State of the Hogs: Proud Father
Bob Petrino tried — and he put a heavy emphasis on tried — to coach his two sons exactly like they were any other player at Carroll College in Helena, Mont. And, he tried not to bring football to the home.
"I'm not sure it always worked out that way, though," he said. "I always enjoyed it, but I'm not sure it was always the easiest thing I ever did and I'm not sure I always left football out of the home. If I'm honest, I will tell you I brought it home some times."
What Paul Petrino remembers about those days is that they were fun times in the home. When you are in a coaching family, winning equates to fun times.
"How things were around our house always had to do with whether we were winning or not," Paul said. "If you aren't winning, it wasn't nearly as much fun in a coaching home. What I remember the most about playing for my dad is that we were winning and the whole family was happy."
There were not many losses either when Paul Petrino or Bobby Petrino Jr. quarterbacked for his father.
"Those were a lot of happy times," Bob said. "In eight years they played quarterback for me, we won seven Frontier Conference championships.
"They were good players and both of them could have taken Division I scholarships some place, but they elected to stay and play for me. I always enjoyed having them, partly because they were good. I think everyone in town — at least 99 percent of people — understood they were good enough to play."
The part about treating his sons like every other player might not have turned out the same. Perhaps there were times Bobby and Paul got the worst of it.
"I probably was tougher on them than the others, probably was," he said. "I wanted to be able to look in the mirror and say that I was as tough on them as anyone else. I wanted to be able to do that and I can."
If you watched Arkansas spring football drills in April, you got an idea about toughness. No doubt, it came from Bob Petrino. Both Bobby Jr. and Paul talked often about the way their philosophies were formed.
Minutes after the Hogs scrimmaged for around 170 plays early in spring drills, Paul said, "That would have been a short scrimmage under my father. And, we would have hit the quarterbacks. I know. I was an option quarterback and I got hit on every play."
If you spend a little time visiting with Bob, toughness is sure to come up in the conversation. When he talked about what stood out about his son's playing careers, toughness was front and center.
Bobby Jr. played through a torn knee ligament the final four games of his senior season. It didn't stop the team from winning those games.
"He went down against Western Montana," his dad said. "The only way he could play was to put on one of those big braces. The next week he couldn't even practice because we didn't get the brace in until Friday. I was scared to death to play him, but he went out there and had one of his better games, threw for 350 yards and four touchdowns. He showed a lot of character, a lot of toughness and lot of courage.
"Those last four games, we had to change what we were doing a little. We had to throw a lot more, but he really played well and we won them all." Toughness came up as dad described Paul.
"He took a lot of hits as an option quarterback and he missed one play in four years, practice or game," Bob said. "I don't count when we were way ahead that we pulled him. I'm saying, he was out there when we needed him but for one play in four years.
"We were in the playoffs one year and he got knocked out," Bob said. "The team doctor came over to me when we were ready to go back on the field and said, ‘If he wasn't your son, I wouldn't let him go back in.' Paul wanted to and I let him.
"What I'm telling you about both of them, they could play but they also had intestinal fortitude. They played with enthusiasm and they played with courage. One of their strengths was obviously toughness."
No question, some of the same things they did together as players and coaches for their father, they've continued today, just times about three or four.
"I think what we tried to do was be thorough in scouting and in film study in our preparation for our opponent," Bob said. "I think our philosophies and scheme were much simpler, very simple in fact. But one thing we had to have was a very good audible system. I wanted to have a pass and a run called every play and I wanted the quarterback to be able to run them to either side.
"We flip-flopped our line weak and strong just as Bobby is doing now. I wanted to be able to put my best blocker on the other team's weakest defender. That means a lot of film study. I am a firm believer that you can find the better player and the weaker player on each side of the ball. If you can make sure of your matchup, you have an advantage.
"Of course, it's much more complex today. I don't have any problem saying that my sons have both far exceeded my knowledge of the game. They have studied and learned it.
