How much should Kentucky value winning as it searches for a new football coach?
What if he had 11-win seasons at two different schools? Even better, what if he has already made it clear he has an interest in the Kentucky job, even though the Wildcats have not won a Southeastern Conference title since 1977 or have just a 1-9 record this year?
Obviously, that coach is Bobby Petrino, the former coach at Louisville and Arkansas. Petrino’s father told Adam Himmelsbach of CourierJournal.com in Louisville that his son wants a job after being fired at Arkansas in the spring for not disclosing an “inappropriate relationship” with a 25-year-old female employee that he hired, gave money to and with whom he was involved in a motorcycle accident that he did not immediately disclose.
Still, many Kentucky fans upset with the way Joker Phillips’ team has played the last three years have made it clear they would like to see athletics director Mitch Barnhart reach out to Petrino, even if sources close to Barnhart have indicated that’s not going to happen.
“I just know this, that he’s interested in Kentucky,” Bob Petrino Sr. told Himmelsbach. “He wants to stay in the SEC. That was his life’s goal —to go to the SEC.”
Petrino would come with plenty of baggage.
He took over as head coach at Louisville in 2003, but he secretly interviewed with Auburn late in the 2003 season, even though Tommy Tuberville was still the coach. He won 11 games in 2004 and 12 in 2006 and singed a 10-year, $25-million contract in July 2006. Six months later he left the Cardinals to become head coach of the Atlanta Falcons.
Of course, that turned ugly, too, and with three games left in the season he abandoned the Falcons without telling his players and took over as coach at Arkansas. The Razorbacks went 10-2 in 2010 and lost to Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl. Arkansas won the 2012 Cotton Bowl and went 11-2, with losses only to Alabama and LSU.
This year Arkansas was expected to have a top-10 team that has bottomed out under interim coach John L. Smith — of course, the Razorbacks did beat Kentucky 49-7 in a storm-shortened game — without Petrino.
Several other SEC schools could have coaching vacancies — Tennessee, Auburn and Arkansas are good possibilities. Obviously, Arkansas is not going to contact Petrino. But Auburn could. So could Tennessee. And Petrino certainly would have as much, if not more, interest in those jobs than the one at Kentucky, because both teams traditionally win more, pay the coach more and put more resources into football.
Will Kentucky make a move on Petrino? Probably not. I just don’t see Barnhart doing that.
Should Kentucky make a move on Petrino? Maybe. It depends on how much the UK administration wants to win more than anything else.
So what will happen? My guess is nothing with Petrino, as Barnhart looks for other coaches he thinks can win and have the “integrity” Barnhart values. But if the Kentucky administration doesn’t want to make a stronger overall commitment to football, will it really matter whether the coach is Petrino, a rising star like Sonny Dykes, a moderately successful coach like Duke’s David Cutcliffe or perhaps a rising college or NFL coordinator?
But remember, this is not a guaranteed home run for Kentucky. Money alone won’t buy a big-name coach who values winning unless other changes are made to the Kentucky football culture, and that could be more difficult to do than having UK even take a run at Petrino.