Kiffen to Arkansas Rumors End – Petrino quits Falcons, the Job

Cox News Service ATLANTA – Atlanta Falcons coach Bobby Petrino, in a move that was said to have blindsided team officials, resigned Tuesday evening to take the head-coaching job at the University of Arkansas, the team confirmed.

The Falcons have called a press conference for 2 p.m. EST Tuesday at the team’s headquarters.

Team owner Arthur Blank and the Falcons brass were caught so off guard that they are still trying to figure out who will coach the 3-10 team over the final three games.

Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson and defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer are likely candidates to coach the Falcons on an interim basis.

Before the Falcons’ 34-14 loss to New Orleans Monday, Blank said that he had heard rumors that Arkansas had targeted Petrino to replace Houston Nutt as head coach. So he said he asked Petrino if he was considering that job.

Petrino, who was signed from the University of Louisville to a five-year, $24.5 million contract Jan. 8, told him Monday afternoon that he definitely would be back to coach the Falcons in 2008.

It was the second time Blank had asked Petrino about his commitment to the team and the second time Petrino told him he would be back next season.

Blank was not available for comment Tuesday evening.

The Falcons were off Tuesday and Petrino did not hold his typical day-after, post game news conference. It is not known if he spent the day talking to officials from Arkansas.

Petrino’s abrupt departure puts the Falcons in position of trying to find a second head coach in less than a year. Blank fired Jim Mora Jan. 1, after three seasons.

Atlanta is in a tenuous situation because a new head coach with a radically different philosophy could require a rapid change in direction from plans already put in place to augment the roster for Petrino’s scheme.

Falcons cornerback DeAngelo Hall, one of several players with a frosty relationship with Petrino, said he was surprised by the news, which he heard about from a team officials around 5:30 Tuesday.

“We felt like Petrino was going to be around for the long haul, like he had as much invested in this as we did,” Hall said. “For him to jump ship is disheartening. Arthur Blank and the city of Atlanta, they deserve to win and we thought Petrino was going to be the guy to help us get there. He was a winner and wasn’t used to losing.

“Maybe he didn’t feel he could win at this level. I disagree with that. If he doesn’t want to be a part of it, fine. We’ll move on and get better … without him.”

It was thought that Petrino could take the Falcons offense, led by Michael Vick, and create an exciting, winning brand of football.

But Petrino’s troubles in Atlanta began soon afterward, starting when Vick was questioned by security at Miami International Airport on Jan. 17 about a water bottle with a hidden compartment. Test results indicated that were no illegal substances in the bottle, and Vick was cleared of wrongdoing.

Vick’s troubles continued in April when police found evidence of a dogfighting operation at a home he owned in rural southeastern Virginia.

Vick was indicted on felony charges in July of operating an illegal dogfighting operation, known as Bad Newz Kennels.

Vick was indefintely suspended by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in August.

The Falcons are 3-10 following Monday’s 34-14 loss to New Orleans. They are tied for the second-worst record in the league.

In the wake of Vick’s suspension, the team has used three different starting quarterbacks, and its offense has struggled. They are 30th in the league in scoring (14.2 points per game) and 24th in yards per game (301.1 ypg).

Fan reaction was much like that at Falcons headquarters: surprised.

Brian Daniels, president of Louisville’s Atlanta Alumni Club said “I’m just absolutely floored.

“I really believe he came here to coach the best athlete in football. I think he was just at a point where he’d had enough. You can’t blame a man for wanting to drive a Porsche and being handed a Cadillac.”

Petrino has a history of short stays as a coach.

During his four seasons at Louisville, Auburn, LSU and the NFL’s Oakland Raiders talked to him.

He signed a deal with the Falcons six months later.

Petrino’s coaching career started in 1983 as a graduate assistant at Carroll College in Wisconsin. He became offensive coordinator there in 1985. It was the start of a long-time career in the college ranks that saw him work as an assistant at eight colleges before being named head coach at the University of Louisville in 2003. He compiled a 41-9 record at Louisville.

Petrino previously worked in the pro ranks as quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator for the Jacksonville Jaguars from 1999-2002.

Petrino also has a previous stint in the SEC, as offensive coordinator for Auburn University in 2002.

Steve Wyche writes for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. E-mail: swyche AT Staff writer Mike Knobler contributed to this report.

~ by Sactown Raider Boosters on December 12, 2007.

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