By PAUL NEWBERRY
AP National Writer
Bobby Petrino insists he’s a changed man.
Not the scoundrel who secretly interviewed for someone else’s coaching job without telling his bosses, who abandoned the Atlanta Falcons with three games left in the season, who wrecked his motorcycle with his mistress aboard and lied about the sordid affair as long as he could.
We’re supposed to believe he’s not that guy anymore.
In the latest sign that college athletics spews a lot of high-minded malarkey but is never about anything more than wins and losses, Louisville re-introduced Petrino as its head coach this week — pairing him with another member of the Morally Bankrupt Hall of Fame — men’s basketball coach Rick Pitino. You remember, before the NCAA championship, the intimate relations with someone other than his wife on a restaurant table.
The news conference Thursday was downright sickening, with all the expected nonsense about Petrino suddenly turning into a decent human being and the Cardinals being persuaded that he’s just the right guy to turns boys into men.
“If it was the same Bobby that was here 10 years ago, I wasn’t interested,” said athletic director Tom Jurich, who might want to consider a job selling ice cubes in Alaska. “He is definitely a changed person.”
After Charlie Strong took the Texas job, the only thing that mattered to the Cardinals was finding someone to keep the victories coming. That’s why they brought back Petrino, who was 41-9 when he coached Louisville from 2003-06, including a trip to the Orange Bowl. There was no need subjecting us to all the familiar gibberish about Petrino finding his way to a better place as person. That doesn’t matter in the least, even if it’s true.
“I made mistakes, both professionally and personally, and that’s something I’m not going to do again,” Petrino said. “The first mistake was leaving Louisville, and I’m hoping that the fans and everybody will forgive me.”
No problem there. The Cardinal Nation seems thrilled by the hiring, not wanting to lose any ground as it moves to the Atlantic Coast Conference. We’ll see how they’re feeling after Petrino goes 11-1 — he can coach, after all — and starts sniffing around for an even better job. A tiger doesn’t suddenly change his stripes. History suggests this guy won’t either.
A brief review, in Petrino’s own words:
— “It’s a great fit for me,” he said after being hired by Louisville the first time, two days before Christmas 2002. “There were a number of openings this year and a number of phone calls that came in. This is the only one I wanted.”
Less than a year later, he slips off to a clandestine airport meeting with Auburn officials, neither side giving Jurich the courtesy of a phone call or apparently fazed that the Tigers still have a coach, Tommy Tuberville. Petrino apologizes and stays with the Cardinals.
— After interviewing for other jobs during each of his first three years at Louisville, Petrino signs a 10-year contract worth at least $25.5 million in the summer of 2006, a deal he says is designed to send a message.
“For me and for my family, Louisville is home,” Petrino says. “I want everyone to really believe it.”
Less than six months later, he leaves to coach the Atlanta Falcons.
— “I believe this is truly the best football job in the NFL,” Petrino says after being hired by the Falcons in January 2007. “It was an easy decision for me.” But quarterback Michael Vick never plays for the new coach, sent to prison for running a dogfighting ring, and the Falcons lose 10 of their first 13 games.
Just hours after assuring Atlanta owner Arthur Blank he has no plans to leave, Petrino submits his resignation, hops on a plane to Fayetteville and is hollering “Wooo Pig Sooie!” before the night is out. Blank feels “betrayed,” and the players are even more bitter when they arrive the next day to find a form letter at their lockers, signed by Petrino. It starts “Out of my respect for you” — utterly laughable — and ends with “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 feel like I’ve been sleeping with the enemy,” safety Lawyer Milloy says.
— Then, in April 2012, Petrino shows up with four broken ribs and wearing a neck brace after a motorcycle crash. “When I came out of the ditch, there was a lady there that had flagged down a car,” he says, not bothering to mention she was his mistress and a women less than half his age, former Arkansas volleyball player Jessica Dorrell.
With a police report about to be released, Petrino is forced to come clean about Dorrell, such as giving her a $20,000 gift and hiring her to work in the football office over candidates who are surely more qualified.
But this time, we’re supposed to believe Petrino has changed.