Monday, January 8, 2007

Another Cardinal coach flies the coop

I guess it was bound to happen. Fresh from an Orange Bowl victory, amid whisperings of a possible national championship next season, and just a few months after declaring that he was at the University of Louisville "for the long haul," Bobby Petrino is hauling ass to Atlanta to take over as head coach of the Falcons.

Some guys just don't know when they've got it good. Petrino was king of the Bluegrass. He was already making more money than he'll ever spend, and he was turning the home of Peck Hickman, Denny Crum, Wes Unseld and Darrell "Doctor Dunkenstein" Griffith into a football school. (Well, he had some help in that. More later.)

You might think he would have learned something from his predecessors. Lee Corso left for the Big 10 and was a collossal flop at Indiana. Howard Schnellenberger left for Oklahoma, where he was run out of town on a rail. John L. Smith infamously negotiated a deal with Michigan State via cell phone on the sidelines of his own Cardinal team's bowl game, and is now unemployed. Petrino will likely suffer the same fate in the pros. The life expectancy of an NFL coach is not very long.

Meanwhile, the Cardinals figure to lose some key players to the NFL draft. Junior QB Brian Brohm is projected to be a first-round (possibly #1 overall) draft pick. Senior running back Michael Bush, a legitimate Heisman contender until he broke his leg in the first game of last season, had applied for a medical redshirt year. Receiver Mario Urrutia had already made up his mind to forgo the draft so he could play at U of L with his little brother, who was coming to play for Petrino. The Louisville faithful were hoping all three would return for a run at the national title. Now, unless AD Tom Jurich pulls a rabbit out of his hat before the NFL draft deadline, not many will be surprised to see them all bolt for the big bucks.

Still, you can't put all the blame on Bobby. Jurich is reaping what he has sown. He's getting the same kind of loyalty from his coaches as he showed some of their predecessors - for example, Hall of Fame basketball coach Denny Crum. A couple of years after back-to-back Sweet 16 and Elite Eight seasons, Crum was unceremoniously dumped for Rick Pitino, who to his credit did manage an unexpected Final Four aperance - before moving to the Big East and failing to make the conference tournament last year. This year's edition of the Pitino Express doesn't figure to do a whole lot better. They're unlikely to make the NCAA tournament, and may even fail to make the Big East tournament again. And by my figuring Rick has about one more season to get things turned around before his boss lowers the boom.

As for Petrino, Jurich will bring in a replacement, and probably sooner rather than later. He claims always to have the next coach in mind, and he knows he needs to move quickly. Whether it will be an attractive enough name, and soon enough, to prevent massive player defections remains to be seen. There are names circulating already on the rumor boards, some from other colleges, some from the NFL (even New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick figures in some of the pipe dreams). But the chances of Jurich keeping any coach longer than about 5 years are slim. If they don't live up to TJ's expectations, they'll be sent packing; and if they do, they figure to get while the getting's good. That's the only mindset you can afford to have when you work for the George Steinbrenner of college athletics.

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