Petrino takes Falcons' job


Published: Monday, January 8, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 8, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

ATLANTA — Louisville coach Bobby Petrino agreed Sunday to become the new coach of the Atlanta Falcons, moving to the NFL less than a week after Jim Mora's firing.

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The Associated Press

Kenny Klein, the sports information director at Louisville, said Petrino was leaving for Atlanta after guiding the Cardinals to a 12-1 season, capped by a 24-13 victory over Wake Forest on Tuesday night in the Orange Bowl.

Petrino met with his Louisville players Sunday night to let them know he was going to Atlanta. The Falcons planned a formal announcement today.

Petrino had a 41-9 record in four years at Louisville, leading the school to the Big East title and its first Bowl Championship Series victory in the Orange. He had just completed the first year of a 10-year, $25 million contract.

The Falcons moved quickly to replace Mora, who was fired just two years after leading Atlanta to the NFC championship game. The Falcons missed the playoffs the past two years, going 7-9 this season.

Petrino's previous NFL experience includes three years with the Jacksonville Jaguars, including two seasons as quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator in 2001. He then moved back to the college ranks, taking over as Auburn's offensive coordinator in 2002 before heading to Louisville.

"Nobody thought this would happen, but nobody's complaining about it," Cardinals defensive lineman Earl Heyman said. "You can't fault him considering what he's done for this program."

Petrino led the Cardinals to the Conference USA title in 2004, their final year in that league. Louisville claimed its first BCS appearance this season by winning the Big East.

Petrino's name repeatedly came up for other coaching vacancies, including an embarrassing episode in which Auburn set up a clandestine interview while Tommy Tuberville was still the Tigers' coach.

Louisville twice renegotiated Petrino's contract, giving him hefty raises in hopes of keeping him.

The Falcons spent the past several days interviewing NFL assistants, including Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Ron Rivera, San Diego Chargers offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and San Francisco 49ers assistant head coach Mike Singletary.

But owner Arthur Blank, who was aided in the search by general manager Rich McKay, decided to go with an established head coach instead of following the same course he did in 2004.

Mora was the 49ers' defensive coordinator when he was hired by the Falcons, and he got off to a rousing start. Atlanta won the NFC South and came up one win short of the Super Bowl, losing at Philadelphia for the conference title.

After a 6-2 start the following year, the Falcons lost six of their last eight games to miss the playoffs and keep alive the franchise's streak of never having two straight winning seasons.

Atlanta followed a similar path this year, starting out 5-2 before losing seven of nine — including its last four home games.

That didn't go over well with Blank, who has spent lavishly to build a perennial playoff contender. The hands-on owner also was bothered by several off-the-field incidents, most notably a radio interview late this season in which Mora said his dream job was to coach at the University of Washington, his alma mater.

Mora said he was only kidding, but had to apologize after being summoned to Blank's office.

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