was simple. So very simple.
every easy third-down conversion and every long pass, with every 400-yard
passing game and every 100-yard rushing performance, with every touchdown and
with every win, the reason for success was simple.
was the reason behind the University of Louisville's miraculous resurgence in
1998. Head coach John L. Smith was the orchestra conductor, but his offensive
coordinator, Petrino, was the one behind the scenes, writing the music and
making it sound beautiful.
Cardinal offense put up numbers that former coach Ron Cooper could only dream
Chris Redman routinely recorded 400 yards through the air.
back Leroy Collins sprinted and juked his way to regular 100-yard games.
like Arnold Jackson and Lavell Boyd suddenly become some of the best in the
most importantly, there were wins, seven of them. That's six more than the
year before when the hapless Cardinals were 1-10.
was rightfully praised. His famous "Get on the boat" motivational speech was
well-documented, both for its powerful quality and for the results it produced.
behind it all was Petrino. The offense he ran was the stuff of legend. To see
the same players that could do nothing the year before suddenly look like
All-Americans was a testament to Petrino's play-calling and to his philosophy.
it was Smith's offense, then Petrino was firmly at the controls. And he never
pushed the wrong button.
alas, all good things must come to an end, and Petrino's tenure was no
different. After one short year, the man behind the offense was gone, pursuing
greener pastures as an assistant with the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars.
Still, the Cards were in good shape. The cupboard was far from bare, and Smith's offense was still there and going strong, albeit with a different man behind the wheel.
only got better. The Cards built on another 7-4 season in 1999 to win the
Conference USA title in 2000 and again in 2001. Everything was perfect.
I always felt like something was missing. While the defense steadily improved,
the offense seemed to backpedal with each passing season. Explanations were
plenty. Redman was gone and Dave Ragone wasn't the kind of quarterback that
would put up such prodigious numbers. Teams in C-USA were catching on to the
Cards' attack, figuring out how to stop it. The running game wasn't as good,
and therefore picking apart a defense through the air was not nearly as easy.
were all true, but they never fully explained what was happening. The offense
that in 1998 simply couldn't be stopped was gone. The confidence that the
offense would score every time it touched the ball was out the door as well.
simple reason was that the offense was without its leader—Petrino.
everything went south last year behind another new coordinator, John Pettas, I
often found myself harkening back to the days of Petrino, when I was completely
confident that every third down conversion would be made, that every venture
into the red zone would result in a touchdown.
days were gone. The offense sputtered behind a porous offensive line. But I
couldn't help but think that even with the struggling line, a Petrino offense
would have at least had some semblance of order. Throughout the season, I said
to myself that Smith should pay Petrino the biggest salary any assistant had
ever seen to get the man back to Louisville.
He didn't have to. Smith left for M