Final Petrino thoughts

Rick Bozich referenced “the mess” that Bobby Petrino left at Louisville this morning. I think more than ever, Cardinals coach Steve Kragthorpe needs to do what he said he would do and be more specific about what these problems were.

He can’t do that? Then somebody needs to tell the basketball coach at the same school. When Derrick Caracter was suspended, Rick Pitino didn’t divulge every detail, but he did this — he gave a single example, Caracter breaking curfew twice on the very day that he’d agreed to abide by it. That shed a very revealing light into the mind-set of Caracter, and let fans know what was going on.

There’s no law that would prevent Kragthorpe from saying, “We’ve got some guys who need to focus more on their classes” or “We’ve got some guys who need to learn to just say no,” or “We’ve got some guys who need to learn something about being on time.” Or whatever the problem is. Those are just examples. This talk of “legalities” only heightens speculation. If individuals aren’t mentioned, there’s no legality involved in discussing these matters.

In the meantime, Petrino will be afforded the opportunity to respond to these insinuations — though I don’t know if he’ll be returning my calls anytime soon!

In the end, I never thought U of L had much of a beef with Petrino. He led them to 41 wins in four years, and though he left abruptly, he was here for four years, which is a good run for a coach having that kind of success. He also left for a great deal more money, to the National Football League.

I think Jurich wanted to fire him after the LSU debacle, when Petrino interviewed with the Tigers just a week after signing a million-dollar extension, stopping in Nashville on the way to the team’s Liberty Bowl appearance, and turning the spotlight that week on himself and his job status rather than on the team. I just don’t think the A.D. could muster enough support among university leaders.

You’ll remember the bizarre press conference after the parties returned to Louisville, when Jurich, stone faced, said Petrino had fences to mend with fans, and that he wouldn’t do that work for him. And he acknowledged that he thought about not bringing Petrino back, which Petrino then said, “stung.”

During this, I’ve been reminded of the story of the day of the Auburn debacle. It started with the intuition of Pat Forde, now an ESPN senior writer but then the C-J Sports columnist. He’d gotten the rumor that an Auburn booster’s plane was in town. We get lots of those rumors, but because this one mentioned an airport in Southern Indiana, his interest was piqued. Not many people know about the private airport in Sellersburg.

He started making calls, including one to then-Montgomery Advertiser writer Jay Tate. Sports editor Harry Bryan then called me in. Jay knew who the booster would be — Bobby Lowder. But he knew more than that. He was able to dig up the tail number of Lowder’s plane.

We were all making calls at that point and knew we had something. This was before fans were tracking planes by computer, but I fished up a website on Flight-based operations, paid for a membership by credit card and was able to do a search of Lowder’s plane.

That yielded the date and time of its presence in Sellersburg. So we now had proof the plane was here, but we didn’t know who was on it, or anything else, really. That’s when Pat and I drove to U of L and spent a bizarre hour in the lobby of U of L’s football complex.

Forde was holding airport records in his hand, and football sports information Rocco Gasparro said, “Can coach see it?” And Pat said, “Yeah, but we’re going to have to be the ones to show it to him.”

Gasparro then went behind the locked security doors to talk to Petrino, before coming out 32 minutes later saying coach didn’t want to talk about it, but wanted to focus on the upcoming game with Cincinnati.

Back at the paper, we had the plane, but still had nothing else. I’d been calling people at the Sellersburg airport, but records for the plane there didn’t include a list of passengers. I gave it one more try, and got a woman at the airport who dug around and finally found something that was a big break — a credit card receipt for plane fuel. The signature on the card turned out to be the pilot of the plane. I think maybe Jay Tate tried the pilot first. I’m not sure. I do know that I called him at his home in Alabama, only hoping to get some background. I figured I’d go from the start with the assumption that Petrino and someone from Auburn was on the plane, but I no sooner started asking questions than the pilot quickly said he couldn’t talk and had to go.

