Petrino works to rebuild relationships at U of L

Considering the number of jobs University of Louisville coach Bobby Petrino has shown interest in since taking over the Cardinal program from John L. Smith in December 2002, does the 43-year old Montana native have larger ambitions than patrolling the sidelines at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium?

Considering the number of jobs University of Louisville coach Bobby Petrino has shown interest in since taking over the Cardinal program from John L. Smith in December 2002, it seems that the 43-year old Montana native has larger ambitions than ruling the roost at U of L?

Monday afternoon during a scheduled press conference to address last week's meeting with LSU officials, though, Petrino said that's the furthest thing from the truth.

"I really don't believe that's the case," Petrino said. "I really think we've got this program where it is one of the top ten programs in the nation. We're probably going to end up the season ranked No. 6."

"Our ambitions are [to win a national championship]," Petrino continued. "We are now eligible to be in a BCS bowl game next season. I'm extremely excited about the future that we have ahead of us heading into the Big East. We have a great team coming back."

Following a remarkable 11-1 season that included the schools third Conference USA title, Petrino's name was mentioned for seemingly every open job in college football. Despite the specualtion about his future, Petrino says his program's recruiting efforts haven't been damaged. With more than 15 verbal commitments already in hand, all of U of L's current assistants, with the exception of linebacker coach Tony Levine and tight end/running back coach Greg Nord, are on the road trying to put the finishing touches on what is shaping up as an excellent recruiting class.

"Recruiting is going great," Petrino said. "We have a tremendous amount of momentum on the road. All of our coaches are out on the road making in-home visits. The recruits understand where our program is."

"They understand we have a great football staff here," Petrino added. "And they consider me one of the best coaches in the country. They're excited to come here for a visit and see what we have to offer them."

Having opened himself up for criticism last season when he secretly met with Auburn University officials, Petrino believed his handling of the LSU situation followed proper protocol, though he admitted that the timing of the meeting with LSU athletic director Skip Bertman and other LSU officials last Sunday in Nashville was a mistake.

"This time I truly believed I followed the proper protocol and going through the proper channels," "I don't believe it was the right timing and I apologize for the timing of the sitation. I stood here five days prior [to meeting with LSU] and said I was committed to U of L and I think that's where the challenge comes, to show everybody that I am. Obviously it's not going to be something I say, it's going to be by my actions coming up here in the future."

U of L athletic director Tom Jurich confirmed during a press conference Sunday afternoon prior to the Cardinals basketball game against Tennessee State that Petrino also met with Notre Dame officials about their head coaching position earlier last month. Petrino, though, said he had little interest in the Fighting Irish.

"I did sit down with Notre Dame briefly but at no time did I consider myself a candidate for that job nor was there ever a job offer," Petrino said. "When I did complete that meeting I felt like we had better things in place here at U of L than they did up there."

But LSU was different than Notre Dame or many of the other schools that Petrino said he rejected overatures from this season. For one, LSU, whom Petrino considers one of the elite jobs in college football, won a national championship last season and has the pieces in place to do so again in the near future. Still, Petrino said that had LSU offered him the job instead of Oklahoma State's Les Miles, he would have told the Tigers no thanks.

"I don't believe I would have," Petrino said when asked if we would have taken the LSU position if offered. "When I came back Sunday night [following the meeting with LSU officials] I told Tom that they had a process that they wanted to go through and I didn't feel like I was the candidate for the job."

Asked why he didn't publicly state those intentions last week when outcry from Cardinal fans was reaching a breaking point, Petrino said he wished he would have done just that.

"When I look back on it I wish I would have done that," Petrino said. "I tried to handle everything all year in a consistent manner and keep the focus on the game and not answer questions [about other coaching opportunities]. I'll have to change that a little bit, I guess."

Now Petrino faces dual challenges; mending relationships with both Jurich and U of L fans.

"My toughest job is to repair my relationship with Tom Jurich and the fans," Petrino said. "I think the fan support is there. What I really want the fans to do is reflect back on the season. This was a special year for us."

Petrino also said it was hard for him to hear Jurich's statements Sunday and noted he's appreciative to coach at the U of L.

"It was hard on me to be honest," Petrino admitted of Jurich's statements. "There was a question whether I was going to have a job here. To hear some of that was difficult on me. I am appreciative that I am the head football coach at the University of Louisville and I'm looking forward to the future."

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