John Clay

Red or Blue, this state has enemy in Petrino

True, Howard Schnellenberger was not-so-humble Howard. The smoke he blew did not always come from his signature pipe.

But as Louisville football coaches go, Kentucky fans saw Schnellenberger as a UK alumnus, a former All-American. It was hard to work up too much hate.

Howard's successor, Ron Cooper, was something of a non-factor. The time his crazy train spent in the Louisville station was more a whistle-stop. John L. Smith was another wild and crazy Cardinals coach, a rootin'-tootin' boot-kicker who, truth be told, UK fans thought fun to beat, just because you knew it got under his sun-tanned skin.

But Bobby Petrino, now there was a Louisville football coach UK football fans could sink their hatred into.

And though fans often lean to the irrational when it comes to the leaders of intense archrivals, this time even Louisville fans would agree that the UK faithful have a point.

Saturday, Petrino returns to a state where he is now generally despised on both sides of the aisle.

He returns in a different shade of red. Petrino brings his Arkansas Razorbacks to Commonwealth Stadium to see whether he can run his record to 5-0 against UK Coach Rich Brooks.

And Razorbacks fans were surely heartened by their team's 25-22 upset of host Auburn on Saturday, and Petrino's deserved reputation as a savant on the offensive side of the football.

Ah, but they don't know Bobby the way the commonwealth knows Bobby.

This is the same Petrino who, as Louisville coach, poured it on the Cats in 2003, using a timeout to run up the score by tallying an unnecessary touchdown at game's end for a 40-24 Louisville win over Brooks and Co.

This is the same Petrino who, after a 28-0 Louisville win the following year, answered critical UK fans by taking a knee, then adding in the post-game press conference, "We gave them what they wanted."

This is the same Petrino who thanked U of L Athletics Director Tom Jurich for giving him his first head coaching job by meeting secretly with Auburn officials about replacing their head coach, Tommy Tuberville, who (a) was still the Auburn head coach, and (b) was once Petrino's boss on the Plains.

This is the same Petrino who, five days after signing a new contract with U of L — and saying he planned to have "all four of my children graduate high school in Louisville" — interviewed with Louisiana State.

This is the same Petrino who, on July 13, 2006, inked a 10-year, $25 million deal with Louisville, claiming he wanted to "make a statement" that people would understand, "this is where I want to be, where my family wants to be."

At the end of 2006 season, of course, Petrino was off to Atlanta to be the head coach of the Falcons. Thirteen games into his first season, without Michael Vick or a conscience, Petrino thanked owner Arthur Blank by bolting the franchise to become the head coach at Arkansas.

Former Falcon Grady Jackson told the Associated Press, "For him to quit like that, it just shows his true color, like a coward with a yellow stripe down his back."

This is not to say the "coward" lacks coaching skills. Brooks himself complimented Petrino's acumen on Monday, describing his passing game "as extremely well-designed."

And maybe Bobby P. has matured. Maybe he's no longer the guy looking over his date's shoulder to see whether something better has walked into the room.

Maybe he'll stay a Razorback for years, win games and championships and never flirt with another opening. All the things he promised to do at Louisville.

And maybe all this could be excused as rehashing past sins, if those past sins weren't so worthy of rehashing.

You see, when Petrino returns Saturday, he brings some history with him — not much of it good. That's the one point on which Cats and Cards fan can easily agree. To both, he is Louisville's least favorite football coach.