Bobby Petrino is supposedly a changed man.
Sorry, not buying it.
There are too many selfish missteps along the way to suddenly believe Petrino won’t be thinking about himself — and only himself — the next time he reaches an ethical fork in the road.
Rest assured, there’s always a next time with this guy.
During his first tenure at Louisville, he was constantly on the prowl for better jobs even while insisting how happy he was. Then he bailed on the Atlanta Falcons with three games to go in his lone season with the NFL team. Finally, he hired his mistress over better-qualified applicants at Arkansas, and then tried to cover up his horrific lapses in judgment after an infamous motorcycle crash.
As with most people who aren’t bothered by their conscience, and taking advantage of a college athletics system that’s always willing to sell its soul in pursuit of a championship, Petrino managed to slither his way back into the national spotlight with a Louisville redux.
The Cardinals surged to No. 3 in the national rankings with a 63-20 drubbing of powerhouse Florida State a couple of weeks ago, and now they’re heading into a Saturday night showdown with fifth-ranked Clemson.
Not surprisingly, Petrino’s enablers insist he’s finally learned from all his mistakes.
History says otherwise.
And there’s a LOT of history.
Let’s go back to 2003, when a private jet landed at a small airport near Louisville, and Petrino climbed aboard to secretly interview for a head coaching job at Auburn that didn’t actually exist, because the Tigers already had a coach. He didn’t bother giving his employers the courtesy of a heads-up to his wandering eye, and didn’t seem the least bit concerned that Auburn officials hadn’t bothered to go through proper protocols, either.
With Petrino, it’s always about me, me, me.
When the sordid affair came to light, the coach and his Auburn suiters were forced to abandon their clandestine courtship. We’ll let Petrino’s own words take it from here: “I’m going to stay here at the University of Louisville. It’s the place I want to be and the job I want.”
Petrino kept right on winning — let’s face it, the guy is a hell of a coach — which led to an annual flirtation with better, higher-paying jobs. Louisville kept bending over backward to keep him happy and finally doled out a 10-year, $25.6 million contract in the summer of 2006. Again, we’ll let Petrino speak for himself: “This is where my family wants to be and where I want to be.”
Exactly 178 days later, Petrino left for the Falcons.
He quickly made an impression on his new team — and not the kind most people would want. He imposed absurd rules on his players, such as ordering grown men not to talk on flights or at team meals. He treated other team employees with disdain, not even bothering to speak to them when they passed in the hall.
Jimmy Cribb, the longtime official photographer of the Falcons, details it all in his new book, “You’ll Never Get In The Game.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen another person like him,” Cribb writes. “I’ve never had another coach treat me that way, and not just me, anybody.”
Petrino’s brief tenure in Atlanta was a debacle, though in fairness it wasn’t entirely his fault. Franchise quarterback Michael Vick went to prison for dogfighting and never took a snap for his new coach. The Falcons went 3-10 before Petrino bolted for the door again — not long after assuring team owner Arthur Blank he wasn’t going anywhere.
Less than 24 hours after coaching the Falcons for the final time, he was in Fayetteville chanting, “Woooo, Pig! Sooie!”
We’ll let his epitaph in Atlanta be a form letter to the players, left at each of their lockers after he was gone and containing all the warmth of a Wells Fargo salesman trying to sign you up for another credit card you don’t need:
“This decision was not easy but was made in the best interest of me and my family. While my desire would have been to finish out what has been a difficult season for us all, circumstances did not allow me to do so. I appreciate your hard work and wish you the best.”
Of course, Petrino would engineer an even greater flop in basic human decency as Arkansas’ coach.
He had an affair with a woman half his age, got her a job on the staff and gave her $20,000. Then came a motorcycle crash that left him all beat up and wearing a neck brace. At first, Petrino said he was alone. Then, after dodging multiple chances to tell the truth, he admitted being with his mistress. He only came clean after being tipped off that his lies were going to be exposed in a police report.
Petrino was fired after what athletic director Jeff Long described as “a pattern of misleading and manipulative behavior designed to deceive me and members of the athletic staff, both before and after the motorcycle accident.”
Now, the coach is riding high again.
Well, enjoy it while you can, Louisville.
Chances are, another bump in the road is right around the corner.
Paul Newberry is a sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/paul-newberry .
AP College Football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org