Petrino finally gets an offer he can't refuse
By PAUL NEWBERRY, AP Sports Writer
January 8, 2007
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ATLANTA (AP) -- Bobby Petrino received plenty of offers during his four years as Louisville coach.
Finally, he got one worth taking.
The Atlanta Falcons lured Petrino away from the college ranks on Sunday, moving quickly to find a new head coach after firing Jim Mora.
A formal announcement was set for Monday afternoon at the Falcons' suburban training complex in Flowery Branch -- exactly one week after Mora was let go.
"This is an exciting day for the Atlanta Falcons franchise," owner Arthur Blank said in a statement. "Bobby Petrino is an extremely talented football coach who has done some tremendously innovative things as both an offensive coordinator and head coach."
Mora, who never seemed to get the most out of Michael Vick, will be replaced by a coach who guided high-scoring Louisville to a 12-1 season, capped by a 24-13 victory over Wake Forest in the Orange Bowl.
The 45-year-old Petrino met briefly with his Louisville players Sunday night to let them know he was leaving for what he feels "is the best job in the National Football League."
"I am excited about the challenge that awaits me in Atlanta, and I'm equally excited about the potential that I see in this team," he said.
His first order of business: getting more production out of Vick. The Falcons star became the first quarterback in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards but never seemed comfortable in the West Coast-style system installed by Mora and his offensive coordinator, Greg Knapp.
This season, the Falcons were last in the league in passing and 25th in scoring with their average of 18.2 points.
Louisville never had any trouble putting up points under Petrino. In 2006, the Cardinals ranked second in the country in total offense (475.3 yards per game) and fourth in scoring with a 37.8-point average.
Petrino had a 41-9 record in four years at Louisville, leading the school to the Big East title and its first Bowl Championship Series appearance in the Orange. He had just completed the first year of a 10-year, $25 million contract. ESPN.com said he agreed to a five-year, $24 million deal with the Falcons.
"In short, he's a difference maker who will bring a strong identity to the Falcons -- one our team will buy into and take on as their own," Blank said.
Petrino's name repeatedly came up for other coaching vacancies, including an embarrassing episode in 2003 when Auburn set up a clandestine interview late in the season to gauge his interest in possibly replacing Tommy Tuberville.
Petrino met with LSU after the 2004 season and turned down the Oakland Raiders' job a year later. Louisville twice renegotiated Petrino's contract, giving him hefty raises in hopes of keeping him.
"This is where I want to be," he insisted.
That all changed after the Falcons fired Mora, just two years after he led the team to the NFC championship game. Atlanta missed the playoffs the past two seasons, going 7-9 in 2006.
Petrino's previous NFL experience includes three years with the Jacksonville Jaguars, where he served as quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator. He then returned to the college ranks, first as Auburn's offensive coordinator in 2002 before heading to Louisville.
The Cardinals went 11-1 and captured the Conference USA title in 2004, their final year in that league before moving to the Big East. Under Petrino, the school known more for its basketball program won at least nine games every season and played in four straight bowls.
"Nobody thought this would happen, but nobody's complaining about it," Cardinals defensive lineman Earl Heyman said. "You can't fault him considering what he's done for this program."
The Falcons interviewed at least four NFL assistants, but Blank and general manager Rich McKay decided to go with an established head coach this time.
Mora had never been a head coach until he was hired by the Falcons. He got off to a rousing start, guiding Atlanta to a division title and coming up one win short of the Super Bowl. Then it all fell apart.
The Falcons lost six of their last eight games in 2005 to miss the playoffs and keep alive the franchise's streak of never having two straight winning seasons. Atlanta followed a similar path this year, starting 5-2 before losing seven of nine -- including its last four home games.
That didn't go over well with Blank, a hands-on owner who has spent lavishly to build a perennial playoff contender. He also was bothered by several off-the-field incidents, most notably a radio interview late this season in which Mora said his dream job was to coach at the University of Washington, his alma mater.
Mora said he was only kidding, but had to apologize after being summoned to Blank's office.
The day after a season-ending loss, Mora was fired.
AP Sports Writers Will Graves in Louisville and Charles Odum in Atlanta contributed to this report.