Hilltoppers give Petrino shot

Ousted Hogs coach tries to revive career in Sun Belt

Published: Tuesday, December 11, 2012
New Western Kentucky head coach Bobby Petrino, left, holds up a jersey with athletic director Todd Stewart during an NCAA college football news conference, Monday, Dec. 10, 2012, in Bowling Green, Ky. The 51-year-old was fired by Arkansas in April for a "pattern of misleading" behavior following an accident in which the coach was injured while riding a motorcycle with his mistress as a passenger but now wants to make the most of his second chance. (AP Photo/The Daily News, Joe Imel)
Photo by The Associated Press
New Western Kentucky head coach Bobby Petrino, left, holds up a jersey with athletic director Todd Stewart during an NCAA college football news conference, Monday, Dec. 10, 2012, in Bowling Green, Ky. The 51-year-old was fired by Arkansas in April for a "pattern of misleading" behavior following an accident in which the coach was injured while riding a motorcycle with his mistress as a passenger but now wants to make the most of his second chance. (AP Photo/The Daily News, Joe Imel)

— Former Arkansas Coach Bobby Petrino accepted a Sun Belt Conference job Monday, but not at Arkansas State, where weekend rumors had him landing.

Petrino’s second chance comes five hours and 300 miles east of Jonesboro.

Eight months after his ouster from Fayetteville, Petrino was introduced as Western Kentucky’s new football coach, replacing former Western Kentucky Coach Willie Taggart a mere two days after he left for South Florida.

Petrino, introduced to a packed room at Houchens-Smith Stadium in Bowling Green, Ky., said accepting the job, which will pay him $850,000 annually as part of a four-year deal, was about “getting back and coaching players.”

“It just happened to open up at a place we love,” said Petrino, who went 34-17 at Arkansas and is 75-26 overall. “I hope it can be as long as possible.”

Petrino’s return to coaching is the first step in a bid to rehab his image after an affair with a former UA volleyball player, whom he later hired as an assistant on the Razorbacks’ staff and gave $20,000 as a gift, was exposed after an Arkansas State Police report showed the woman was aboard the coach’s motorcycle when it crashed in an April accident.

Western Kentucky Athletic Director Todd Stewart said in discussions with Petrino that the coach “was very candid in ways he didn’t have to be” in addressing any potential concerns stemming from a scandal that led to Petrino being fired with cause.

“There were questions, obviously, that I wanted to ask,” Stewart said. “He volunteered information before I even asked certain questions, and we talked about it and I talked to other people about it.”

And Petrino said he spent the break in his career “trying to make things right in his family.”

Asked how his past might impact recruiting efforts at Western Kentucky, he said experiencing tumult at Arkansas “will help me relate to players about making mistakes and getting a second chance.”

“I’m going to be able to sit down with Mom and Dad and the student-athlete and make them understand how this experience has made me a better coach, a better person and will make me understand their son better,” Petrino said.

Petrino’s hiring ends a month during which his name was mentioned in searches at SEC programs such as Kentucky, where the coach’s father said he was highly interested, to Auburn - a school where he spent 2002 as offensive coordinator under former Coach Tommy Tuberville.

There was ample speculation over Friday and Saturday that Petrino would revive his career in the northeast corner of Arkansas at ASU, which is scouring the coaching ranks for a replacement after Coach Gus Malzahn left for Auburn.

The parties engaged in talks over the weekend, but no formal interview took place and no deal was struck, but it spurred plenty of chatter about the implications of Petrino returning to the sidelines in a state where his firing fractured part of the Arkansas fan base.

There’s also the looming question of how long Petrino would remain at a more modest program and whether he’d accept an ample buyout as part of any contract.

At Western Kentucky, Petrino would owe $1.2 million if he left for another job at any time during the span of the current four-year agreement, with those payments coming monthly over the first six months of any departure.

Petrino sidestepped a question about his long-term plans for remaining at Western Kentucky.

“You never know what the future holds,” Petrino said. “We hope to be here as long as possible.”

Meanwhile, Stewart said during his news conference that Western Kentucky had targeted Petrino in October, figuring Taggart might leave after his third season at Western Kentucky, in which the Hilltoppers went 7-5 and were invited to the Little Ceasar’s Bowl against Central Michigan.

Any recent contact Petrino had with ASU seemingly occurred simultaneously with Western Kentucky, with Stewart saying Petrino made contact via text message. And Stewart said it took little time to decide Petrino, 51, was his top choice.

“When you can get No. 1, you do everything to get No. 1,” Stewart said.

Hiring Petrino brings notoriety to a program that is wrapping up its fourth season as a member of the Football Bowl Subdivision and is still building a fan base. Western Kentucky ranked No. 104 out of 120 FBS schools with an average attendance of 17,415 in six games at Houchens-Smith Stadium, which has a seating capacity of 22,113.

