The Louisville Cardinals are looking back at its past success on the football field for its next head football coach, as multiple reports are stating that former Cardinals head coach Bobby Petrino will leave Western Kentucky to take a position he previously held from 2003 to 2006.
Petrino’s stint as Hilltoppers head coach was just as short as most expected but did provide some some success; Western Kentucky finished the season with an 8-4 record, its best since joining the Sun Belt Conference in 2009, and did beat the likes of Kentucky and Navy in the process.
Now Petrino makes his way back to Louisville, a program he took to impressive heights before leaving to take over the Atlanta Falcons’ head coaching position. He takes on the task of ushering the Cardinals into the ACC and keeping the team relevant against some very tough competition, a challenge made more difficult thanks to the departures of Teddy Bridgewater and several other key Cardinals players.
Winning is certainly not the question when it comes to Petrino, who holds 83-30 record in nine seasons as college head coach; the concern with hiring the former Arkansas Razorbacks head coach is whether or not he is willing to stay at the program. Petrino, now fifty-two years old, has a bad habit of leaving in the middle of the night for other jobs, which people on Twitter quickly pointed out once the news broke:
It seems strange for Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich to go back to hire the man that basically stabbed him in the back in 2006, but my guess is that Jurich believes that 1) Petrino understands what a great opportunity the Cardinals job is giving him, but more importantly 2) the Arkansas/Jessica Dorrell scandal has left Petrino “unhireable” by most ADs’ standards, making it much less likely that Petrino gets lured away again. Now Jurich’s Cardinals have a proven winner with a limited range of options elsewhere, and although some may hold some hard feelings towards Petrino for the way he did programs wrong in the past, he will most assuredly usher the Cardinals into the ACC with several winning seasons.
Although the focus of many in the media has been Louisville’s addition, it is important to remember that Western Kentucky now has a coaching vacancy for the second straight season. The Hilltoppers and their athletic department knew going in that it was likely that Petrino would not stick around for too long, so it is safe to assume that athletic director Todd Stewart has a list of candidates ready for such an occasion. Here are five coaches that I think Stewart should be contacting very soon:
Mario Cristobal, Alabama OL Coach – The former Miami Hurricanes player and assistant built the Florida International program from nothing and led the Golden Panthers to two straight winning seasons before getting fired after a 3-9 campaign in 2012 (FIU went 1-11 with Ron Turner in 2013). Cristobal is still well-respected in the Sun Belt and by those who have witnessed what he accomplished at Florida International, and although he may not want to leave the Crimson Tide after just one year with the team, he may not want to turn down another shot at running his own team.
Jeff Brohm, Western Kentucky OC – The former Louisville Cardinal player and assistant, Brohm may go back to Louisville with Petrino, under whom he served as an QB coach at UL from 2003 to 2006. However, the forty-two year old may choose to instead replace Petrino, which may happen thanks to the success WKU had the past season (eight wins, 30.8 points per game). Brohm more than likely will have offers from both schools, leaving him with a very big decision to make.
Neal Brown, Kentucky OC – A native of Danville, Kentucky, Brown’s first year as Wildcats offensive coordinator was a bit of a disappointment, but you cannot discount the success he had during his three-year run under Tommy Tuberville at Texas Tech, where the Red Raiders averaged almost 35 points per game and scored fifty points on more on six different occasions. One of the youngest offensive coordinators in football, the thirty-three year old may opt to stay with Mark Stoops and build the Wildcats’ program, but the opportunity to run his own BCS program within the Bluegrass State may be too good to pass up.
Butch Davis, former North Carolina HC – Davis is a big like Petrino was last year, although nowhere near as radioactive. Cleared of any wrongdoing from his four-year run at North Carolina, the former Miami Hurricanes head coach currently holds a 63-43 career record with just two losing seasons in ten seasons. Davis will win with whatever team does its research and reaches out to him, and it is not like the former Arkansas Razorbacks player is against the prospect of coaching in the Sun Belt; the question may be whether or not Western Kentucky wants to hire another veteran or go with a younger candidate.
Romeo Crennel, former Chiefs HC – Crennel appears to be in line to join Bill O’Brien’s staff as the defensive coordinator of the Houston Texans, but it’s always fun to thrown a darkhorse candidate into the mix. The defensive coordinator for the New England Patriots during their three Super Bowl seasons at the turn of the century, Crennel is no stranger to Bowling Green, having played for the Hilltoppers in the late sixties before serving as the defensive line coach with the team from 1970 to 1974. Crennel has not coached at the college level since leaving Georgia Tech for a position with the New York Giants in 1981, but just imagine how well recruiting would go for a head coach with so much success in the NFL.