Petrino leaves WKU for 'destination job' at Louisville

Bobby Petrino speaks during a news conference to announce him as the new University of Louisville football coach at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium, Thursday, Jan. 9, 2013, in Louisville, Ky. (Alex Slitz/Daily News)

LOUISVILLE — Bobby Petrino met with Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich for about nine hours Tuesday, and things got intense within the first 30 minutes.

It was then that Jurich, considering bringing the controversial coach back to the program, told Petrino, "If you lie to me, I'm gonna kill you."

"I believe in forgiveness, and Bobby has convinced me he's a changed man," Jurich said. "I told Bobby (that) the coach I had here eight years ago is the not the coach I want to hire. I want the new Bobby Petrino."

Louisville introduced Petrino for a second stint as the program's coach Thursday at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium, officially ending his one-year run as coach at Western Kentucky.

Petrino was introduced after his hire was unanimously approved by Louisville's Athletic Association personnel committee, a meeting Petrino attended. He replaces coach Charlie Strong, who left for Texas last week after four years at Louisville.

"I've made mistakes," Petrino said to a full press box at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium. "I've made mistakes both professionally and personally. That's something I'm not going to do again. The first mistake was ever leaving the University of Louisville, and I'm sorry about that."

The drama in Petrino's coaching legacy began during his first four-year run as Louisville's coach from 2003-06. He left after four seasons and a 41-9 record to become coach of the NFL's Atlanta Falcons – only months after signing a 10-year contract – then bolted midseason from Atlanta to take over at the University of Arkansas.

Then came scandal at Arkansas in April 2012 that led to Petrino's dismissal. Petrino was in a motorcycle accident with his mistress, although he told Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long that he was the only person on the motorcycle. It was later revealed that Petrino helped his mistress get a job at Arkansas. 

Petrino was eventually hired at WKU in December 2012, days after the departure of Willie Taggart. Petrino led the Hilltoppers to an 8-4 record in one season.

But Petrino said he took the WKU job to be close to the city of Louisville and his family, who were at his side Thursday. The 52-year-old coach called Louisville his "destination job" this time around.

"I'm not sure how many people have the opportunity to start their career and come back and finish it (in the same place)," Petrino said. "Emotionally, I'm tied to doing that, and contractually, I'm tied to doing that."

Petrino will have a seven-year contract worth $3.5 million annually. He will have a $10 million buyout for the first four years. That sum will begin to decrease after that time.

The $1.2 million buyout required from Petrino's contract with WKU will be paid by Louisville, Jurich said. That contract also states that Petrino must use his "best efforts" to schedule a home-and-home series with the Hilltoppers, but Petrino slyly replied Thursday he'll do just that to make that series happen – use his "best efforts."

"I'll leave that up to him, if he wants to go there," Jurich said.

Western Kentucky athletic director Todd Stewart said Thursday he's "optimistic" about a future series with the Cardinals. Louisville will not owe WKU any more money if the series doesn't come to fruition, Stewart said.

Petrino fielded many of the same questions Thursday as he did during his introductory news conference at WKU. How are you a changed man? What makes you different this time around?

Once again, Petrino says he's now all about family and coaching not just the player, but also the person.

But just hearing that from Petrino wasn't enough to convince Jurich, the latter said. He had to look Petrino's wife, Becky, in the eyes to know her husband had made a change.

More than 100 pledges of support from Petrino's former players didn't hurt, either.

"They love him," Jurich said. "They adore him. I've never in my career seen an outpouring like these people for him."

Jurich didn't share those rosy feelings for Petrino after the coach first left Louisville, and he made that known during Tuesday's interview. Jurich said he isn't sure he could've sat through the first 30 minutes of their talk if he were Petrino.

And that didn't just stem from Petrino's quick departure to Atlanta or his wrongdoings at Arkansas. It was also about the way he had treated his support staff at Louisville, including sports information director Rocco Gasparro, who was present Thursday.

"I didn't like him," Jurich said. "I really didn't, and I told him that. I was shocked he stayed. Those first 30 minutes weren't any fun for him. I didn't like the way he treated Rocco (Gasparro). I didn't like the way he treated our people around the building. It better be a new guy."

Stewart is among those who has convinced Jurich he's getting a new guy.

Petrino actually learned of Louisville's interest from Stewart, who first fielded a call from Jurich.

I said, 'Todd, lay it all out to me,'" Jurich said. "Boom. Todd's exact words were, and I hope you call him, were that he's been a model citizen. He said (Petrino) and Becky have been model people in the community."

Petrino also thanked Stewart and WKU President Gary Ransdell for giving him a return to the field.

He said decisions on a coaching staff haven't been made, although Clint Hurtt – the Louisville assistant under an NCAA show-cause order for future employment in the aftermath of the University of Miami improper benefits scandal – will remain on the U of L staff.

Reports surfaced later Thursday that Petrino will hire Alabama-Birmingham head coach Garrick McGee as assistant head coach and offensive coordinator, as well as former Baylor head coach and Alabama assistant Kevin Steele as defensive coordinator.

Petrino said it's possible he could bring some assistants from WKU to Louisville with him, although he did endorse offensive coordinator Jeff Brohm as ready to be a head coach.

Petrino said part of his recruitment of Brohm to join him at WKU was convincing him he could help him prepare to become a head coach. That's something Brohm has said he wants, Petrino said.

"I can't thank Todd Stewart and Dr. Ransdell enough, to be able to get back on the field and do something that I love," Petrino said of his year at WKU. "It was a great challenge. Our players grew and got better and became a team. It takes awhile sometimes, but we really came together."

Jurich had plenty of other one-liners during Thursday's news conference, among them that he wasn't concerned about any national criticism from hiring Petrino because "we take hits all the time."

Also, when asked about Petrino becoming emotional on the several occasions he referenced his family, Jurich said, "I didn't know he had emotions, to be honest with you."

But Jurich was serious on one point: After finding a way to inch closer to normality in one year at WKU, Bobby Petrino came home Thursday.

"Buyout, to me, is not even important," Jurich said. "He told me to put $100 million in there if I wanted to. He's not going anywhere. You all know I've been wrong before, but I feel this is his last stop. He wants 15 years."

— Follow sports writer Zach Greenwell on Twitter at twitter.com/zach_greenwell or visit bgdailynews.com.

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