After a day full of rumors, it was announced last night that former Arkansas Razorbacks head football coach, Bobby Petrino, was returning to Louisville. Petrino was Louisville’s head coach from 2003-2006 and compiled a 41-9 record in that time before bolting unexpectedly for a brief stint with the Atlanta Falcons.
Petrino has made a habit of leaving jobs poorly but nothing compares to the way his post at Arkansas came to a close. Petrino was fired after a secret affair with a former Arkansas volleyball player turned “Student-Athlete Development Coordinator” (whatever that means). While the affair was humiliating, especially with the circumstances surrounding its unveiling (google “football coach motorcycle accident” if you haven’t heard the story), Petrino was ultimately fired for the questionable circumstances surrounding his mistress’ hiring, especially once it was discovered there was a $20,000 cash gift given to her that left the university potentially liable to a sexual harassment lawsuit.
But there’s more! Petrino was given four…FOUR chances to come clean with Athletic Director Jeff Long. Instead, Petrino lied each and every time. Long had no choice but to fire Petrino for a “pattern of misleading behavior” and the Arkansas football program fell out of national prominence faster than Baptists flying down back roads trying to beat Methodists to lunch after church on Sunday.
Here’s the hard part: Arkansas has been nothing short of awful without Petrino. There’s a reason current New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin once called Petrino “the best play-caller I’ve ever been around.” After a throw-away 2012 season, the Razorbacks hired former Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema to lead the Hogs into the future. While things are indeed looking up, Arkansas was 3-9 this year and didn’t win a single SEC conference game.
Meanwhile, Bobby Petrino did win an SEC game in his very first game as the (brief) head coach of Western Kentucky. He went a surprising 8-4 even though WKU was not invited to a bowl game. It’s okay, though. Neither was Arkansas.
After very little lost time, Petrino is back in the spotlight as the head coach of a major football program (Louisville) that has experienced enormous success of late.
Although I’m a lifelong Baylor fan, I’ve grown quite fond of rootin’ for the Hogs over the last year. As the news broke, I found myself getting angry that Petrino was back after such a short time away from the spotlight. His time at Western Kentucky was supposed to be lackluster at best, not surprisingly successful. He was supposed to pay for his transgressions in Coaching Purgatory (see: Florida Atlantic, Kent State, Louisiana-Monroe, Baylor circa Creation-2009, etc).
Because if anyone is single-handedly responsible for the downward spiral of Arkansas football, it’s Bobby Petrino. He’s one of the most polarizing figures in college sports. He has a reputation for not caring much about his players as student-athletes and consistently mistreats his coaches. It’s not hard to doubt that Petrino’s personality has changed all that much and it just seems unfair that he landed on his feet so quickly. As I listened to sports radio on the way home from work yesterday, I heard many disgruntled Razorback fans expressing similar sentiments.
If I were Louisville, I wouldn’t have hired Petrino, but I don’t get to hate him. For more on what true forgiveness means and doesn’t mean, check out my pastor’s thoughts on the Petrino situation.
I asked some friends what they thought about it and one of them told me, “Doesn’t speak too highly of Louisville’s integrity. They’re only in it to win it.” I think my friend’s right but it still doesn’t change the temptation in my heart to believe that it doesn’t seem fair. He hasn’t paid enough. He hasn’t righted his wrongs before getting his life back together. It reminded me of grace.
Grace is annoying because it’s not fair. We think that people we deem as worse than us somehow need more grace than us.
It seems right to think that Hitler needs more grace than me and I need more grace than Mother Theresa. But that’s not how grace works and that’s not how true redemption happens. True redemption happens when we believe that we are ALL nothing apart from Christ and we ALL need grace as much as the next person.
But to fully believe this…we have to believe that Jesus loves Bobby Petrino as much as Art Briles. Whoa…
Grace is extended equally to all of us, even D-1 college football coaches. And child molesters. And rapists. And liars. And adulterers. And gossips. And thieves. And wife-beaters. And you. And me.
We are all in desperate need of grace. So let grace be amazing today by realizing just how deep & wide it truly is.