I covered Arthur Blank and the Atlanta Falcons as editor of a local business magazine back in 2007 and 2008. I had profiled Rich McKay before the opening of the ’07 season, after the Atlanta Falcons had hired Bobby Petrino from the Louisville Cardinals to bring out the best in Michael Vick.
Then, after the whole Bad Newz Kennels experience sent Vick to jail and Petrino bolting late in the season for the Arkansas Razorbacks, I interviewed a host of local sports and marketing executives. All of them agreed that no other professional franchise, in any sport or at any level, had encountered what the Atlanta Falcons were then experiencing.
Now, ESPN is reporting that Petrino is set to return to the scene of his greatest coaching triumph. He is reportedly set to be introduced as the Cardinals’ new coach on Thursday.
To put Petrino’s saga in perspective: He is hailed as a coaching and offensive genius at Louisville, where he goes 41-9, bringing him to the Falcons’ attention. By then, Blank had already gone through two head coaches: Dan Reeves (who drafted Vick in the first place) and Jim Mora, who would prove himself to be too immature to coach an NFL team.
In comes Petrino. But then out goes Vick to the slammer, and then down the drain goes the Falcons’ season. I can’t blame Petrino for wanting to leave the Falcons at that point; after all, a team without Vick isn’t what he signed up for. But I can blame him for the way he left town; after a Monday Night Loss to the New Orleans Saints and leaving a note on his players’ lockers.
So Petrino then goes 34-17 with the Razorbacks, but seemingly loses his career forever when he crashes a motorcycle with his mistress on board, and then tries to cover the whole thing up.
Not to worry, however. After a few months of public rehabilitation, the Hilltoppers of Western Kentucky bring Petrino on board, where he goes 8-4 in his one and only season. One of those wins came over the GSU Panthers at the Georgia Dome, the first time Petrino had returned to the scene of his only NFL inglorious escapade.
Now, Petrino’s rehabilitated public image is seemingly complete, and it only took a few short years.
But for someone who witnessed the entire spectacle both as a journalist and a fan, it all seems completely unreal.