"What I can tell you is that Bobby and Paul as quarterbacks were like having coaches on the field. That's what you want at that position. And, I think I gave them the freedom to take what we studied and do something with it on the field. You want to teach your quarterback how to audible and change the plays. That's very important. They were coaches on the field."
Bob Petrino spent three weeks at Arkansas during spring drills, one of his annual rituals.
"That's one of the things that I look forward to every year, coming to spring practices to watch my sons coach," he said. "I'm like any other father, if there is a way I can spend time with my sons, it's a great thing. Whether that is going fishing, watching them coach or just sitting around to visit. I remember the times going fishing with Bobby and he was certainly a much better fishermen than I was. I cherish those times. There is a great amount of pride while watching them coach.
"I watch both Bobby and Paul coach and I am so proud. I think it shows how hard they've worked to learn their craft — the dedication and knowledge that they have in the game of football."
What did he think of the fruits of their efforts this spring?
"Well, they had them working real hard," he said. "I think they will probably surprise a few people. I think if you ask around the country, most felt all the studs went to the pros. They lost some good ones. But what I saw was a team very sound in its fundamentals. I saw an outstanding offensive line. I believe that group will be the strength of this team and be a very good line.
"Defensively, I liked the secondary. I think maybe the athletes in the secondary are better than what they had at Louisville. And, I have a lot of confidence in Paul to coach up the wide receivers. I think he has done that everywhere he's been. If you watched what happened in Atlanta, he took those wide receivers and coached them up."
Bobby and Paul love to talk about the pregame speeches their father delivered.
Paul remembered those as a youngster in the back of the team room just before the Saints took the field.
"That was about as good as it got," he said. "I was very young and I got to hang out at practice, in the locker room and on the sidelines. My father's pregame talks were really good."
Bob doesn't know if they were all good.
"I think what I'll say about that is if you talk to those who played for me, they probably will tell you that if was a big game, that they were OK," he said. "For special games, I think the pregame speech might have been one of my assets. I think for an emotional or big event, it was an asset."
Another asset was honesty in assessment in regards to players.
"I had a temper on the practice field at times," he said. "I think if you talked to some players they might tell you I tried hard not to be too nice. But I also tried really hard to be honest and fair. I think players knew where they stood at all times."
That matter-of-fact assessment is perhaps a strength that both of his sons learned from their old coach.
"I think that might be," Bob said. "I think it's important that you know as a player your role with the team. You need to know you are first- or second-team and why. You need to be shown. I think I did that and maybe they did learn that from me. Knowing your role is important.
"I've watched 'em both coach through the years. I watched them coach with me and when they were both assistants. That is one of their strengths.
"I think another strength is their ability to put players in the proper positions. They know how to motivate, too. Again, they are far better coaches and have exceeded what I could do as a coach."
That's a moot point. Obviously, they are great coaches and they obviously learned so much from their father.
Paul talks about learning the triple-option offense from his father and running it in the sixth grade.
"I think there was a time, maybe the fifth grade, that I thought I was going to be a running back," Paul said. "Then, in the sixth grade, my coach moved me to quarterback and then went to my dad to get his offense. That's what we ran, his playbook. That's what I ran all the way through school, his offense. My coaches got it from my dad."
Bob laughs about that.
"Well, it's what they ran in the backyard," he said. "My two sons were triple-option quarterbacks and they were darn good at it. We practiced it back there a lot."
Bobby smiles when that comes up.
"There's some triple-option in all old coaches," he said. "That's my background. That's the background of a lot of coaches."
The Petrino brothers are still running some triple-option. They aren't optioning the defensive ends as much. They are optioning off of free safeties, cornerbacks, linebackers and any other matchups they can find worth exploiting.
"I think that is exactly right," Bob said. "Like I said, their knowledge of the game is far greater than my knowledge. That's the truth."
No one is going to argue with Bob Petrino's honesty or football knowledge.
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