Bobby’s back: Agent’s text message started events for Petrino’s return

Bobby Petrino speaks Thursday at a news conference in Fayetteville announcing his hire as the Razorbacks’ new offensive coordinator. Petrino led Arkansas to a 34-17 record as head coach in 2008-12.
(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Charlie Kaijo)
Bobby Petrino speaks Thursday at a news conference in Fayetteville announcing his hire as the Razorbacks’ new offensive coordinator. Petrino led Arkansas to a 34-17 record as head coach in 2008-12. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Charlie Kaijo)

FAYETTEVILLE -- It's pretty clear how Coach Sam Pittman feels about bringing Bobby Petrino back to serve as the Arkansas Razorbacks' offensive coordinator.

The pair sat together at the Razorback men's basketball team's 80-75 win over No. 7 Duke on Wednesday night before an arena-record 20,344 fans at Walton Arena and heard the "We want Bobby!" chants from the crowd at halftime.

"Hell, it was my suggestion to go over to the Duke game," Pittman said in a double news conference with Petrino on Thursday at Reynolds Razorback Stadium. "I want to show him off too now. I'm proud that he came here."

Pittman said he was first contacted by Petrino's agent Christina Phillips saying the former Arkansas head coach, who was offensive coordinator at Texas A&M this season, would have interest in the Razorbacks' vacant offensive coordinator's job. Because Texas A&M Coach Jimbo Fisher had been fired on Nov. 12, there was a strong likelihood Petrino would not be retained on the next Aggies staff.

Phillips' text piqued Pittman's interest and he was keen to reach out.

"I mean he's Bobby Petrino, man," Pittman said. "He's a wonderful mind. He loves the state of Arkansas. He's a wonderful play-caller. Great guy.

"I want to win here as bad as any of y'all, and that was what I thought would be the best for us to win."

Petrino said the reception at Walton Arena was exciting.

"Yeah, I felt good about it," he said. "Again, I have to say it's a credit to Sam, to be able to bring me there and allow that to go on. I think it's just a credit to him. You can see the confidence that he has in himself, as a man, and how much he loves the university and wants to do what he believes is best for us to go forward to win."

Pittman said the process to contact and secure Pittman took about 10 days. The hiring had to be approved by UA president Donald Bobbitt due to school policy, and it was after Chancellor Charles Robinson recommended him following a vetting process by Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek.

"I was adamant I wanted to hire him, and he was adamant he wanted to come," Pittman said. "So the university went to work on all that kind of stuff."

Petrino, 62, was asked about his "why" and "what" he wants to do in his return to Arkansas, which he led to a 34-17 record as head coach in 2008-12 before he was fired for cause in April 2012.

"I want to win," Petrino said. "I want to see us ... I came back here to support Coach Pittman and winning.

"I appreciate him a lot when he did send that message that, 'This is Coach Pittman and I want to talk to you.' The hair on the back of my neck stood up. I'm like, 'That's going to happen, really?'"

Petrino was out of coaching the year after he was fired following a motorcycle crash on April 1, 2012, that led to the discovery of his extramarital affair with a staff member and his misconduct in her hiring and not being truthful with Jeff Long, Arkansas' athletic director at the time.

He since bounced around to Western Kentucky, Louisville and Missouri State as a head coach before signing on with Fisher and the Aggies last winter. All the while, he said he kept up with the Razorbacks.

Petrino said he was never angry at the circumstances that forced him out at Arkansas and he never lost a love for the state and program.

"I was always a Hogs fan, man," Petrino said. "People would ask me, 'Are you going to watch the game? Are you going to watch them play?' I watched as many games as I could. I cheered for them, I rooted for them."

Then, choking up, he added, "I loved the players."

Petrino said after his Missouri State team dropped a 38-27 decision to the Razorbacks at Fayetteville in 2022, he came out of the shower room to discover a couple of former Razorback star receivers waiting on him.

"There's Joe Adams and Cobi Hamilton standing there," Petrino said. "I said, 'How did you guys get in here?' You know, they snuck in the locker room to say hello. So it's been pretty cool."

Arkansas had to rally back from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter to dodge Missouri State's upset bid that day.

"I mean, they about beat us out here at Missouri State," Pittman said.

Both Pittman and Petrino were asked what they would say to Arkansas fans who are not supportive of Petrino's return based on the circumstances of his firing.

"I'm not really sure what words to use on it, but my beliefs are it's OK for people to disagree, have different thoughts, have different opinions," Petrino said. "I grew up where this is in the United States of America. Everybody can have their own thoughts, their own religion, their own feelings on everything. And you know what, that's OK."

Pittman said there will always be people who don't agree on things in life.

"My message is that we're doing the best we possibly can do for the state of Arkansas and the University of Arkansas," he said. "But if every decision that I make or everything that I've done, I'm worried about how it's going to be received, then I'm not being true to myself.

"If to me this was the best hire for our university, our program and our state, and so I'm going to stand very firm behind that. If people don't like it, I'm sorry."

Pittman said he completed exit interviews with the current players Thursday and that he expects there will be more NCAA transfer portal activity than has already been announced when the portal opens Monday. Pittman also said he expects there will be changes to the coaching staff.

"I do think there'll be some," Pittman said. "I'm not ready to talk about it, but I don't think we'll be intact totally next season."

  photo  Coach Sam Pittman (left) sits with new offensive coordinator Bobby Petrino as the two watched the Arkansas men’s basketball team beat No. 7 Duke 80-75 at Walton Arena in Fayetteville. “Hell, it was my suggestion to go over to the Duke game,” Pittman said Thursday. “I want to show him off too now. I’m proud that he came here.” (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Hank Layton)

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