--By Mike Gilpatrick
--Photo by Jared Anderson
It’s official. The Bobby Petrino era has concluded. Louisville Cardinals athletic director Vince Tyra announced the firing of the two-time football on Sunday morning.
But while Petrino’s tenure ended at a low point; the question needs to be asked: How will Petrino’s career be remembered?
Before this season, the team never finished under .500 with Petrino at the helm. The Cardinals had their first Heisman award winner under Petrino. The Louisville coach also led them to some of their best rankings. On the other hand, Louisville went 1-13 vs. Top-25 opponents during his second stint; and never made it to a New Year’s Six bowl or better.
Here’s a short history lesson.
Petrino got his start at Louisville; taking over in 2003; after John L. Smith left the program to coach Michigan State. The team disappointed in 2002, beginning with a 22-17 loss to Kentucky. The Cardinals, which were No. 17 in the preseason rankings; only managed to win seven games, and lost three of their last five.
Then, in 2003, Petrino and the Cardinals opened the season 4-0, and finished 9-4. The Cardinals went 11-1 in 2004, won the Liberty Bowl, and were ranked sixth in the final AP poll.
Petrino’s best season was 2006. The Cardinals had a change at playing in a National Championship, but lost to Rutgers by a field goal late in the season. Louisville finished 12-1, after winning both the Big East and Orange Bowl against No. 15 Wake Forest. The 2006 Cardinals finished fifth in the AP poll.
Louisville went 41-9 in Petrino’s first stint, when Petrino left for a brief stint in the NFL.
The program dipped significantly under Steve Kragthorpe. It was revived by Charlie Strong.
After spending less than a season in the NFL, Petrino coached at Arkansas, and Western Kentucky; before returning to Louisville, just as the Cardinals joined the ACC. His hire was risky; partially due to a scandal involving an affair with an assistant half his age that happened while he coached Arkansas.
From 2014-2017, Louisville finished every season with at least eight wins. 2018 is the only year Louisville finished with a sub-.500 record. But during that time, Louisville went through three defensive coordinators, each worse than the previous.
Their best season, 2016, included Louisville’s first and only victory against a top-25 opponent (Florida State), and Heisman-award winner (Lamar Jackson). The Cardinals were on track to make their first college football playoff appearance, but lost to unranked Houston; while ranked third, and then lost to Kentucky. In a span of three weeks, the Cardinals went from being a playoff contender, to an Orange Bowl participant, to coming up short, and settling for the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl.
Louisville dropped to 8-5 in 2017; and an abysmal 2-8 this season. The worst part was what it could have done to the future: 20 players requested transfer paperwork; with some already transferring out, and Petrino lost an unacceptable number of commitments.
Time will tell how much damage had been done. While 2018 was Petrino’s first truly awful season; his second stint may go down as mediocre, at best.
But for his entire Louisville career, Petrino should be remembered as a coach that gave Louisville both extremes. The Cardinals did win the 2006 Orange Bowl, two conference championships, and had their highest program ranking. Petrino also gave Louisville one of their worst seasons, and a lackluster-looking future.
Whatever happens, fans will need to decide how Bobby Petrino will be remembered overall.