“I don’t think it was lacking,” Stewart said of the attendance. “The last half of the season, we weren’t able to sustain it, and that goes with winning and losing.”

Stewart dismissed any suggestion that the decision to hire Petrino was a “gimmick.”

“Are you kidding me?” Stewart said. “He’s been to a bowl game seven of the last eight years. That’s not a gimmick. That’s a high level of success. That’s why we hired him.” Information for this article was contributed by Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reporters Matthew Harris and Tom Murphy.

COLORADO MacIntyre hired

BOULDER, Colo. - Mike MacIntyre turned around the San Jose State football program in short order and will be asked to do the same at Colorado.

On Monday, MacIntyre signed a five-year deal to coach the Buffaloes. He will make $2 million a season.

His hiring ends a two-week search by Colorado that included a rejection by its first choice, Butch Jones, who instead became Tennessee’s head coach.

MacIntyre inherits a program that’s had seven consecutive losing seasons, including a 1-11 record this year under Jon Embree that was the worst in the 123-year history of the program.

Before meeting with reporters Monday, MacIntyre had a chance to chat with his new team, leaving his players with this thought: He’s turned around one downtrodden program and can do the same in Boulder.

“I think he won a lot of guys over in his confidence, with what he did at San Jose State and what he can do now,” quarterback Connor Wood said. “He said we have a lot of talent here and can do the exact same thing. We believe it.”

The Spartans (10-2) are ranked No. 25 in the BCS and are heading to the Dec. 27 Military Bowl in Washington, D.C.. to face Bowling Green (8-4), two years after a 1-12 showing in McIntyre’s first season.This is the first 10-victory season in a quarter century for the Spartans, who are ranked 24th in both the Associated Press and coaches’ polls.

MacIntyre, the son of former Vanderbilt coach George MacIntyre, is 16-21 in his three years as a head coach at San Jose State after serving as Duke’s defensive coordinator and working as a secondary coach for the Dallas Cowboys and New York Jets.

The 47-year-old MacIntyre took over a Spartans program still reeling from limited scholarships following academic penalties by the NCAA stemming from problems before previous coach Dick Tomey arrived. After the 1-12 season featuring a heavy schedule of ranked teams, the Spartans went 5-7 in MacIntyre’s second season.

“We want to thank Mike [ MacIntyre] for the tremendous job that he did. He turned the program around and did it the right way with character kids and by stressing academics. Mike provided us with a nice model moving forward for our next head coach to follow,” San Jose State Athletic Director Gene Bleymaier said.

TEXAS TECH Thomsen interim coach

LUBBOCK, Texas - Texas Tech said offensive line coach Chris Thomsen will serve as interim coach of the Red Raiders for their bowl game this month against Minnesota.

Thomsen got the nod Monday, two days after Tommy Tuberville left to take the head coaching position at Cincinnati. Also on Monday, Neal Brown, the team’s offensive coordinator the past three years, resigned to take the same job at Kentucky.

The Red Raiders play Minnesota in the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Houston on Dec. 28.

Thomsen was 51-21 in seven seasons at Abilene Christian and led the Wildcats to the NCAA Division II playoffs six consecutive seasons. He arrived at Texas Tech in February.

TEXAS-EL PASO Kugler takes reins

EL PASO, Texas - Texas-El Paso hired Sean Kugler as its new coach Monday, bringing in a former Miners’ player and coach to replace the retired Mike Price.

Kugler spent almost three years as the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive line coach, following stints with the Buffalo Bills and Detroit Lions. He also worked at Boise State. He played for current UTEP Athletic Director Bob Stull, graduating in 1988, and later coached at the school for eight seasons.

“I spent 13 years as a player and coach at UTEP and loved every minute of it,” Kugler said in a statement. “I’m excited about starting a new chapter in my coaching career at a place that has so many fond memories.”

Kugler was on UTEP’s staff from 1993 to 2000.

UTEP says a salary is still being negotiated. The 46-year-old Kugler is a native of Freeport, N.Y., and has three children. His oldest son, Robert, is a lineman at Purdue.

Kugler follows Price, best known in coaching for reaching the Rose Bowl twice at Washington State but losing the job at Alabama after a drinking binge. Price retired Nov. 19 after nine years at UTEP, which he led to 8-4 records and bowl games in his first two years before failing to achieve a winning record since.

For the record

Bobby Petrino


COLLEGE Carroll College (1983) FAMILY Wife: Becky; Daughters: Kelsey and Katie; Sons: Nick and Bobby RECORD 75-26 overall (74.2 percent in eight seasons as a college football coach);

41-9 (13-3 Conf. USA; 11-3 Big East) at Louisville; 34-17 (7-15 SEC) at Arkansas IN THE NFL 2007 Atlanta Falcons (3-10 as head coach); 2001 Jacksonville Jaguars (offensive coordinator); 1999-2000 Jacksonville Jaguars (quarterbacks coach)

Sports, Pages 17 on 12/11/2012