The Daily News sat down with new Western Kentucky football coach Bobby Petrino on Saturday.
Petrino, who was hired Dec. 10, inherits a team that finished the 2012 season under former coach Willie Taggart 7-6 and played in the program’s first Football Bowl Subdivision bowl game – a 24-21 loss to Central Michigan in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl.
The former Arkansas coach was dismissed in April from coaching the Razorbacks after being involved in an off-campus scandal with assistant Jessica Dorrell.
The 51-year-old Petrino gave insight into what WKU fans should expect during his first season on the Hill.
Daily News: Have you been able to get settled in yet?
Bobby Petrino: Not exactly settled in. We’re still going a bunch of different directions. I’m excited that we’ve got most of our staff done, and the guys that were here for a full week kind of mixed it up between recruiting and football.
The defensive staff would be doing recruiting in the morning and then I’d be with the offensive staff doing football, then we’d flip it. We have all of our recruits ranked, and I think we’re well-organized for what we want to do.
We have our first recruiting weekend going on right now, then we’ll hit the road and be out on the road for about three weeks.
DN: What’s the main focus?
Petrino: Recruiting is a huge part of it and something we have to really focus on. We’ve got our players coming back next Thursday and we’ll get started with the offseason program.
There’s a lot of different tasks that you have to do while we’re on the road recruiting. We’ll have a lot to do. We’ll stay busy.
DN: What has been the response toward you from the local community?
Petrino: It’s been great. We’ve able to get out a lot, actually. None of our wives are here yet, so the coaches are going out and eating out throughout the community.
I’ve had the chance to go out to dinner with a few of the boosters. I’ve been at the basketball game and Jim Clark’s (of the Hilltopper Athletic Foundation) done a great job. When I go to a basketball game they’ll take me up and I’ll meet guys in the (luxury) boxes. It’s been a lot of fun, and I’m excited because of the support that we have.
DN: How do you deal with the negative feedback?
Petrino: I just focus on what we need to do, what the task is at hand and moving forward. I’m a guy that the glass has always been half full – keep pouring.
DN: Can WKU fans expect you to be here for the long term?
Petrino: I was at Louisville for four really good years, had a great time. I think we went 41-9, went to their first BCS bowl game and had great relationships there.
Thought so much of Louisville that my daughter goes to school there and had another one that graduated from there.
Was at Arkansas for four years and, basically, just made a mistake and screwed that up.
I’m excited for this opportunity and it truly was a family decision to come here, and I’ve got a vision on what we want to get done. I would like see that happen – go to a bowl game every year, win conference championships and as these rules change in 2014 it’d be great to take a third school to their first BCS bowl game.
DN: You mentioned a vision. How close is WKU currently to that vision?
Petrino: Parts of it are close, then you have to put the rest of it together. I don’t think there’s any reason why we can’t get it done.
DN: Junior safety Jonathan Dowling and senior linebacker Andrew Jackson will return this season after considering playing professional football. Have you had talks with them?
Petrino: I talked to Dowling before the bowl game when we were here a couple times – not about whether he was coming back or not. I assumed he was coming back.
I did talk to (Jackson) over the break on the phone. He was real positive, I really enjoyed our conversation. He’s excited to get back and get to work.
DN: Do you have an update on former Louisville commit and Central Florida signee quarterback DaMarcus Smith?
Petrino: He needs to be eligible. He’s working on this J-term (January term) right now.
DN: If eligible, will he compete for the QB job?
Petrino: I think he’d jump right into the mix for quarterback and be another guy that gets to compete for the job in spring.
DN: How do you see the QB position playing out?
Petrino: It’s hard to say. I don’t know a lot about it. I got to watch them practice a few times and I thought they both did some real good things, both of them (junior Brandon Doughty and redshirt sophomore James Mauro) had some stuff they could improve on.
Until you really get out there and work with them and go through the drills and go through the scrimmages and see how they react to the adversity and create some adversity and make it hard on them.
One of the philosophies I’ve always had is to make practice really hard for the quarterbacks so that when they get to the game they’re ready for it.
DN: When will you name a starting QB?
Petrino: I don’t know. Until we get out there and go through spring ball and see how it plays out in spring ball.
I remember there have been times when you don’t know a week before the first game. If it does go into the fall, I would prefer to have at least two weeks where everyone knows who the starting quarterback is, but I don’t have a crystal ball, so I’m not sure.
DN: What are you looking for at spring practice?
Petrino: We’ve got a lot to implement – new offense, new defense. We have to do a great job of teaching. We’re not going to try and put too much in because it’s also about evaluating. We have to work hard on our technique and fundamentals, evaluate who can play, who can’t play and then be able to implement parts of our offense and defense and have a good plan.
The most important thing is to get ready for that first game, so we have to have a good plan for that.
DN: How do you handle the new age of social media as it relates to your players?
Petrino: I think it’s one of those things we have to understand it’s part of life.
I just ask them not to communicate anything that’s from inside the program. I think there are things that need to stay inside the program, certainly injuries, and things that are said, and coach-and-player relationship and all that just needs to be inside the program.
DN: How will WKU be perceived under Bobby Petrino?
Petrino: That’s yet to be seen. Hopefully we’ll be a really good football team and perform well and play well and entertain and get our players to graduate from school.
Program loses assistant coach
Petrino announced Saturday that defensive ends coach and recruiting coordinator Kevin Peoples has resigned. Peoples was one of the first coaches to be named to Petrino’s staff Dec. 18.
On Friday, coachingsearch.com reported he had been offered the defensive line position at Alabama-Birmingham. No announcement has been made by UAB at this time.
Peoples served as defensive line coach at Arkansas State for eight seasons until moving to the University of Arkansas from 2010-12, where he served as director of high school relations.