Bobby Petrino was the attraction as nearly 800 packed the lobby of the Church at Pinnacle Hills on Thursday. The new Arkansas coach said he hoped to see similar crowds at practice when the team begins spring drills in seven days.
"They will be open to anyone who wants to come," Petrino said. "It would be great to see 750 to 800 at our practices. If we get too many, we'll just move (the practices) into the stadium.
"I want our players to have pride in practice. Having a lot at practice will help them learn that they are on a big stage here."
That was at the close of a nearly 50-minute talk to the big crowd which hung on his every word at the monthly luncheon hosted by Pastor Ronnie Floyd. The preacher routinely handles the lunches in an interview format, but he just turned over the podium to Petrino after an introduction that labeled him as "an offensive genius."
Petrino said he was honored to be invited and took over after the crowd followed Dick Trammel's lead in calling the Hogs.
"I'm proud to be here and proud to be the head coach at the University of Arkansas," he said. "And, I like getting to call the Hogs everywhere I go.
"But I had no idea I was going to call the Hogs on national TV at that first press conference (the night he was hired). I probably should have gotten one of my children up there that first night. They might have done it better than I did that time."
Petrino went through some of his philosophy on coaching and his background as a "coaches' son." He said his father was head coach for 29 years at Carroll College in Helena, Mont., where they lived three blocks from the practice field.
"Coaching was not a job, but a way of life," he said. "I'm not sure I could do much else. My father is coming here next week. I can't wait for him to be here with me and for him to watch spring ball. I always seek his advice and I did again after I got here."
The advice didn't change. Petrino said his father has often said his sons are men at 21 and on their own.
"He always just says, 'Son, you are three times seven and you are own your own,'" he said. "My only advice is for you to surround yourself with great people. I never forgot that. It took me awhile for me to figure out what three times seven meant, but I got it."
Petrino said he was lucky to find Arkansas loaded with both numbers of Division I high school players and with the right kind of talent.
"It was a strong year when we got here and it was strong in our need areas," he said. "We needed skill and speed. It doesn't always happen that way."
He said he's learned the most important things to recruit are "character" and players with dreams to play in the NFL.
"We ask a lot of them as coach and you want them to have high goals so they can handle that," he said. "That's why you want them to strive to be in the NFL."
Petrino went over some aspects of the offseason strength and conditioning program that has taken place the last three months. He said they want the players to know how to peak on Saturdays and that they simulated that with testing over the last two weeks.
"We talk about ringing the bell on Saturday nights in our season, hitting their best on game day," he said. "So we did that with our testing. If you hit a personal best in testing, you ran across the weight room and rang the bell.
"It was interesting to watch the team building process develop over the past few weeks and even further when we were testing. As we finished the tests, you'd see a whole team standing against the wall cheering for someone to hit a personal best -- then when they did it, several players ran with him to ring the bell in the center of the room. That's fun to watch."
Petrino said the team building aspect of the winter program was important, but it will continue over the next few weeks of spring drills and into the summer. He said he did not want to identify leaders just yet because it's a long process of establishing that area.
"We will vote on captains Aug. 3 when we return for fall practices," he said. "We will see who leads over the next few months. I want to see who leads all spring, who leads all summer. Leadership is demonstrated, not announced."
However, it's clear he expects the leading to mostly come from the top, specifically he and the rest of his coaches.
"The first part of a great leader is to be a great follower," he said. "They have to follow the coaches direction."
He also defined what he expects as far as loyalty within the team. He does not want to be reading player quotes about the rest of the players.
"I don't want to see it on the Internet or in the papers," he said. "I don't want to see players make comparisons about their teammates. I don't want to see them talk about which quarterbacks can do what. I want them to worry about their own job.
"I think Darren McFadden and Felix Jones were great examples of loyalty to each other and the coaching staff. I was very impressed with the way they conducted themselves. That's something we can all look at and build upon."
Petrino said he will ask a lot of the players as far as time. He said a normal day in the season will start at 7 a.m. when they meet at breakfast. Already, the team is doing that with three specific eating tables.
"We've got the X-club, the ones that get extra that are trying to gain weight," he said. "They are going to get extra calories and we'll help them with that. Then, we've got another table that they have demonstrated they are at the right weight and can stay there. They can eat what they want at their table. Then, we have those that are trying to lose weight. Our strength and conditioning coach will eat at their table.
