For University of Tennessee Athletic Director John Currie and many other members of the UT administration, the official coaching search for the Vols football team official started merely a few days ago. But for fans of the program and students around the university, this coaching search has been rolling full steam ahead for weeks now.
“Jon Gruden! Chip Kelly! Gary Patterson! Bob Stoops!”
Tennessee fans have been clamoring for a home run hire ever since the Vols’ near-loss to UMass in September, and many have been petitioning for even longer. So, who is going to take over for Butch Jones come next year? Try looking the way of a former SEC winner, a Big East champion and the coach of the most recent Heisman winner: Bobby Petrino.
Petrino has been surrounded by both controversy and winning football teams in his 13 years as a collegiate head coach. But does the good outweigh the bad enough for John Currie and Tennessee?
When looking at Petrino’s records over his coaching career, the numbers jump off the page. But even with quality win-loss statistics, Petrino’s most appealing factor is his ability to develop quarterbacks in the college game.
In case anyone didn’t know, the recipient of the 2016 Heisman Trophy was Lamar Jackson, the quarterback of the Bobby Petrino-coached Louisville Cardinals.
Petrino can add one of the best quarterbacks in college football history to his resume, as Jackson is currently still playing at Louisville with unfinished business. For Lamar Jackson though, I think a Heisman trophy is all the evidence necessary to support his status as an elite playmaker.
But aside from Jackson, Petrino coached Ryan Mallet for two years during his four-year tenure at Arkansas. Although he has only been a backup in the NFL, Mallett was a very accomplished college quarterback. Mallet spent his freshman year at Michigan, appearing in 11 games. Those games were underwhelming though, as Mallet had a 43.3 completion percentage, threw for 892 yards, and had a 7:5 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
When Mallet joined the Razorbacks and Petrino in 2009, his stats over two years improved to a 60.3 completion percentage, 7,493 total passing yards, and a 62:19 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Mallet was a third-round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. Vol fans should take comfort knowing Petrino is capable of advancing both pocket passing and dual-threat quarterbacks.
Petrino not only has been able to develop NFL ready and Heisman-winning quarterbacks, but also has posted successful seasons with the teams he has coached. Petrino’s first go around at Louisville from 2003 to 2006 led to 41 wins. He even took a 5-7 Arkansas team to 10 and 11 win seasons in 2010 and 2011 in a tough SEC West
Since his 2014 return to Louisville, Petrino has two nine-win seasons in three years. Take it seriously when I say that Bobby Petrino has the ability to win football games wherever he goes.
And lastly, when it comes to his coaching abilities, Petrino has taken 10 of his 12 teams to a bowl, winning half of those, and his 2017 Louisville team will also be bowling come winter.
There’s no doubt about it: Petrino’s on-the-field accomplishments would make almost any Power 5 program consider hiring him right away. But, there is a large group of people who are permanently out on his hire due to his scandal at Arkansas in 2012.
Long story short, Petrino was involved in a motorcycle wreck on April 1, 2012, where he stated (on record) that he was alone during the wreck.
Upon further investigation, Petrino lied to investigators, hiding that former Arkansas student-athlete Jessica Dorrell was also involved in the crash. Petrino had a non-work related romantic relationship with Donnell outside of his marriage. Arkansas promptly fired Petrino with cause 10 days after the incident.
On top of that controversy, Petrino has found himself in hot water during stints with Auburn and during his one year in the NFL with Atlanta.
Aside from the non-football related instances, Petrino doesn’t have a lot of red flags in the football world. Sure, his teams haven’t won double-digit games since his 2011 season at Arkansas, but multiple nine-win seasons is not very far behind.
So what it boils down to is if John Currie, the Tennessee boosters and the university as a whole is confident in attaching their names to someone who cheated on their wife and lied about it publicly (and that’s just for starters).
Sure, if Petrino was hired in Knoxville, some fans wouldn’t think twice about the hire because they want to win football games. And there’s no reason to bash someone for looking past the off-the-field issues.
I have no doubt that Petrino could come to Tennessee, work with Jarrett Guarantano and turn Tennessee into a prolific team that is competing and winning games against Georgia and Florida very quickly.
All that being said, I believe the majority of people around the country, Vol fans included, would be left with an uneasy feeling about it. There are people who do not want that name in particular to be attached to the university that they are so proud of. Again though, to each person their own. As great as winning is, sometimes it doesn’t come at any and every cost.
This is a tough call for me, because it is simply a decision of “Do the off field scandals outweigh the head coaching potential?” I do not necessarily want to back a person with my school and team who has done some of the things he has done, but I also am the type of person who believes in second chances.
In the case of Tennessee, I believe that the Volsshould pass on Petrino… for now. I know, that’s somewhat of a cop-out answer, but hear me out.
There is a top tier of coaches — Jon Gruden, Gary Patterson and Chip Kelly among them — that will be the biggest home run hires, and all of them are better options than Petrino.
So if any of those three guys are out there and have any interest in coming to Knoxville, I am out on Petrino. I believe that Tennessee could get a guy with less baggage and better coaching abilities, but those traits are limited and in high demand.
If all of those hires turn you down, I think Petrino is among the best of the next tier of coaches and needs strong consideration to be the next head coach of Tennessee. I think he has moved on from more immature activities of his past, and by the looks of his last few years at Louisville, he is ready to be back in the big leagues.
Finally, regardless of if they should or not, I don’t think the university would ever make this hire. I don’t believe that Currie and Beverly Davenport and many other figures in Knoxville want that kind of tie to their flagship school.
As for me though, I think Bobby Petrino is an excellent football coach who has had rough moments in the past, but also has shown the ability to mature from his actions down he road. No, Petrino is no home-run, and those guys should be considered above everyone else. But if Petrino is out there after those calls have been turned down, I would take Bobby Petrino as the next coach at Tennessee.