to 07 in the talent level of big-time playmakers because three or four of those guys are in the NFL. But there are still some above average to solid team speed and I think we have got a great young nucleus to build on."
Perhaps Paul Petrino summed it up best for both the offensive and defensive coaches.
"The more playmakers you've got, the more speed you've got, the more fun you can have," Paul Petrino said.
O o o
Bobby Petrino's comments on the rest of his staff:
On Lorenzo Ward (secondary)
"I've always felt like when you bring in a defensive coordinator you want to try to get one guy that he feels real comfortable with. The first question I'll ask him is if you could hire one person, who would it be? Then I was able to interview Lorenzo and felt great about that. I coached against him so I knew what we were seeing from coaching against him. His last year (with the Oakland Raiders), it was unbelievable how many interceptions the corners had and elevated that defense, so I have a tremendous amount of respect for his ability to coach and recruit. He did an excellent job in recruiting."
On Kirk Botkin (defensive ends and special teams)
"I actually didn't have a prior relationship with Kirk. I got a phone call from a coach I have a tremendous amount of respect for and had a relationship with that coach and he recommended Kirk. I made a few other phone calls and got very good recommendations. I was able to interview him while I was in Dallas. That's how I spent a lot of my time while I was in Dallas during the day. I was very impressed. He's got Arkansas blood and I couldn't be more happy to have him. Most of the interview I had with him was pertaining to special teams and his ability to lead and coordinate our special teams."
On Bobby Allen (defensive tackles) and Tim Horton (running backs, tight ends and recruiting)
"The job Tim has done in the state of recruiting and then being able to watch him coach on the field and the organization he has, I think I really like where he's at being able to coach our running backs and tight ends and then be the recruiting coordinator.
"Bobby Allen is a guy I actually coached against many years ago. He was a defensive coordinator at the time and I have a tremendous amount of respect for him. When I got here, just to be able to sit down with him, he had a real burning desire to stay here. He wanted to continue to coach at the University of Arkansas. He's done a nice job of coaching here and an excellent job of recruiting.
"That was really important to me with the staff that was here, I wanted to really see which guys really wanted to stay here. Then I interviewed them and felt great about Tim and Bobby."
On Mike Summers (offensive line)
"Mike is, first of all, a great person. I've always admired the way he manages his life and the way he runs his life, I think that just carries over to all his players. He's a guy that coaches the offensive line and is a great fundamentals coach. He's a great technician. He's been a coordinator. When I first ran into Mike, he was a coordinator at Oregon State running the wishbone and the option attack. With my background growing up in the option, I always spend a little more time watching them and seeing what they were doing.
"Then when I was able to hire him at Louisville, he was one of the first guys to show up to interview. I was very impressed. He did an excellent job with our offensive front there, as he did at Atlanta this year. He's also the assistant head coach, so he'll be able to handle any duties when I'm not around."
On Garrick McGee (quarterbacks)
"I've known Garrick for a long time. I actually coached him at Arizona State and was able to bring him to Jacksonville to work with me when I was in Jacksonville and have kept an eye on him ever since. This was a great fit for Garrick. He's from Tulsa, he played at Booker T. Washington High School, went to Northeastern Oklahoma A&M and then finished up at Oklahoma.
"He's an excellent football coach and he'll do a great job of coaching on the field. He understands my philosophies and what we need to get done at quarterback. Then he'll do an excellent job recruiting for us. I think being able to get him to come from a coordinator job in (the Big Ten conference) to come and coach the quarterbacks here is a bargain."
On Reggie Johnson (linebackers)
"Reggie coached for me at Louisville and did an excellent job with our linebackers. It seemed like we always had a first-team all-conference linebacker and a linebacker that led the team, if not the conference, in tackles. Reggie is a very emotional coach and does a great job getting his guys prepared mentally and emotionally. That's a position where you have to provide the rest of the defense with that emotion, excitement and energy because you're a part of that front and you're a part of the secondary. Reggie will do a great job for us."
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