Petrino guided the Cardinal program to new heights during his first tenure with the program, guiding U of L to 41-9 record during his four years on the sideline. Under his direction, U of L finished the season in the top 10 twice, won the school's first BCS bowl, claimed multiple conference titles, ranked among the nation's best offenses each year and had two defensive squads that were among the top 25 nationally.
While there well documented flirtations with other programs during his first stint, which eventually ended when he departed for the Atlanta Falcons, his on the field success helped put the Louisville football program into the national discussion.
Cardinal fans experienced Bobby Petrino for the first time in 1998 when he joined the program as offensive coordinator in John L. Smith's first year as the Cardinals head coach. The Montana native only spent one season with the Cardinals before moving on to the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars, where he served as quarterbacks coach for two seasons before being promoted to offensive coordinator.
He made quite an impression during his first tenure at U of L, creating an offense led the nation in total offense, averaging 559 yards a game. Twice the Cardinals racked up over 700 yards in a game and finished the season averaging 40 points a game. The offensive production helped the program have the largest turnaround in FBS, improving from 1-10 the season prior to 7-5 and securing the school's first bowl game in four years.
Following three years working in the NFL and a year as the offensive coordinator at Auburn, Petrino returned to Louisville in 2003 as the programs 19th head coach. His presence was immediately felt as the Cardinals improved from 7-6 the year prior to 9-4.
His first season at U of L started with a 40-24 victory at rival Kentucky that sparked a four game winning streak to begin his career. His team finished the season 5th in the nation in total offense by gaining 488 yards an outing. Described as a pass-happy coach, Petrino's offense displayed excellent balance and was the only team in the country that averaged over 220 yards a game in both the passing and running games.
Petrino took the Cardinals to new heights in just his second year at the helm. Louisville opened with a 28-0 shutout victory over Kentucky at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium en route to best season in program history. Suffering it's only loss of the season, falling 41-38 at No. 3 Miami in week four, the Cardinals stormed through the regular season and established a new NCAA record by scoring 55 points or more in four straight games. Undefeated in Conference USA play, U of L faced undefeated and ninth-ranked Boise State in the Liberty Bowl and won a 44-40 shootout in Memphis. U of L finished the season ranked 6th, the highest ever for the school. Louisville outscored its opponents by a remarkable average of 49-19 in 2004.
U of L left C-USA for the Big East in Petrino's third season and quickly proved to be one of the league's best. Once again, the Cardinals opened the season with a resounding victory over rival Kentucky. With the exception of a one week absence, Louisville was ranked in the top 25 throughout the 2005 season. Louisville finished second in its inaugural season in the Big East, earning a trip to the Gator Bowl. U of L's 43 points per game was third best in the country and its 482 yards per game average was good for 9th.
The 2006 season brought dreams of reaching the BCS Championship. Starting the season ranked 13th in both major polls, the Cardinals began the season winning seven straight, including blowout victories over Kentucky, Miami and Kansas State. In week six, U of L welcomed conference rival West Virginia to Papa John's Cardinal Stadium for what became known as the blackout game. The two were both ranked in the top 5, with the winner getting an inside track to a possible spot in the BCS Championship. The Cardinals prevailed 44-34 in what was then the most viewed ESPN broadcast game.
U of L rose to No. 3 the following week and had national pundits agreeing that an undefeated Cardinal team would end up playing the BCS crown. A heart-breaking late minute loss at Rutgers the following weekend crushed all hopes of Howard Schnellenberger's dream becoming a reality. U of L closed the regular season with three straight wins, earning the Big East title and a spot in the Orange Bowl, where it defeated ACC Champion and 15th-ranked Wake Forest 24-15.
Petrino's first run with the Cardinals delivered success never before seen at Louisville and furthered the program towards the ultimate goal of winning a national championship. His successes made U of L a more attractive place to be for players and coaches alike. He lifted the expectations of the Cardinal faithful and proved that U of L can compete with the nation's elite.
Following a successful four year run by Charlie Strong that directed the program back into the national discussion and continued post season success, Bobby Petrino is the perfect choice to take the reigns. His fiery presence will be welcomed on the sideline and his offense is exactly what the fan base has been clamoring for in recent years.
This time around, Petrino will be faced with a more challenging schedule as the Cardinals make the move into the ACC. The opportunity for the U of L football program to make another step into the college elite is on the doorstep and Petrino has never been one to pass on a challenge.