Petrino hiring follows weekend courtship


Arthur Blank, left, owner of the Atlanta Falcons and new Falcons coach Bobby Petrino, right, field questions during a news conference announcing Petrino as football coach at the Falcons complex in Flowery Branch, Ga., Monday, Jan. 8, 2007.

The Associated Press
Published: Tuesday, January 9, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 9, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — The marriage between the Falcons and new head coach Bobby Petrino came after a whirlwind courtship over the weekend, according to owner Arthur Blank and general manager Rich McKay.

"It did come together quickly," Blank said after Monday's news conference announcing Petrino's hiring. "Once we identified that he had an interest and we did the other interviews and spent time with him, it was pretty clear in our minds he was going to be our first choice."

Blank, McKay and Petrino, head coach at the University of Louisville the past four seasons, declined to disclose the timeline of events leading to his hiring. The new coach accepted an offer Sunday evening though it wasn't until the previous day, Saturday, when Blank said the Falcons "identified Petrino had an interest" and McKay said he first contacted Louisville.

Blank and McKay said their two-day process, which ended with Petrino agreeing to a five-year, $24 million contract, was completely above board.

McKay insisted there was no direct or indirect contact made by the Falcons or Petrino before former coach Jim Mora was terminated last Monday or Louisville's Orange Bowl victory over Wake Forest last Tuesday.

"No, absolutely not," McKay said about contact with Petrino before last weekend. "That's not appropriate. You can't do that. With the pro coaches it's different. They're known candidates. You spend time with it and there's a process. With college coaches, it's incumbent on teams to do all of your research, know if you're willing to hire somebody and then you pursue it from there."

"You set up a lot of interviews that you do face-to-face and that you read about or hear about. Then you do other ones that you do offline or by phone."

Petrino, who was embroiled in controversy over the past two seasons for entertaining job possibilities at Auburn, LSU and with the Oakland Raiders, said he didn't pursue any of the NFL's five head coaching vacancies.

He signed a 10-year, $25.5 million contract extension with Louisville last summer.

"I did not go out and seek any other jobs," Petrino said. "This just came up."

McKay said he contacted Louisville athletics director Tom Zurich on Saturday to seek permission to speak to Petrino. Blank said there was a face-to-face interview with Petrino but he declined to specify when or where.

"We spent time together," Blank said. "The answer is there is a process and there is a protocol and we went through it properly."

Blank and McKay interviewed Steelers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt in Atlanta on Thursday. They were in Chicago on Friday to interview Bears defensive coordinator Ron Rivera and San Francisco 49ers assistant head coach Mike Singletary. McKay and Blank flew to San Diego in Blank's private jet Saturday to interview Chargers offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.

Petrino agreed to contract terms Sunday and notified Louisville officials and his players that evening that he was leaving.

"It was certainly a tough decision to leave in one aspect because of the relationships that you make with the players and the relationships you make with the fans, but in the other aspect, when you saw the opportunity here and the ability here to reach that ultimate goal of being a Super Bowl champion, it was not a hard decision," Petrino said.

The fact that Petrino was a head coach gave him an edge over the NFL assistants who were interviewed, Blank said. None had been a head coach at any level. Being a head coach was the first of seven criteria Blank outlined that he and McKay were looking for. The others included having coached in the NFL at some point, that the coach be tough and disciplined and that he have a history of developing quarterbacks.

Petrino spent three years (1999-2001) with the Jacksonville Jaguars, two as the quarterbacks coach to Mark Brunell, one as the offensive coordinator. It was there that McKay and Petrino established a close relationship. McKay said he tried to hire Petrino as Tampa Bay's offensive coordinator before the 2001 season when McKay was with the Buccaneers.

"Bobby was on the list from the beginning," McKay said.

Arthur Blank, left, owner of the Atlanta Falcons and new Falcons coach Bobby Petrino, right, field questions during a news conference Monday at the Falcons complex.

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