Last Wednesday night, halfway through the GMAC Bowl game between Louisville and Marshall, word spread that Louisville coach John L. Smith would resign to take the head coach's post at Michigan State. By Friday morning, Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich had made contact with Petrino. Sunday night, Jurich flew in and they talked late into the night. Monday afternoon Petrino was introduced as Louisville's new head coach.
I don't know that I've ever been around an assistant coach who made a bigger impact in a short time than Petrino did at Auburn. He'll coach for the Tigers one more time in the Capital One Bowl, then he'll be gone. In the end, it was the only logical decision for Petrino to make. His career goal has long been to be a head coach. Waste one opportunity and there might not be another one. Former Auburn offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone learned that the hard way. He turned down Louisiana Tech and Memphis, only to find himself coaching running backs at Oregon State.
Petrino, his wife and four children quickly came to love living in Auburn. The decision to leave was an emotional one, personally and professionally. "It was hard to leave," Petrino told me in telephone conversation Monday night. "Tommy is the best coach I've worked for. I'm not only a better coach now, but I'm a better father because I worked for Tommy Tuberville. The way he conducts his program, the way he treats his players, is unbelievable. It's been a great year for me and my family."
For any who might worry that Petrino's focus could be elsewhere when Auburn plays Penn State, his words should put those fears to rest. "It's really important to me to win this game," Petrino said. "I don't know if it's more important now, because it's been that way all along. I think this is a big game for Auburn and a big game to start out next year. I'd like to finish on a very positive note, because it's been a great experience for me."
Petrino said he will spend time working on building his Louisville staff only while the rest of Auburn's party is enjoying the Orlando attractions. He said he didn't believe his situation would be a distraction for players. "I'm going to give everything I have for them just like they have for each other all year long," Petrino said. "We have a good enough relationship that I'm hoping it doesn't cause any distractions."
When the game is over, so will Petrino's Auburn career be over. As great as his impact has been, there is no need to fear that his departure will bring disaster. He's not taking Jason Campbell, Carnell Williams, Ronnie Brown, Monreko Crittenden, Brandon Jacobs, Mark Pera and friends with him.
Assistant coaches, even coordinators, come and go. The good programs cope, replace one good one with another good one, and go on. That's what will happen at Auburn. It wouldn't surprise me if the next coordinator is promoted from within, though Tuberville must hire a quarterbacks coach in any case. Tuberville believes Petrino made the right decision. He points out that Petrino has a much better chance to win in his first head coaching job than Tuberville had in his first one at probation-riddled Ole Miss.
The thing that makes the Louisville job so attractive for Petrino is that the chances for success are good. Too often, coordinators take dead-end jobs, get fired and never get another chance. That shouldn't happen at Louisville.
At Auburn, Tuberville will have an attractive job to offer someone--a high salary and an offensive team with loads of talent. There aren't many available jobs like that. Who will it be? If Tuberville knows, he isn't saying. Stay tuned. My guess is it won't take long.