Illinois football coach Ron Zook introduced Paul Petrino as the next offensive coordinator for the football team Monday. Zook is excited that Petrino is a coach who will adapt to fit the talent on hand. Everything he learned about him excited him all the more.
"He was the first guy I talked to. Watching him; talking to other coaches; the reputation he has; the type of coach that he is; what he expects and demands out of the players; the way he treats the players. Those things are very similar to how I feel and my personality."
Petrino admitted it was surprising to hear from Zook.
"Yeah, it was. I wasn't sure how they heard about me, but it was surprising. It was very flattering. I've always thought a lot of this university. It made me real excited.
"Anytime you change, it makes you a little nervous. But it made me so excited. My 12 year old son knows more about it than anything. He got on the computer and pulled up all the facilities and everything.
"It's amazing anymore how you can get on the computer and learn everything. We went through the weight room presentation. It's probably what recruits look at.
"He's fired up. By the time he gets here, he'll know every player's name. I asked him what he thought. He said, 'Well, I like the size of the o-line dad.'"
It was especially hard to say goodbye to his brother, Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino, as he boarded the plane for Illinois.
"You go through some different feelings. It's always hard to leave those players that you recruited and coached. Obviously, when it's a family member it's real hard. And then when you first get on the plane and leave, you don't get to see your kids for awhile, that's hard. But it's also exciting to go to a great university and get a chance to go to the Rose Bowl."
Petrino went into great detail about the offense he runs and how he coaches.
"Everything we start with, what we believe in, we call FTS. That stands for 'Feed The Studs.' We're gonna get our best players in position to make plays. We're gonna be very multiple on offense by formations, by personnel groups. Put pressure on the defense by putting different personnel groups in the game.
"Lining up in two-back, one-back, two tight end sets. Make them defend the whole field. And the biggest thing is, run the ball when we want to run it and throw the ball when we want to throw it. Make them defend us and really put them on the defensive.
"Every day we go out there, we've got to have a great attitude. When we go out to practice, we all take care of our own attitude. If we have a great attitude, work hard and prepare, and we perform with high energy, that gives you confidence.
"If we have great practices all week long, we'll go into the game with great confidence. When you do that, then you execute. That's what offensive football is all about. You've got to have all 11 guys do their jobs.
"One of our mottos a lot of times is a fist. On offense, it takes all 11 guys to do their job. When we're protecting the quarterback, it's not just the offensive line. The offensive line has to do what they have to do, but the tight end and running back have to check on who they're releasing off of, who they have to pick up.
"Receivers have to run their routes at the exact right depth at the exact right time. The quarterback has to go through his progression, get the ball out of his hand on time, know when to change the protections.
"One of the things we're gonna take great pride in is defeating blitz. That's one of the biggest things in winning in football right now. You've got to defeat pressure. When they try to pressure, we're gonna say, 'Bring it on.' You want to give pressure, we're gonna make big plays. That's something we believe in.
"We're gonna run the ball in the fourth quarter, keep the defense standing on the sideline and just punish safeties. I really like watching our running backs. We've got a bunch of good running backs.
"We're gonna hit it up in there, and when they come up to hit, we're gonna hit them. By the fourth quarter, what happens is the safeties take bad angles and don't want to hit you anymore. That's when you go for the big plays and get touchdowns."
Petrino will be coaching the receivers. He is famous for running with the receivers down the field. He says they like it and appreciate how much he cares. They feed off his energy and duplicate it during practices and games.
"I'll be coaching the receivers. I've coached both quarterbacks and receivers in the past, and the running backs to be honest with you. But I feel like my personality, I can get my personality out to the whole offense better coaching the receivers than the quarterback.
"I'm kind of a fiery, run-around guy getting guys excited and ready to play. In our offense, our wideouts are playing good and they're playing fast.
"Now a lot of times on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, we'll be together with quarterbacks and receivers. We and the quarterback obviously have to be thinking everything together one on one. But technique-wise and personnel-wise, day to day I'm gonna be with the receivers."
Running back is also important in his offense. He sees value in using more than one.
"When we were very successful at Louisville, and kind of at Arkansas the same way, is you can have 2-3 guys. One guy might be the main guy that goes and gets 1000 yards. But in this day and age, I think you need two or three to keep them fresh. Usually, they play two safeties. They're gonna come up. If you can make the safeties not tackle, you're gonna move the football.
"When we study defenses, that's the first thing we talk about. How well do their safeties tackle? When those safeties come up to tackle our backs, and we can keep them fresh with two or three and keep hammering them, then they don't want to tackle anymore.
"So I like to have a couple backs that really run and keep them fresh so in the fourth quarter you have one that's fresh. He goes in there and breaks tackles and makes long runs. That's how you win games. You have to run the football in the fourth quarter."
He knows what he is looking for in quarterback recruiting, but he is flexible to take advantage of their skills.
"There's definitely guys you look for, but I think your offense adapts to your quarterback. I think everything starts with your quarterback and what he does best, what he can handle. We definitely have a base offense we're gonna try to run, but it can change depending on who your quarterback is."
The Montana native will use some no-huddle like the Illini have used in the past, but not much.
"We won't always be in shotgun and one-back. You'll see two-back, you'll see the quarterback underneath center. You'll probably see more multiple personnel groups and formations than you saw in the past.
"There's still an option element if they can do it. I was an option quarterback myself. I'm not saying that'll be the bread and butter. But if you carry some option, it makes the defense a little scarier doing some of the crazy blitzes people are doing nowadays."
The plays will be signaled in from the sidelines, but there will generally be a huddle.
"You might see that (no-huddle) sometimes on third down. But we'll be more of a huddle, break the huddle, fast tempo, getting out of the huddle. We'll huddle, but we'll be fast in and out of the huddle."
The spread offense waits for a sideline audible call. In Petrino's offense, an experienced quarterback is given responsibility for calling audibles.
"He'll call a lot of things at the line of scrimmage. A lot of that depends on how much they can carry, how much they can do. But when we're at the top of our game, the quarterback changes protections, gets us to the best run, does a lot at the line of scrimmage."
He has confidence in his coaching ability.
"One of the things we've taken pride in is that we can develop quarterbacks and receivers. I think when you see some running backs that can run the ball real good, some linemen that are good, I have great trust in myself that we'll develop great quarterbacks and receivers."
Petrino is eager to get started. His normal recruiting areas areas in the past have been northern Florida, the other southern states, and parts of Ohio. But this year, his focus will likely be on the offensive players already being recruited. His other priority is for his players to get to know him as they begin to learn his system.
"It's very important. I think the sooner everyone gets excited about next year the better. You have four periods a year to get better. You have your winter program, working on getting faster, stronger, and learning the system. Then you have spring ball, you have summer, and you have pre-fall.
"We always talk about having success in all four periods. This winter, let's all get better. Let's all get stronger, let's all get faster. Let's all improve, let's all understand the game of football better. Then have all 15 practices of spring ball be better. Then you do the same for the summer and the pre-fall. If you have great success in all four periods, you have a chance to be the best offense in the country. That's always gonna be our goal."
Petrino's offensive style is different that Zook has used at Illinois the past five years. But Zook is adaptable enough to give Petrino free reign to make the modifications necessary. He wants his best players to have a chance to make plays.
"The thing that excites me, is you have to utilize the talent you have," Zook explains. "This offense we had these past five years, in the beginning we had Rex Grossman and Chris Leake. Those aren't option quarterbacks. We had the option in the game, just like we had the option in the game here. But you do what your players do best."