U of L Has Lot to Offer Petrino

Billy Reed weighs in on the Bobby Petrino-Auburn rumors.

Nobody knows the relative strengths and weaknesses of the Louisville and Auburn football programs better than Bobby Petrino, who served as offensive co-ordinator at Auburn before accepting the U of L job last December.

So it's really useless for anybody on either side to try to influence Petrino, should Auburn decided to fire Coach Tommy Tuberville, Petrino's former boss. If Auburn loses to Alabama Saturday -- an unforgiveable sin -- Tuberville is probably gone.

But even if he wins, the boosters are restless. And make no mistake, it's the boosters who run the Auburn program. Ask Terry Bowden or any of the coaches who have been around Auburn since Pat Dye was forced to resign in the early 1990s.

If Petrino is offered the Auburn job -- and, remember, the operative word still is 'if" -- he'll take it if money is the decisive factor. He has an attractive contract with U of L that Athletics Director Tom Jurich is willing to rework. Still, the Cards can't, and shouldn't, get into a bidding war with Auburn.

Yet it does a disservice to Petrino to suggest that he's just another show-me-the-money sort of coach. He seems to be a man of integrity and character who will base his career decisions on where he and his family will be happiest, where he feels the most comfortable, and where he has the best chance to achieve his career goals.

That was the case with former UK coach Guy Morriss, who has been unfairly bashed for going to Baylor simply because the money was better. The truth is, Morriss wanted to stay at UK, but didn't feel wanted, or supported, by Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart.

That wouldn't be a problem at either U of L or Auburn. Petrino knows how much Jurich likes him and wants to keep him, and Auburn A.D. David Housel is one of the nicest people in college sports. Yet there's a major difference: Jurich has more control over his program than Housel does over his.

In other words, boosters don't call the shots at U of L.

One obstacle to keeping talented coaches in sports was removed when U of L accepted the invitation to join the Big East. That will put the football Cards into the Bowl Championship Series, the lucrative cartel that owns the major bowls and the national championship game. And even if the BCS changes due to pressure from the non-members, the Big East will remain a major player in football and other sports.

Something else Petrino must consider is the level of cheating in the SEC and the Big East. For years, the SEC has led the nation's conferences in NCAA violations and probations. That creates a built-in disadvantage for a coach trying to compete with a program that's run honestly.

Relatively speaking, the schools that will be playing football when U of L joins the Big East --Syracuse, West Virginia, Pitt, Rutgers, Cincinnati, South Florida, and UConn -- have been clean.

Finally, there's the matter of fan support. Auburn regularly sells out a stadium that seats more than 80,000; U of L is still struggling to fill a 42,000-seat stadium. Even considering the horribly cold weather, the crowd attending the Memphis game was disappointing when it's considered that the Cards were playing a longtime rival for the last time at home and needed all the help they could get to bounce back from a heart-breaking road loss to TCU.

At some point, now or later, Petrino will have to decide whether he wants to continue the challenge of building a program and educating fans, or whether he wants to go into a ready-made program. It's instructive to remember the reply of former U of L coach Howard Schnellenberger when asked if he were interested in the Notre Dame job: "I'd rather be someplace where I can be the first Howard Schnellenberger instead of the next Knute Rockne."

Perhaps this is all much ado about nothing. Perhaps Tuberville will wallop Alabama, placating the boosters for the moment. But perhaps it's also good that the situation has arisen, because it could force Petrino to consider what's important to him while giving U of L fans a chance to guage Petrino's committment.

As Jurich has said, this won't be the first time Petrino is mentioned in connection with another job, but that's good because who wants a coach (see Cooper, Ron) that nobody else wants. And you can bet on one thing: If Auburn offers its job to Petrino and he takes it, Jurich already has a short list of successors in mind.

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