Bobby Petrino abruptly resigned his position as coach of the Atlanta Falcons on Tuesday, and multiple sources told ESPN he is negotiating an agreement to become the new coach at Arkansas.
Petrino and his agent had been talking with the Falcons about his preference to return to the college ranks. The former Louisville coach was looking for an opportunity to break into the Southeastern Conference ranks, and Arkansas was a natural fit.
Citing the team as its source, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported on its Web site that Petrino phoned the Falcons about 5:45 p.m. Tuesday and resigned. Petrino and the team agreed he would not coach the Falcons’ remaining three games, a source told ESPN.com’s John Clayton.
The Falcons said they will discuss Petrino’s decision at a 2 p.m. ET news conference on Wednesday with owner Arthur Blank and general manager Rich McKay.
Petrino and Arkansas do not have a deal, the sources told ESPN, but once one is in place, Petrino is expected to be paid around $3 million a year to succeed Houston Nutt, who resigned after a tumultuous season and hours later took the Mississippi job.
Petrino had a five-year, $24 million contract with the Falcons — NFL sources said there is no buyout in the deal — so he will be taking a pay cut to coach the Razorbacks.
The Falcons are 3-10, their season torn apart by Michael Vick’s involvement in a dogfighting ring and subsequent 23-month jail sentence, which was levied Monday. After losing Vick, Petrino tried three other starting quarterbacks without success.
The Falcons are assured of the 32nd losing season in their 42-year history. Petrino’s resignation is another jarring blow to a team that dealt with Vick’s legal troubles since the first day of training camp, when a plane flew overhead pulling a sign that said: “New Team Name? Dog Killers?”
Petrino assembled one of college football’s highest-scoring offenses at Louisville, but the Falcons were anemic without Vick. They also were plagued by injuries on the offensive line, which forced them to start two players who weren’t even drafted out of college.
Just hours after Vick’s sentencing in Richmond, Va., Atlanta took its fourth straight double-digit loss, 34-14 to the New Orleans Saints on “Monday Night Football”.
The resignation had to be a major surprise to Blank, who fired Jim Mora just two seasons after he led the Falcons to the NFC championship game, and lured Petrino with a lucrative contract.
Before Monday’s game, Blank said he felt better than ever about his decision to hire Petrino given all the adversity the team faced this season.
“I feel real fortunate we have a terrific guy leading our team, our CEO, in Bobby Petrino,” Blank said. “I think he’s proven to me he’s a better head coach than we thought he was going to be, dealing with a set of cards we didn’t see unfold this year, which probably never in the history of the NFL has anything like this happened. Bobby has done a wonderful job dealing with all of these issues. He’s kept the players focused.”
But there were signs of dissension, especially in the way Petrino dealt with his players.
He ran the team with an aloof style, feeling no reason to share his decisions on personnel with the affected players. He could walk through the locker room without speaking to anyone and was openly criticized by two of the team’s stars, Pro Bowlers Alge Crumpler and DeAngelo Hall.
Petrino drew the ire of the veterans with his decision to cut nose tackle Grady Jackson, one of the team’s most productive defensive linemen, during the bye week. Quarterback Joey Harrington was clearly perturbed a few weeks ago when, after leading the Falcons to two straight wins, he heard from the media that Petrino still considered injury prone Byron Leftwich the starter.
Against the Saints, the Falcons made another change at the most crucial offensive position, giving Chris Redman his first start since 2002. While Redman threw for 298 yards and two touchdowns, the Falcons lost again.
They have been outscored by an average of 18.5 points in their last four defeats.
After the latest loss, Petrino sounded as though he was still committed to getting the Falcons turned around.
“We’ll come back on Wednesday to take a look at it, and then we’ll get back to work,” he said. “We have to find something to rally around.”
But clearly, Petrino already had decided to abandon the sinking ship.