Wally Hall is the managing sports editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Arkansas-Little Rock after an honorable discharge from the U.S. Air Force, he is a member and past president of the Football Writers Association of America, member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, past president and current executive committee and board member of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, and voter for the Heisman Trophy. He has been awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year 10 times and has been inducted into the Arkansas Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame.
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Petrino accomplishes mission at luncheon
Former Arkansas football coach Bobby Petrino (left) and Little Rock Touchdown Club founder David Bazzel laugh during Petrino's speech to the club on Monday, Sept. 9, 2019, in Little Rock.
Bobby Petrino was on a mission.
That’s why he refused any compensation from the Little Rock Touchdown Club for Monday’s appearance as the luncheon featured speaker.
He had something heavy on his mind and in his heart, and he wanted the fans of the University of Arkansas to hear it from his lips.
“I wanted to apologize for the way it ended,” he said, tears gathering in the corner of his eyes. “You are what makes the UA special. You have no idea what a special group you are.”
Without pause, the more than 600 in attendance jumped to their feet to give their former head coach his second of three standing ovations.
Many needed to hear those words from Petrino, but also from someone who was connected to the UA, which under Jeff Long’s reign seemed to not really care about the type of folks who don’t write big checks.
Everyone in the room knew Petrino could be emotional, but it never was about tears and an emotional choke in his voice.
His sideline tactics are legendary, but also tolerable as he led the Razorbacks to back-to-back seasons that hadn’t been seen in many seasons. As it turned out, not again for a long time.
Under Petrino, the 2010 Razorbacks went 10-3, including a loss to Ohio State in their only BCS bowl appearance. In 2011, they were 11-2 and finished No. 5 in the nation.
Months later, Petrino made a personal mistake and was fired.
He wasn’t allowed to tell his players goodbye, so he texted them.
Petrino ended up at Western Kentucky for a year, then returned to Louisville, where he produced a 41-9 record in his first four seasons as a head coach.
He coached Lamar Jackson to the Heisman Trophy in 2016, but last season he was 2-8 when he was terminated with an agreement to pay the remaining $14.1 million on his contract.
Today he lives in Orlando, Fla., with his wife and is writing a book on offense, investing in some new gyms in Colorado and plays golf with his daughter regularly.
As he sat in front of the crowd Monday, he recalled key plays — some were on video — and every single time he gave credit to the players for making the play work.
The only real time he talked about his play-calling was when he called for Ryan Mallett to run. He said he had to tell Mallett twice that, yes, he was supposed to run the ball.
He assured the crowd that Arkansas football would be back. He explained they are young, and what you have to do is keep them together and make them better every year.
“That’s what I did,” he said. “Every program but Alabama has had some ups and downs.”
After 35 minutes of hitting home runs in his interview with David Bazzel, Petrino was asked about his future. The 58-year-old said simply: “Football was a way of life for me.”
Within in the past year, it seems Petrino has realized there are more important things than coaching. There are family and friends, and football is more than just a game.
He spoke proudly of the accomplishments of his former players away from the game.
Still, he said he was in the best shape of his life and that Saturdays are hard. That’s the same thing Bob Stoops said when he spoke to the LRTDC.
The Saturdays are what get to former coaches.
On some level, somewhere, Bobby Petrino will coach again.
There’s too much money at stake for winning programs, and the man has a 119-56 record as a head coach. In his 14 seasons, he led 11 teams to bowl games.
On Monday, he was about much more than a game. He was about the people, and he bragged on them and then apologized for the way it ended.
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