Mark Story: Where UK and Mark Stoops may have an edge on UofL and Bobby Petrino in 2014

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistJanuary 11, 2014 

In his drive to become the new Louisville football coach, the old Louisville football coach, Bobby Petrino, had this in his favor: Over the course of his career, Petrino has pretty much owned U of L archrival Kentucky.

Petrino's overall mark against the Wildcats is 5-1 — 4-0 while at Louisville, 0-1 at Arkansas, 1-0 at Western Kentucky University.

All four of Petrino's victories against UK when he was at Louisville during his first stint (2003-06) as Cardinals head man came in season openers.

So did Petrino's victory over the Wildcats for Western Kentucky this past season, a result of course that spoiled the coaching debut of new UK head man Mark Stoops.

In seasons in which he has known he was facing Kentucky as the opener, Petrino has been reputed to spend his summers devising a game plan to attack UK. Since he is one of the keenest offensive strategists at any level of football, the results have not tended to be pretty for the Cats.

Interestingly, the one time in his coaching history Petrino had to play Kentucky in the middle of the season, he lost. In 2008, UK rallied to beat Arkansas 21-20 in Commonwealth Stadium in the seventh game of the year for both clubs.

From the Kentucky perspective, it's probably a good thing that UK's meeting with U of L in 2014 in Papa John's Cardinal Stadium will be the season finale (Nov. 29) for both teams.

In fact, the 2014 schedules for the Cats and the Cards set up in a way that should work to Kentucky's favor in the Louisville game. After playing at Tennessee Nov. 15, the Wildcats will be off on Nov. 22.

U of L will not only be playing the Saturday before it faces UK, the Cardinals will be in South Bend, Ind., to face Notre Dame for the first time in school history.

Given the historical import of Notre Dame football and the large Roman Catholic community in Jefferson County, the U of L-Notre Dame meeting should be a major event in Louisville.

The Cardinals are likely to expend a lot of emotional energy against the Fighting Irish.

That could work to UK's favor the following week. Can you go home again?

Petrino's first words at Thursday's news conference were "it's great to be back home."

From 2003-06, Petrino went 41-9 as U of L head man before leaving to become head man of the Atlanta Falcons. His return to The Ville creates a rare but hardly unprecedented college football dynamic — a head coach serving non-consecutive terms at the same school.

As you'll see below, some very big name coaches of the not-too-distant past have tried to return late in their careers to the jobs where they had their greatest prior college success and not been able to replicate it.

The good news for Louisville backers is that there is one current coach who has done what Petrino will try to do at U of L and thrived.

A look at some prominent coaches who tried to prove you can go home again (in this case, we are looking at coaches who, like Petrino, left a school for a different job then returned later in their careers; we are not looking at coaches who retired, then came back like Kansas State's Bill Snyder or Nevada's Chris Ault):

Coach: Bill Walsh

School: Stanford

First run: 1977-78.

In two seasons, Walsh went 17-7 and led Stanford to two bowl wins. That success earned him the head coaching job with the San Francisco 49ers.

The second run: After having won three Super Bowls and stepping down as 49ers head man after the 1988 season, Walsh got the coaching itch back in 1992 and returned as Stanford head man. In his first year, Walsh went 10-3 and led Stanford to a Bluebonnet Bowl win. The next two seasons, however, produced 4-7 and 3-7-1. One day before his 63rd birthday, Walsh resigned.

Coach: Johnny Majors

School: Pittsburgh

First run: Went a gaudy 33-13-1 from 1973 through '76, and led the Panthers of Tony Dorsett and Matt Cavanaugh to an undefeated national championship season in 1976. That earned Majors the head coaching job at his alma mater, Tennessee.

The second run: After an acrimonious departure at Tennessee (where he went 116-62-8 before being ousted in favor of one of his assistants, Phillip Fulmer) in 1992, Majors returned in '93 to Pitt. It was a disaster. In four seasons, the Panthers went 12-32.

Coach: John Robinson

School: Southern California

First run: From 1976-82, Robinson and USC went 67-14-2, won three Rose Bowls and shared the 1978 national championship. Robinson's immense success allowed him to exit for the NFL as head man of the Los Angeles Rams.

The second run: After a solid nine-year run with the Rams (75-68, six playoff appearances) went stale at the end, Robinson came back to USC in 1993. Over five seasons (1993-97) of his second go with the Trojans, Robinson did OK at best. He won the Rose Bowl after the 1995 season, but went 6-6 and 6-5-1 in his last two seasons. He was "only" 37-21-2 for his second stint.

Coach: Mike Riley

School: Oregon State

First run: In 1997 and '98, Riley went 8-14 in two seasons as head man at OSU, yet was still tabbed to coach the NFL's San Diego Chargers.

The second run: After going 14-34 in three years leading the Chargers, Riley eventually returned to Oregon State in 2003 to replace the coach (Dennis Erickson) who had succeeded him. Riley is still there. In what is historically one of the more challenging coaching jobs in the Pac-12, he has produced eight winnings seasons in 11 years during his second go-round as a Beaver.

If you are a Louisville backer, your hope is Petrino is about to embark on the life of Riley.

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230. Email: mstory@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @markcstory. Blog: markstory.bloginky.com.

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