By Conner Farrell —
Four years ago, football played their inaugural game in the ACC: A dazzling performance on a Friday night where Louisville stuck it to the Miami Hurricanes 31-13.
Not only was this the team’s first game in the vaunted conference, but also the return of head coach Bobby Petrino, who had been away from the program for a roller coaster eight years.
Parallels can be drawn between U of L football and Petrino during his absence from the program. This road has tremendous highs and unbelievable lows.
Falcons and Razorbacks and Gators, Oh My!
Petrino’s lows began in 2007 when he quit on the Atlanta Falcons 13 games into his first NFL season. This came after Petrino had signed a 10-year contract extension with U of L in 2006, falsely telling the fans he was not going anywhere.
Meanwhile, Louisville’s lows remained on the field for five straight years after the loss of Petrino. The Cardinals failed to win more than seven games each season after reaching the Orange Bowl in 2006.
After an unceremonious exit from the Falcons, Petrino’s high began at Arkansas in 2011. Back then, the Razorbacks spent time ranked No. 3 in the AP poll.
Louisville’s high came during the 2012 season, when they defied the odds and knocked off the No. 3 Florida Gators in the Sugar Bowl for the school’s second BCS bowl victory.
At this point, Petrino’s lows were not finished with him. In 2012, the coach crashed his motorcycle on the road and suffered injuries. It was later discovered that his passenger on the bike was a 25-year-old football team assistant, with whom he was having an affair.
Petrino had hired her over several far more qualified candidates, paid her $20,000 and attempted to hide her presence at the crash (asking a witness not to call 911). Add this all together and Arkansas decided to fire Petrino in 2012.
Despite the scandals and mistruths, Western Kentucky hired Petrino as their head football coach in 2013. Most likely, the Hilltoppers reasoned that Bobby is valuable because, put simply, he wins games. Case in point: Petrino is 109-42 as a college head coach.
A new era?
With those parallels in mind, it made sense in 2014 for U of L to bring back the coach. Athletic director Tom Jurich must have realized that Petrino brought the program to new heights in the past, and that another run of excellence could occur in a new era of Cardinal football.
Some might argue Louisville has reached this era, but here are some reasons why that may not be the case.
First and foremost, the Cards have failed to reach 10 wins in Petrino’s second tenure. Petrino accomplished this twice in his previous four-year stints at Louisville and Arkansas.
Second, Petrino has only beaten a ranked team once out of 11 tries since his return, with the one win against No. 2 Florida State in 2016. This is an interesting number to watch, because the football program (since 2014) has never had a higher strength of schedule than 42nd overall.
Lastly, the Cardinals have only managed to win a single bowl game. After having the school’s first Heisman winner and a myriad of future NFL pros, this number is disappointing.
In short, Petrino’s hot seat may still be cool for now. But, if Louisville fails to achieve that magic number of eight wins or higher in 2018, then the thermometer could rise very quickly.
“We feel like we’re going to be a good football team,” Petrino said. “It’s just a matter of going out there and proving it.”
You can follow Conner Farrell on Twitter @connerfarrell9.
Photo by Nancy Hanner / The Louisville Cardinal