"We are going to have two hours of practice, another hour of meetings with position coaches. And, we'll have study hall from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Some will stay until 9, but they all will be there until 8:30. That's why it's important to have that drive and dream for the NFL. It's a long day.
"It's also important to have the desire and ability to get a degree. We are going to recruit student-athletes. That's why I love college because getting a degree is important."
Of course, it's also important "to recruit character" the new head coach insisted.
"Some of coaching is how you handle crisis," he said. "It's not IFyou are going to have a crisis or a setback. It's when. You better be ready because you are going to have a crisis as a coach. The reality is you have 120 players -- and that's the number we are going to try to keep it -- and things are going to happen. That's why you want to surround yourself with great people."
He summarized what could be their team motto this year, although he said that is a work in process. It won't be defined for sure until Aug. 3. For now, he called it a Code Red, loosely defined in this space as speed, strength, courage and togetherness.
Along those lines, he said the speed factor didn't relate to 40 times, but in how fast a player goes in practice or a game. Preparation, planning and practice affects those performances as far as fast tempo or not. He said he's had players that weren't the fastest in the 40 perform very fast in games. You can be a better player than someone that is faster than you.
"We have a lot of mental work ahead so they can play fast," he said. "We are going to have a new offense, a new defense and new special teams. We are in that planning stage right now and that goes a lot for the coaches.
"We have done a lot of preparation in the weight room, but we are preparing the mental side, too. We are giving players a little information at a time, and then testing them on it. Then, we move on to another bit of information.
"We are going over the situations of the game right now as coaches. We are planning for third-and-short, third-and-five situations and so on.
"Our goal is to be better prepared than the opposition. We will study what we do on offense. We will study what the other team does on defense and be better prepared. We will do the same with our defense. We are planning how we will communicate with our players when practice begins. We are planning how to make our calls. We are in the process of teaching a new language to our new grad assistants."
Petrino went through some of those calls, some so fast that if anyone in the room got them, they are better than this writer.
"It is a new language," he said. "What I will tell you is that we will practice harder, smarter than anyone else. And, we will grade each practice in several areas, one of them will be an effort grade. At times, we will set the depth chart entirely based on the effort grade. The chart will change because of the effort grade."
Petrino expects the hitting to be more than fierce. He wants it intense. He said he does not want his players to "ever pass up a hit" or a collision in a game, but he wants them to be smart while still being physical in practice.
"Being smart means keeping their teammate healthy," he said. "I want physical play. But that doesn't mean you take the receiver out on a play across the middle in practice. We want you to get your buddy to the game."
When he mentions strength, he said he's partly talking about "toughness," both mental and physical.
"Toughness correlates to attitude," he said. "I believe when you get up in the morning you have an attitude that it can be a good day, a bad day or a really bad day. I think attitude determines who wins when you are tired in the fourth quarter.
"What we are striving for is to have the ultimate attitude under pressure. I think attitude determines if you are special or not special."
There are no secrets as far as effort or attitude. He said video reveals both how a player performs or a coach coaches.
"Our resume is those tapes," he said. "We live in a show me world. People love to talk, but talk is cheap. My office is always open and if players don't like where they are on the depth chart, they can come talk to me. I will put in the video and show them why they are third team. The video shows it all."
Petrino talked in specific terms about courage, too. He said he visits with his four children about courage and fear.
"I tell my children that there is nothing wrong with fear," he said. "We all have it. I have it as a coach. I have a fear of something happening and not being able to feed my children."
As he discussed fear, he pointed out that he has had players that didn't know if they could deliver a hit against big, fast tailbacks.
"I tell them, one, never ever turn down a hit," he said. "Two, always take the arrow -- or the blame -- straight on the forehead. Don't be afraid of saying, 'That was my fault.' It's hard to tell the truth, especially when it's your own mistake.
"As football players we must learn to have courage to avoid conflict. We teach 'em to like contact, but as a 6-4, 295-pound man, it's tough when a little guy starts mouthing off. But you have to walk away from that. We talk about that a lot.
"We also talk about the fear of being great. For some, that is a real fear. We have to teach them it's OK to be the best. Some have to be taught to come out of their comfort zone. If we are going to win a national championship, that's important for us to separate ourselves from the pack."
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