In a surprising move, former University of Louisville head football coach Bobby Petrino will take over as the head man for the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers. The move is the end of the downward trajectory he set in motion while coaching at Arkansas. Bad decisions there led to his ouster. Now his traveling road show sets up its tents in Bowling Green.
Petrino was fired back in April for lies he told following a motorcycle accident which led to revelations of misconduct as coach of the Razorbacks. Those include an extramarital affair with former Arkansas volleyball player Jessica Dorrell and the fact that he hired his mistress as a football assistant over more substantially qualified applicants. He also gave her $20,000 in gifts. Those charges were uncovered because he told police and the school that he was the only one involved in the motorcycle crash, even though Dorrell was there as well.
The Arkansas program, thought to be a BCS championship contender, imploded after the firing and Petrino decided to lay low. In recent weeks, his name had been mentioned in connection with openings at Kentucky and Auburn but neither job materialized.
The Hilltopper position became available because previous coach Willie Taggart was hired away by South Florida on Friday. While Petrino gets another chance at coaching, Western Kentucky may be taking a rather large risk. Back when he was an up and coming coach, Petrino came to the University of Louisville and built the Cardinals into a legitimate football threat. He led UofL to the Orange Bowl in 2006.
During his tenure, the coach also courted other programs, even secretly interviewing with Auburn without telling athletic director Tom Jurich. From Louisville, Petrino bolted for the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons. That didn’t even last a full season. He announced his departure to the team by taping a note to their lockers, then slinked out of town for Arkansas.
It remains to be seen if Bobby Petrino treats the Western Kentucky position as a stepping stone back to a power program. What is sure is that he needs to build the Topper program the way he rebuilt Louisville and Arkansas. An image makeover wouldn’t hurt either because there are a lot of character questions waiting to be answered both on and off the field.