When he was introduced as Western Kentucky's head coach 13 months ago, Bobby Petrino said he was going home. Turns out he wasn't being specific enough. Now, returning for his second stint as Louisville's head coach, he says he's really home.
For what it's worth, Petrino did his best to appear a changed man on Thursday - or at least impersonate one. But ultimately it doesn't matter whether you or I believe he's actually changed or if he's still the coach that left Louisville (the first time), the Atlanta Falcons and Arkansas with ten miles of anger in his wake - and Petrino knows it. There's nothing he could have said from behind a podium that would convince any doubter. "I think the number one thing you have to do is show you," Petrino said. "I have a sign in our locker room that says, 'It's a show me word.' I have to show it."
Petrino had to convince Tom Jurich and his wife, Terilynn. "She's an equal parter with me in this," Jurich said. The convincing started with a nine-hour plus meeting on Wednesday that amounted to a professional colonoscopy for Petrino. "He looked me in the eyes and said 'I was really, really mad at you. I looked at what we built together and I was really hurt and upset that you left,'" Petrino said. "I understood."
"I told him I didn't like him, didn't like the way he treated people. If I was him, I might have left after the first 30 minutes," Jurich said. "I had to be proven further than a shadow of a doubt."
Crossing that shadow meant the Juriches, Tom and Terrilynn, had to go to the source on Bobby Petrino 2.0 - his wife, Becky. "Who would know him better? It's hard to fool your wife," said Jurich.
Becky said their marriage had never been better. Her husband was focused on the things he needed to focus on.
"I wanted to be convinced," Jurich said. "I was convinced."
For now, Louisville fans and the nation at large will have to take Jurich's word for it. If there's one athletics director with the hand to sell this hire, it's him. "You've got to trust me," he said. "I'm the only one that had the opportunity to sit in a room with him. I love this school, if I didn't would have left. And I would never do anything to put this school in harm's way. This is the right place at the right time for Bobby Petrino."
As for the actual on-the-field football aspect of hiring football coach Bobby Petrino, as opposed to husband Bobby Petrino or employee Bobby Petrino, Jurich says this was the safest play he could have made in finding a replacement for Charlie Strong. And he's probably right.
Petrino is 83-30 in nine seasons as a college head coach. He's had but one season of less than nine wins. He appeared in two BCS games at two schools where BCS appearances are not birthrights. There's no practical reason Louisville shouldn't be instantly competitive in the ACC.
"I really don't see it as a chance," Jurich said. "I think it's the most logical hire I could make."
Outside of the world of podiums, microphones and cameras, pieces are already falling in place for Petrino's staff. Garrick McGee will leave UAB to reclaim his role as Petrino's offensive coordinator. Chris Klenakis is leaving Iowa State to coach Louisville's offensive line. Kevin Steele is getting major run in the media for defensive coordinator, and Clint Hurtt will stay on as defensive line coach. This isn't a rebuilding job in the slightest.
In addition to those new hires, Petrino says Louisville is getting a new-and-improved Bobby Petrino.
"I coach the person as much or more than I ever have, not the player," he said.
Petrino also said the Louisville-to-Atlanta-to-Fayetteville-to-Bowling Green-to-Louisville twisted circle of broken glass he traveled has made him more understanding of other people's failings and more joyous in their successes. "I think one of the benefits of going through what I went through is that I have a greater understanding for young men. They're going to make mistakes," he said. "I've realized the greatest reward isn't necessarily the winning, it's helping young men excel and achieve, help them in life after football."
Now that he's home again, he swears - and that 7-year contract with a $10 million buyout will ensure this is his home - Petrino will get to work recruiting new players and old fans he lost eight years ago.
"We'll get the fans back," Petrino said.
Redemption starts one win at a time.