Missouri State Bears head coach Bobby Petrino during the bears win on the Western Illinois Leathernecks at Plaster Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022. Tmsu00310

Richard Justice: Jimbo could hardly have hired a better offensive mind. Wait until Bobby Petrino gets his hands on all that five-star talent

   We’re going to look back next fall and see this as the day Jimbo Fisher delivered what he said he would deliver at Texas A&M: one of college football’s elite programs. That’s how important the hiring of Bobby Petrino to be A&M’s offensive coordinator is going to be.

   First, he’s one of college football’s finest offensive minds. Actually, he’s a great football mind. ESPN named him the 77th-best college football coach of the last 50 years in August 2021. (Jimbo was 34th on the list. Nick Saban and Bear Bryant were Nos. 1 and 2, Darrell Royal was No. 18, and Mack Brown No. 21.)

   Petrino might have been higher on that list if not for some instances of (a) very bad behavior and (b) walking out on a team. To be fair, those incidents appear to be way back in Petrino’s rearview mirror.

   On the flip side, his Arkansas offenses were second in the Southeastern Conference in scoring in 2010 (36.5 points per game) and first in 2011 (36.8 points per game).

   The Aggies were 101st nationally in scoring in 2022 and averaged just 22.8 points per game (next to last in the SEC). Those numbers will change when Petrino gets his hands on quarterback Connor Weigman and all that five-star talent Jimbo has accumulated.

   Before dealing with any of that, there’s another part of this deal that is at least as significant as the Xs and Os. Throughout the sport, there was cynicism that Jimbo actually would hire a real offensive coordinator.

   Even if he did hire one, he was not about to give him much in the way of control. That was the word from coaches and administrators throughout the sport.

   “Jimbo will never turn his offense over to someone else.”

   I was in that camp as well right up until the moment well-connected Billy Liucci of TexAgs.com broke the news Wednesday afternoon that Jimbo and Petrino were “finalizing” a contract.

   Petrino is not going to be anyone’s puppet. He’s also not going to be anyone’s co-offensive coordinator. He’s going to have control to do as he pleases.

   Jimbo will have input, as he should. But offensively, this is going to be Bobby Petrino’s show. He’s 61 years old and has been in the business for 35 years. He wouldn’t have taken the gig if the job description had been anything less.

   More important, this hiring shows Jimbo Fisher is capable of changing, that he’s willing to become a CEO-type overseeing the entire operation. That he’s willing to give up the thing he loved the most — designing the offense, calling the plays on game day — speaks volumes about old dogs learning new tricks.

   Years ago, I asked an NFL head coach if he’d thought about giving up being his own offensive coordinator and putting someone else in charge.

   “If I did that, I’d get out of the business,” he said. “If I can’t do the football part of it, I’d just be dealing with unhappy players, legal troubles, contract issues, that stuff.

   “Those are the things I have to do. The offensive stuff is what I love to do.”

   You can be sure Jimbo feels the same way. Now, though, he’ll spend more of his time taking care of all those problems, of checking in on the game planning, and of attempting to make sure his team is in the right frame of mind for a game.

    I’d suggest a telephone call to Jimmy Johnson, who handled this kind of head coaching gig better than almost anyone.

   “Basically, Jimmy would spend the week of a game ticking people off,” one of his former assistants told me.

    He did not use the word “ticking” either. That coach remembered a week when Johnson was in a particularly bad mood, and by the time the Cowboys kicked off on the West Coast that Sunday, players and coaches alike wanted to kill their head coach.

   “We win that day on a tipped ball,” the assistant told me. “Now, did that tipped ball have one thing to do with Jimmy chewing our butts out all week?”

   I argued that it might have been the difference between winning and losing. Maybe the defensive back jumped an inch higher because he was angry at his head coach.

   Otherwise, I told the guy, everything falls under the “Act of God” category.

   Anyway, back to Petrino. He has had a busy few months, having just given up the head coaching gig at Missouri State to become offensive coordinator at UNLV for 19 days before leaving for College Station.

“I believe Coach Petrino is one of the greatest offensive minds in all of football,” UNLV’s Barry Odom said when he hired Petrino. “I know he will be a tremendous leader, mentor, and teacher for our student-athletes. I’m thrilled to bring his experience to UNLV. His creativity on offense will complement our program in every way.”

Odom wished Petrino well on Wednesday. He has also been a head coach at Louisville (twice), Arkansas, and Western Kentucky. His teams finished in the top six of The Associated Press poll three times.

   Offensively, Petrino’s teams finished in the top five nationally in scoring offense three times, including that 2004 Louisville team that averaged 49.8 points per game with Stefan LeFors running the show.

Petrino has had two different NFL stints, first as head coach of the Falcons and then as offensive coordinator of the Jaguars. He didn’t do himself any favors by walking out on the Falcons after 13 games in 2007 and taking the Arkansas job.

   His most high-profile mess came in the wake of a 2011 motorcycle accident in which he lied about having a young Arkansas female member of his staff with him. That ended his career with the Razorbacks despite going 21-5 in his last two seasons.

   “Unfortunately, I will always get to carry that with me, how it ended there,” he told ESPN last summer. “I hurt a lot of people and let a lot of people down.”

   That led to a year out of the sport and then stops at Western Kentucky, Louisville (again), and Missouri State. (Missouri State made the FCS playoffs in two of his three seasons after going 30 years without an appearance.)

   All of which, matters not. Jimbo is hiring him to do Xs and Os. As for the media interviews, speaking engagements, etc., Jimbo will take care of those things.

   There aren’t many better at it than him. Offensively, there aren’t many better than Bobby Petrino. This move suddenly makes the Aggies one of college football’s most interesting teams in 2023 and perhaps finally ready to realize the hype that accompanied Jimbo’s high-priced hiring in 2018.

Exit mobile version