I wrote the first edition story, which was mainly speculation at that point. We used comment from the pilot, but could only hint at what was going on. The fact that the plane was here, who it belonged to and the situation.

A couple of hours later, a rare thing happened. Auburn ‘fessed up. I think they might’ve been spooked by our calls to the pilot, I don’t know. I know both Jay Tate and Pat Forde had been burning up their phone lines all day, and that might well have worn them down. They admitted that the president and athletic director, among others, had been on the plane. It was extraordinary. Especially considering that Petrino was telling U of L at the time that it was only a headhunting firm he’d talked to.

I called Jurich to tell him. And he said Petrino was on his way to his house. He said Bobby had gotten caught in a situation that he was too inexperienced to handle, and that he had to say and do the right things, but he’d back him.

When I talked to Petrino a while later, of course, he was quite contrite. Soon the Alabama governor was calling for an apology from the school, and the president and A.D. at Auburn would eventually resign.

It was, I’d say, a pretty wild day’s work.

You can read the final edition of that story here, though I always thought that the earlier editions of the story were much better, because they focused on the secret visit, rather than Petrino’s reaction.

Finally, I dug out this Petrino timeline we’d used for a story a few years ago. It needs to be updated, but I don’t know when I’ll get the time to dig out all the necessary quotes — the indignation at reporters when they asked about the Oakland Raiders job (later it was learned that he’d interviewed twice), his statements upon signing his 10-year deal. But this gives you a pretty good picture.

Nov. 18, 2003
“I had a team meeting before we went out so the players would understand. I told them there’s nothing to it. I told them it’s unfortunate that in college football, this time of year is when rumors start, but that’s how it is.”

— Petrino, when first asked about rumors that he might be a candidate to replace Tommy Tuberville at Auburn University.

Nov. 20, 2003
Petrino meets with Auburn University’s president, athletic director and other representatives after a delegation from the school flew to a Southern Indiana airport to speak with him about replacing Tigers’ coach Tommy Tuberville, who had not yet been fired.

Nov. 24, 2003
“There is no coaching job. I have not been contacted.”

— Petrino, through U of L football spokesman Rocco Gasparro, when asked about possible talks with Auburn University.

Afternoon, Nov. 25, 2003
“Bobby is saying all the right things. He says he’s happy here, that his family is happy here. He
says he’s not talking to them.”

— U of L athletic director Tom Jurich

Late night, Nov. 25, 2003
“First of all, I made a mistake in meeting with those people that came in, and for that I apologize,” Petrino said. “I should have spoken to Tom Jurich and the University of Louisville. I want to apologize for that. I’m very grateful that Tom has given me the job here at U of L. It has been something that I’ve always dreamed of. We’ve had a great year. I’m very happy with the effort that my coaches and players have put into it. And 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, responding to The Courier-Journal after earlier edition stories reported that Auburn had admitted meeting with him on Nov. 20.

Nov. 26, 2003
“I don’t think I have a lying issue. I can look our team in the eye and all the players I’ve ever coached and they know what Bobby Petrino is all about. For you (reporters), you may need to get that back. But I’ll stand on my past and what will happen here in the future.”

— Petrino, at a news conference after the story broke on his secret meeting with Auburn University.

Oct. 26, 2004
“This is the time of year that coaches’ names begin to surface for various job openings that begin to occur,” he wrote. “Due to the success that we’ve had here in Louisville during the past few years, my name will come up from time to time, and I want to ensure you that I will be staying in Louisville. . . . I plan for all four of our children to graduate from high school in Louisville”

— Amid rumors that he will be a candidate for the University of Florida coaching job, Petrino reassures former football letterwinners in this letter.

Nov. 2, 2004
“I’m not really going to address any other job at this time. . . . I would appreciate it if I didn’t have to answer questions on it.”

— Petrino when questioned about his future at U of L by reporters in a news conference.

Dec. 7, 2004
“During the season, I didn’t feel it was appropriate to address speculation about other coaching vacancies. I felt it was important to maintain our focus on winning one game at a time. I want to make it clear that I’m not interested in any other coaching jobs and am happy at the University of Louisville.”

