As soon as the news broke last week, the reaction was swift and at times vicious.

After sitting out the 2019 season, Bobby Petrino is back and this time at FCS school Missouri State. Perhaps no coach short of Art Briles (more on him in a bit) is more hated and vilified, it seems, in all of college and pro football.

Petrino has been criticized and will likely always be criticized for three things and none have to do with his knowledge of the game.

First, Petrino is taken to task for always being on the outlook for his next job. It’s kind of funny if you really think about it. All of us want to better ourselves in our chosen careers. I can’t imagine anyone not wanting to advance, earn more pay and be higher up the ladder than they are currently.

So certainly Petrino is guilty of this. He has always been one to listen to other schools or teams. We all know contracts don’t mean much in the world of big-time coaching. Yes a coach may have a 10-year deal but that is something that is really just on paper. A school can fire him at any time or he can leave at any time.

The second area Petrino is routinely criticized for is the less-than-a-season stint with the Atlanta Falcons. Petrino, in all reality, was hired to coach Mike Vick and to help elevate the quarterback to an even higher level. The Falcons were just the team around Vick.

As it turns out, there was just one problem and it had nothing to do with the coach. Petrino never got to coach Vick for one play after the news surfaced of Vick’s deplorable dog-fighting operation in which he fully participated in and funded. The Falcons that season were left with a stable of quarterback castoffs that even Petrino could do nothing with.

Late in the season, rumors began flying that the coach was set to leave Atlanta. Owner Arthur Blank said Petrino told him he was not leaving. The coach then left town following a Monday night game and was suddenly on TV being announced as the new head coach at Arkansas. The Falcons, meanwhile, still had three games left to play in that disastrous season.

Finally, and perhaps most negative, is the incident involving Petrino and a young female employee of the Arkansas football team. Many of us no doubt still remember seeing the footage of Petrino giving a news conference saying how he had been in a motorcycle accident. He suffered some pretty serious injuries and was at the news conference with a neck brace and scratches on his face.

As it turned out, Petrino was not alone on the motorcycle ride that day. Despite his success in terms of winning games at Arkansas, Petrino was fired. It was understandable as to why in this case.

The coach eventually returned for a one-year stint at Western Kentucky before going back as head coach of Louisville for a second stint. Petrino had success to begin with the second time around at Louisville before things bottomed out in 2018 and he was let go.

Some may wonder how in the world Petrino keeps getting head coaching job after head coaching job. The answer is simple: he is a solid football coach. You can question some of his personal actions (the motorcycle incident at the top of them), but on the field Petrino has always enjoyed success.

His knowledge of the passing game is still unmatched. It was a big factor in why the Falcons hired him to begin with.

Petrino’s teams have always been entertaining to watch. He has a job in front of him with Missouri State, a team which competes in the same conference as FCS kingpin North Dakota State. Still it will not be shocking to see immediate improvement for Petrino’s new team.

I won’t defend some of the non-football things Petrino has done. In the end, however, none of us are perfect. We all have made mistakes. Most of us are just fortunate our mistakes are not played out across the country.

Ironically, rumors were flying that Missouri State was actually about to hire another coach who is vilified by most. Art Briles, who coached Baylor to a high level of success before crashing and burning, was the name many were associating with the job.

The news then broke, however, that it would be Petrino. I am not sure if Missouri State actually considered Briles or if a reporter got bad insider information. Briles, of course, infamously oversaw the Baylor football program, which was involved with numerous sexual scandals that were reportedly covered up.

I’m likely in the minority but I am glad to see Petrino back in the game. Yes it is at a lower level but in watching his introductory press conference it was clear Petrino is ready to be back.

It should be noted that during his second stint at Louisville there was never any talk of him leaving for another school. He was fired after having one down season following the departure of quarterback Lamar Jackson to the NFL.

It seems Petrino has learned from past mistakes. That’s all any of us can really do. For many, however, Petrino will always be a coaching villain, even without a mask and cape.

Winder resident Chris Bridges is a former sports editor for the Barrow News-Journal. He welcomes feedback about this column at pchrisbridges@gmail.com.

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