GREENSBORO, N.C. — Bobby Petrino turned Louisville into a top-10 team nearly a decade ago. Now, more than two years after a scandal derailed his career, Petrino is back with the Cardinals as they enter the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The 53-year-old coach is out to show he is worthy of a second chance with the school he left for the NFL.
“I need to prove to myself and everybody else on a daily basis that this is the right decision,” he said Monday during the second of the ACC’s two-day preseason event.
Petrino was a first-time head coach when he arrived at Louisville in 2003, guiding the Cardinals to a 41-9 record over four seasons that included winning the Orange Bowl after the 2006 season.
But his career had a few wild swings as well as an embarrassing off-field incident in the coming years, enough so that Petrino said he is conscious of living up to the extra chance that Louisville has given him.
“I think (with) the experiences I’ve had, that I can help young men with the obstacles that they’re going to be presented with off the field and the situations that are going to come up,” Petrino said. “And be able to help them and give them second chances.”
Petrino left Louisville to coach the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons, but bolted late in his only season in 2007 to go to Arkansas. Then he was fired there in 2012 after a scandal that began with a motorcycle accident in which he later revealed that his mistress was a passenger.
In a statement after his firing, Petrino apologized for hurting his family and letting down the Arkansas community “by making selfish decisions.”
“I’ve taken a lot of criticism in the past,” he said then. “Some deserved, some not deserved. This time, I have no one to blame but myself.”
Petrino went on to coach last season at Western Kentucky, going 8-4 and setting a program record by totaling 5,502 total yards. And when Charlie Strong left to replace Mack Brown at Texas, Petrino had the chance to return to the Cardinals in January.
“He’s a great offensive mind, obviously,” second-year North Carolina State coach Dave Doeren said. “I have a lot of respect for him. He’s a balanced coach. He’s not just a guy that throws it around. He’s had great running backs at the schools he’s coached, physical offense. He’s a bright mind in the offensive world.”
Now Petrino is coaching a program in one of the five power conferences, in a division boasting the reigning national champion (Florida State), the returning Heisman Trophy winner (Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston) and another program that won a BCS bowl game (Clemson).
“The division that we’re in reminds me a lot of the SEC West,” Petrino said of his time at Arkansas, where he went 34-17 in four years.
Petrino said his new players have not asked him questions about his recent troubles, though Petrino said he has brought it up in team meetings to “talk about mistakes I made and things that I’ve done that you need to learn from.” He said his focus would be working hard on “coaching the person as much as the player.”
When asked whether he felt he had done a good enough job of that in the past, Petrino called it “something I wonder about, whether I paid that much attention to it.”
“But certainly now I understand that that’s a big part of what I’m going to do,” he said.
FILE - In this April 3, 2012, file photo, Arkansas football coach Bobby Petrino speaks during a news conference in Fayetteville, Ark., after being released from a hospital after he was injured in a motorcycle accident. A person familiar with the situation says Petrino is out as coach at Arkansas. The person spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity, and the university has scheduled a Tuesday evening, April 10, 2012, news conference with athletic director Jeff Long. (AP Photo/Gareth Patterson, File)×