— Petrino in a statement released by the school, announcing he would stay at U of L.

Dec. 21, 2004
Q: Does this contract extension put speculation about you being a candidate at LSU and other schools to rest?

Petrino: “Definitely, I think this does. No doubt about it. All year long my focus has been on coaching a football team and winning one game at a time, and when the season was over we were able to sit down and evaluate. This is the place I want to be. This is the place my family wants to be. And we’re just looking forward to the future.”

Q: So when the rumors start, you’re not a candidate at LSU?

Petrino: “Why do we have to talk about other schools? Why can’t we talk about the University of Louisville?”

— Exchange between Petrino and a reporter after the announcement that he had signed a new contract worth $1 million annually plus a potential $866,666 in incentives.

Dec. 26, 2004
Petrino meets in Nashville with LSU representatives for what he describes as a preliminary discussion about their coaching position. He says that no job offer was made.

Dec. 29, 2004
(LSU) asked for a quick meeting, and with Tom’s permission I agreed to meet with them,” Petrino said. “We sat down Sunday morning in Nashville on my way here. There is no offer on the table. It was strictly a preliminary meeting, and that’s really all there is to it. We agreed my focus would go to the bowl game and finishing the great season we’ve had.”

— Petrino, acknowledging the Dec. 26 meeting a day after the story was reported in New Orleans and Louisville and by ESPN.

Dec. 30, 2004
“Are you trying to talk about something we’re not talking about? It was a pretty good try, though.”

— Petrino at the pre-Liberty Bowl news conference, when a reporter asked how he would respond to fans angry about his discussions with another school just days after accepting a raise and reaffirming his commitment to U of L.

Jan. 1, 2004
I have chosen to remain as the football coach at the University of Louisville, withdrawing my name from consideration at LSU. . . . I know I have caused great consternation for Tom Jurich and created additional confusion for our passionate and loyal fans. That was never my intention. Tom’s generous contract extension last week showed his commitment to me and my family as well as this program. For that, I’m grateful.”

“I apologize for this confusion over my job status this past week and I ask for your continued support for our players, this staff and this University as we build this football program into a national power.”

— Petrino in a statement released by the school, withdrawing from LSU consideration and again reaffirming his commitment to U of L.


11 thoughts on “Final Petrino thoughts

  1. Eric-Thanks for the great rundown of yours and Forde’s investigative journalism concerning Petrino’s Auburn visit. I wish you (and the Courier Journal) would spend more time digging for the truth.

  2. Digging for the truth and getting it into a form that can be published are two different things. Just think, if Auburn had not made its admission, it’s likely we never would have been able to publish who was on that plane, although we were hoping to put pressure on all parties by our report that the plane was here.I don’t think there is any less digging. But we can’t publish rumor as fact. Or things that we “think” are accurate. Attribution is the killer for us. When we say a thing is so, we have to say why it is. It is also what separates responsible reporting from rumor.

  3. Hey Eric, why hasn’t anyone at the CJ done the same hard investigative work on the Kragthorpe to SMU issue? Why hasn’t anyone made all those phonecalls to verify if he did or didn’t interview them in some way, over the phone or some neutral location? How can you ignor that Kragthorpe is ALREADY going down the same path as Petrino, the lies the deceptions? Do you want to be a part of creating and enabling the next Bobby Petrino?

  4. Eric-Why hasn’t anyone at the CJ bothered to question the politics behind the location of the arena? Billy Reed is the only one I’ve seen that’s questioned all the backroom deals being made. $100 million more for locating on the riverfront (with one entrance and exit) vs. the water company site with entrances and exits on all four sides, not to mention parking issues, and now another $100 million additional in bond interest.

  5. Eric, the last two comments are dead on– 1) K interviewed (I personally know this thru a member on the SMU search comm); and 2) although I’m for the arena, this secrecy has been ridiculous.How about some tough questioning on those 2 points?

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