The landscape of college football was changing. Teams were beginning to go to the air more, and Bobby Petrino was a big reason why. Petrino was an offensive mastermind and the ring leader behind some extremely explosive offenses, particularly in his two stints at Louisville and his gigs in the NFL with the Jacksonville Jaguars and Atlanta Falcons.
Petrino got off to a rocky start at Arkansas by the way he left Atlanta, with some to declaring him a "gutless bastard" and that he ruined a bunch of people's lives. But his first recruiting class included many of the players that would become fan favorites in for the Razorbacks.
He had his moments with Arkansas, too, where he fully earned his 'BMFP" nickname. Who could forget when he essentially got a reporter fired for wearing a Florida hat in his press conference, the Deadspin article that first alleged an affair he was having with Miss Motorcycle Mania 2008 (who turned out to not be), or most recently, on the verge of possibly landing the Louisville job again, saying the biggest mistake of his career was leaving Louisville. There are many, many more examples.
But whether you choose to remember Petrino for his motorcycle catastrophe, his hotheadedness on the sideline (Exhibit A, Exhibit B), or his gutsy playcalls on 4th and short, you cannot deny how great of a coach he was in his years with Arkansas. He led the Razorbacks to a 21-5 record over his final two seasons, the only BCS appearance in school history, and the school's highest final ranking since 1977 after defeating Kansas State in the Cotton Bowl.
Petrino took Arkansas to heights never seen in the program since joining the SEC, and seemed to be building a national power in Fayetteville until news broke of his affair with Jessica Dorrell whom he'd hired to be Arkansas' student athlete development coordinator, ending his great run with Arkansas.
But enough of the negative. Let's talk about the stuff that made him great at Arkansas. The stuff that made him our choice as the head ball coach of the Arkansas Fight All-BCS Era Razorbacks team.
We'll start with the first season as Head Hog in 2008. Much like Bret Bielema's first season, Petrino was challenged with a tough schedule while trying to figure out personnel. He went 5-7 his first season, winning only two games in SEC play, at #20 Auburn and LSU in the Miracle on Markham II. The win over LSU in Little Rock gave Hog fans a lot of hope going into 2009 with One-Five lurking on the sideline. And Petrino's ballsy decision to put the game in Casey Dick's hands and go for it all on 4th & 1 epitomized his mentality at Arkansas, and really marked his arrival. Here are the MoMII highlights:
2009 was the year of the broken record for Petrino and Ryan Mallett. Mallett passed for a then-school record 3,627 yards and 30 scores in Petrino's high-flying offense that let him fully utilize his "the family arm." Under his wing, Mallett would match or break 16 school records en route to a Liberty Bowl win in year two. Petrino now had his offensive pieces in place, and Arkansas fans knew something special could come in 2010. And he didn't disappoint.
But they weren't satisfied. In 2010, he threw for an astounding 3,869 yards and 32 scores (both still school records), and broke the school's all-time career record for passing scores with 62 in just two seasons. But Mallett wasn't the only Razorback putting up huge numbers in 2010. The emergence of Knile Davis made the Arkansas offense even scarier. The passing game was top notch, but when Arkansas had a solid run game, defenses were putty in Petrino's hands and play-action became more deadly.
After narrowly falling to #1 Alabama and then to Cam Newton at Auburn in 2010, Arkansas went into the Battle for the Golden Boot with a Sugar Bowl appearance on the line. And in typical Petrino fashion, in a way only he could, he dialed up the home run ball on 4th & short against LSU to seize control and give Arkansas its first ever BCS berth:
After the loss* to Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl, Arkansas was dealt a No. 12 ranking to end the 2010 season. But the nation knew Arkansas would be back in 2011.
2011 saw a change in the quarterback position under Petrino, but Arkansas didn't miss a beat. Greenwood native Tyler Wilson would step up and lead Arkansas to yet another historic season. The Razorback offense scored 40+ points six times in 2011, but finished third in the SEC West after road losses to Nick Saban and Les Miles. But despite the loss to Alabama, Arkansas went into the regular season finale with LSU with a possible trip to the national championship on the line. After leading 14-0 early, LSU romped Arkansas, leading Petrino to do this near the end of the game, and basically blow off Miles postgame.
Petrino would lead No. 6 Arkansas to the Cotton Bowl in 2011, defeat No. 9 Kansas State, and finish with just the third 11-win season in school history and a No. 5 final ranking. Arkansas football was back on the map. The Razorbacks were contenders under Petrino. Hog Nation worshipped Petrino (for the most part) for bringing the program back to national prominence ... and then, well, you all know the story.
So really, whether you liked BMFP or not (and that's totally up to you) during his stint at Arkansas, there's no denying what he brought to the university pre-crash. We're not here to discuss the affair and crash; we're here saying Bobby Petrino was the Arkansas coach in the BCS era, and if Arkansas needed to win one game, we'd want him screaming at officials on the sideline.
Say what you want about him as a recruiter. Say what you want about him as an offense-only coach who neglected defensive needs. But he was a motivator (one way or another), a quarterback guru, an offensive wizard. And what Petrino brought to Arkansas from 2008 to January 7, 2012 was special, and nothing short of great, making Bobby Petrino our choice as the Arkansas head coach of the BCS era.
Note from Doc:
Petrino was clearly the best coach, but I do think the argument for Houston Nutt is at least interesting. 10 years to Petrino's four. Two SEC Championship Game appearances (and lost a tiebreaker for a third) to Petrino's zero. The 1998 and 2006 teams were arguably Arkansas' best (we'll talk about that tomorrow). Petrino's winning percentage isn't that much better (67% - 61%, 53.1% - 51.5% in SEC play), and you could argue that there were at least as many defining moments in the Nutt years and the Petrino years.
It's at least an interesting discussion.