By Matt Bradshaw —
Earlier today, U of L fired Bobby Petrino from his position as head coach of Louisville football. The termination came after a crippling 54-23 defeat at Syracuse and represented the climax of dissatisfaction over a disastrous season.
“I don’t think our talent has slipped that far,” athletics director Vince Tyra said. “If you want to say culture equals effort, then something screwy was going on. Because the effort wasn’t what it has been historically…the players can’t hide from that.”
Predicted by many, the departure of Petrino represents the end of an era for Cardinal athletics. The long-term coach spent two separate stints of nine seasons total as coach of the University’s football program.
His road through Louisville was characterized by ups and downs. With several moving parts involved, here’s a breakdown of Petrino’s termination and what it means for the future of the program.
The Cards are currently in the midst of one of their worst seasons in 10 years with a 2-8 record. Two ranked opponents remain on the schedule and bode two more defeats for U of L.
This is not to mention the growing group of recruits who have dropped their commitments to the program. Whether this is the direct fault of Petrino or the struggling team in general remains to be seen.
Tyra said he discussed the matter of firing Petrino with President Neeli Bendapudi the night following the Syracuse loss. Bendapudi gave Tyra her full support.
“We had a simple exchange, and I wished him the best,” Tyra said of his conversation with Petrino on the morning of his firing.
Tyra hopes the team will take advantage of the change and re-write the season’s end.
“My expectations [are] a turnaround immediately with this team,” Tyra said. “We’ve provided the pathway for the student athletes to have a great week, work their butt off and have a great time. It doesn’t have to end on a bad note. Even though people are writing that script for us, they can change that story.”
Lorenzo “Whammy” Ward, safeties coach under Petrino, takes his place as interim coach of Louisville football. Ward is a veteran defensive coach with experience at Fresno State, South Carolina and Virginia Tech prior to U of L.
“I chose him because he has great respect from all the players, of all positions,” Tyra said. “I felt like he was the one who could step in and take over the administrative role as well as the leadership role.”
In the meantime, Cardinal fans’ imaginations will run wild with who will become the next permanent head coach.
The majority of Card Nation favors Jeff Brohm, current head coach of Purdue and former Cardinal quarterback. Along with proving himself through an extremely successful 2018 season guiding the Boilermakers, Brohm is an ideal fit with his ties to the city.
“I know all the tie-ins that Jeff has with Louisville,” Tyra said. “But still, that doesn’t mean he wants to be here. I just don’t think it’s worth speculating, until we get to the season and see who wants to be here. I have a great opportunity to sell a great program. But I want to be clear: This is not a hire out of convenience. This is one we need to have that really wants to be here and is going to win here.”
Another viable name tossed around is Dino Babers, head coach of Syracuse football. Whatever the case may be, Tyra’s next choice can set the course of Louisville football for years to come.
$14 million buyout
One of the reasons U of L remained reluctant to fire Petrino in the first place is the $14 million buyout stipulated in his contract.
Current funds are running low after paying the buyout of men’s basketball head coach Chris Mack from his former job at Xavier and the settlement with former athletic director Tom Jurich.
Tyra said there are contingency funds set aside in the athletic budget that can assist in the buyout, accounting for $2 million of the approximately $4.66 annual total in the first year of paying Petrino.
That still leaves a lot of money left to be paid, as Petrino is owed his $14 million over the next 38 months.
Other possible money reserves include the Hickman-Camp Fund, which currently stands at about $8 million. Another source of revenue could include a naming rights deal for Cardinal Stadium, if and whenever it happens.
Tyra dismissed the concerns and claimed the decision was necessary.
“I know that you’re going to quickly jump to the financials,” Tyra said. “In my life there’s been plenty of financial decisions that I’ve made, but you’ve got to make the right decision. And I think that today we’ve made the right decision for the program…dollar signs or not, it was time to make a decision.”
From a Presidential scandal to past issues with men’s basketball and lacrosse, it seems like U of L cannot escape the negative spotlight. It would be unfair to omit the fact that much of the University and its sports are thriving, but circumstances like that of Petrino’s often overshadow such accomplishments.
If Petrino had departed his post before the current season ever happened, he would have stayed in good standing as a coach. His past contains numerous falls from grace for sure, but it’s not easy to forget that Petrino once built Louisville football into a national power.
With his final chapter as a Cardinal coach complete, here’s a brief timeline of the saga of Bobby Petrino.
July 2006 – “This is where I want to be”
Petrino’s four seasons at Louisville culminated with chances for the National Championship and a victory in the 2006 Orange Bowl. He subsequently signed a 10-year, $25.6 million contract to stay on as coach.
Less than six months later, Petrino departed for the NFL and an unsuccessful run with the Atlanta Falcons.
Apr. 2012 – The crash
While head coach at Arkansas, Petrino crashed a motorcycle with his 25-year-old team assistant with whom he was having an affair.
Petrino had allegedly 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). Arkansas fired him shortly thereafter.
Jan. 2014 – Petrino part two
Petrino replaced Charlie Strong as head coach for the second time. He would lead the Cardinals to a 9-3 regular season and loss in the Belk Bowl.
Dec. 2015 – Birth of a star
Petrino’s team lost their first three games in 2015, but finished the season with a nine straight victories.
Freshman quarterback Lamar Jackson showed his skills aiding a victory in the Music City Bowl.
Sept. 2016 – One for thirteen
Louisville football got its only win versus a top-25 team across five seasons. The Cards creamed No. 2 Florida State and, at the end of his second tenure, Petrino’s record against ranked teams is now 1-13.
Nov. 2016 – Wakeyleaks
Wake Forest football’s confidential documents were leaked to opponents, including U of L. Petrino denied knowledge of the breach, though later it was proven Louisville coaches accepted the information.
One month later, the ACC issued a $25,000 fine to U of L for its part in the scandal.
Dec. 2016 – Heisman history
Jackson became the school’s first Heisman Trophy winner and was later picked in the NFL draft along with fellow teammates.
The season ended in disappointment with a loss in the Citrus Bowl.
Dec. 2017 – Yet another bowl loss
A supposedly promising season ended with Petrino’s squad losing in the TaxSlayer Bowl.
Nov. 2018 – The end
Petrino was fired following a whirlwind of disappointments, including (but not limited to) being properly thumped by the likes of Alabama, Virginia, Georgia Tech, Boston College, Wake Forest and Clemson.
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Photo by Nancy Hanner / The Louisville Cardinal