Petrino An Attractive Hire For Louisville

Auburn's highly-regarded offensive coordinator Bobby Petrino is returning to the Louisville coaching staff. This time he will be the boss.

Auburn, Ala.--It's not difficult to see why the University of Louisville decided to hire Auburn assistant Bobby Petrino as its head football coach.

Bobby Petrino

Petrino served as offensive coordinator and quarterback coach for just one season at U of L, but it was a memorable year for the Cardinals' offense. His quarterback, Chris Redman, put up monster numbers. Redman set school and conference records that year for passing yards (4,042), touchdowns (29), pass attempts (473) and completions (309).

Louisville led the nation in total offense that season with 559.7 yards per game. That performance caught the attention of the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars, who hired Petrino to coach QBs for that team in 1999 and 2000. The Jags promoted him to offensive coordinator in 2001.

Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville enticed Petrino back to the college ranks in 2002 to rejuvenate the AU offense and that is exactly what Petrino did as offensive coordinator and coach of the quarterbacks. Auburn averaged 396.7 yards per game this season, up from 358.8 per game in 2001. Auburn's scoring average jumped from 22.1 points per game to 31.2 despite playing two teams that were ranked No. 1 nationally in defense when the Tigers faced them. Auburn won both games vs. LSU (31-7) and Alabama (17-7).

"It's a great opportunity for Bobby to be a head coach and it is really a no-brainer for him," Tuberville says. "He is going into a much better situation than I did when I took my first college head coaching job (Ole Miss in 1995)." Tuberville, a former defensive coordinator at Miami and Texas A&M, inherited a team down in talent and numbers after being hammered by major NCAA sanctions. He faced strong competition in the Southeastern Conference without enough SEC quality players to seriously compete for the league title. Tuberville rebuilt the Ole Miss program to respectability in his four years in Oxford before moving to Auburn for the 1999 season.

Tuberville is in Orlando where Auburn will play Penn State on New Year's Day and says the coaches will discuss bowl plans on Monday night. The coach says that whoever he hires to take the staff vacancy will coach the Auburn quarterbacks and says that the Tigers will not be changing their offensive style.

Petrino will join Tuberville and the rest of the Tigers in Orlando to begin bowl practices on the day after Christmas. Petrino will finish up his time at Auburn calling the plays vs. Penn State and then will assume his full-time duties with the Cardinals. Petrino said at his news conference in Louisville on Monday night that he will try to get his recruiting priorities organized for his new job while in Orlando.

"This is a great opportunity for Bobby," Tuberville said in a statement issued on Monday evening. "He and his family will be missed. I know he has a successful future ahead of him and we wish him the best. We will begin the search immediately for a new offensive coordinator, but Bobby will continue to serve in that capacity for our bowl game."

At a press conference at Papa John's Stadium in Louisville, the home field for the Cardinals, Petrino was introduced as Louisville's head coach on Monday evening. He replaces John L. Smith, who left last week to take the head coaching job of Michigan State. Petrino coached under Smith, who has high praise for his replacement. "He's awesome," Smith said. "He's a very brilliant, young and energetic person who is the right person to take the program to the next level. I am so pleased, excited and comfortable knowing that he will be the coach at Louisville. I love him. He's been part of our family and part of the Louisville family. I know he'll do a terrific job."

Petrino said that Smith, who he coached under at Louisville, did not leave the cupboard bare and he expected that Louisville would have a good team in 2003. Petrino said that Tuberville told him the job was a great opportunity, but said the Auburn coach made it clear that AU wanted him to stay if Petrino didn't want to take the post.

Petrino said he had other offers to become a head coach, but didn't seriously consider any offers until he got the call from Louisville.

Petrino, who is 41 years old, is known for a wide open pro style offense, but he also has a background in the option game at Carroll College in Montana where he was an NAIA All-American quarterback. He was the Frontier Conference MVP and led his team to three straight league titles playing for his father's team.

Petrino has 20 years of coaching experience with 17 at the college level. It is not common for an NFL offensive coordinator to return to the college game as a coach, but Auburn was able to lure him back. "I grew up in college football," Petrino said, explaining his return to the collegiate ranks. "My father is a football coach at Carroll College, which is a small school, but I was able to be around it my entire life--be at the practices and on the sideline. I just enjoy the atmosphere and the entire experience of college football and my entire college life. So, I gave it a good run in the NFL. I enjoyed my time, learned a lot but college is where I prefer to be."

Louisvile athletic director Tom Jurich said that Petrino was an obvious choice for the job because of his background in coaching, including a season at Louisville. "All you could find is tremendous compliments about Bobby and the job he is going to do here," Jurich said.

At his press conference, Petrino said that "deep down in his heart" he didn't want to leave the college ranks after the 1998 season at Louisville, but decided the opportunity to coach in the NFL was too good to pass up. "I am better football coach now because of it," he said.

When he arrived at Auburn last January, Petrino said it was his goal to do a good job for the Tigers and put himself into a position to one day become a college head coach himself. Eleven and a half months later, that has become a reality for Louisville's new head coach.

Tiger Ticket Extra:: In addition to Redman at Louisville, Petrino coached record-setting quarterbacks such as John Friesz at Idaho who went on the the NFL, Doug Nussmeier of Idaho was named Division I-AA Player of the Year and Jake "The Snake" Plummer at Arizona State, who plays for the NFL's Arizona Cardinals, is another QB who Petrino coached.

(More to come later today.)

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