Western Kentucky’s Bobby Petrino has accepted an offer to return to Louisville as head football coach, a move the Cardinals could make official Thursday morning.
The University of Louisville Athletic Association must approve Petrino’s hiring and is scheduled to meet Thursday morning. A person familiar with the situation told The Associated Press on Wednesday night that, “Petrino is the choice.” The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the university had not announced its decision.
Jonathan Blue, a Louisville board of trustee, told the AP that “if it’s a done deal, I’m totally behind” the decision.
Petrino, 52, returns to the school he led to a 41-9 record from 2003-06 as a first-time head coach. He has an 83-30 career record as a college head coach, including an 8-4 mark last season with the Hilltoppers, his first position since his April 2012 firing by Arkansas amid scandal.
Blue said he “couldn’t be happier” to have Petrino return to Louisville.
Among the other candidates considered were Louisville offensive coordinator Shawn Watson and defensive coordinator Vance Bedford.
Bedford congratulated Petrino on his Twitter account, saying, “I want to thanks the card nation for your support. Coach petrino will do a great job. Stand behind the team. Go Cards.”
Public support for Petrino’s hiring grew as Strong’s departure for the Longhorns became apparent, with Cardinals fans calling radio shows and nearly 60 percent voting in favor of the choice on one Louisville TV station. Those feelings were somewhat surprising considering there were some hard feelings in the athletic department over his frequent interest in other coaching jobs during his first stint at Louisville.
Jurich said Sunday that he and Petrino had patched things up and that he would be considered in the AD’s quest to find “a good fit” for a Cardinals football program headed to the Atlantic Coast Conference next season. Jurich believed Louisville’s 37-15 record in four seasons under Strong helped their prospects in attracting interest from “100 or 200” candidates in the past week.
And with Petrino’s return, both sides have put disputes behind them.
That wasn’t easy after he left following the 2006 season for a 13-game stint with the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons, where Petrino went 3-10 before landing another job with Arkansas. His exit from the Falcons before the NFL season ended was even more upsetting to players, who were informed of Petrino’s departure via letters left at their lockers.
Petrino’s return to the college ranks yielded a 34-17 record and a pair of bowl wins on the field with the Razorbacks but ended infamously with his firing in April 2012 following a motorcycle accident in which he later revealed that his mistress was a passenger. School officials fired him that month for a “pattern of misleading behavior.”
Eight months later he was back in coaching at WKU, which gave him a four-year contract that paid a base annual salary of $850,000. At the time of his hiring, Hilltoppers athletic director Todd Stewart said that the coach deserved a second chance but would also be held to a “zero tolerance” behavior policy.
Petrino’s WKU contract includes clauses in which the oft-traveled coach must repay the school $1.2 million in six installments beginning a month after he leaves, while the program that hires him must agree to schedule a two-year, home-and-home series with WKU.