OPINION | NATE ALLEN: Like it or not, Bobby Petrino is back with Razorbacks


FAYETTEVILLE -- Seems only desperation would return Bobby Petrino to the Arkansas football staff.

Desperation did. Coach Sam Pittman, desperate to revive an offense mostly failing during Arkansas' (4-8, 1-7 SEC) 2023 season, reintroduced Petrino as the Razorbacks offensive coordinator during a Thursday news conference.

"Offensive," spanning football genius to personal conduct, defined Petrino's 4-year Arkansas head coaching tenure.

Most in Arkansas know by rote Petrino's Arkansas head coaching ups and downs.

For the uninitiated, the ups soared for Petrino with a 10-3 record and Sugar Bowl berth in 2010 followed by 11-2 record and Cotton Bowl victory in 2011, the last double-digit victory seasons Arkansas achieved.

Likely those ups, increasing Petrino's arrogance, contributed to the downs which culminated in his April 10, 2012, firing upon his motorcycle crash nine days earlier. The crash's circumstances revealed Petrino's affair with the low-level Razorback Foundation employee commenced before he hired her on his staff for student development.

Violating UA hiring practices made firing Petrino with cause virtually automatic.

A waiver from UA President Don Bobbitt allowed Petrino's return to the Razorbacks. Those fired with cause are otherwise forbidden from further UA employment.

Some recalling Petrino's deceit expressed dismay on his return.

Seems most, especially UA students at the Arkansas men's basketball victory over Duke on Wednesday, expressed joy.

Petrino spoke at the Little Rock Touchdown Club in 2019 and entirely blamed himself for his UA termination and apologized to Arkansas statewide.

During Thursday's news conference, Petrino beamed all smiles and expressed gratitude to Pittman and vowed he's "grown" since 2012.

Petrino's post-Arkansas conduct head coaching Western Kentucky, Louisville and Missouri State as well as serving as Texas A&M's offensive coordinator in 2023 drew no public criticism.

As for coordinators who could spark Arkansas' dormant offense, none seem better than the best Razorback offensive coach these eyes have witnessed in 50 years covering the team, including Hall of Fame coaches Frank Broyles and Lou Holtz.

Petrino's offensive mind is what Pittman said he instantly sought upon receiving a surprise text from Petrino's agent that he would be interested in Arkansas' open offensive coordinator position.

Pittman experienced Petrino's genius firsthand in 2022. Outmanned Missouri State led Arkansas 27-17 in the fourth quarter before Arkansas rallied, scoring three touchdowns to prevail 38-27 in Fayetteville.

"They about beat us here at Missouri State," Pittman said. "He's a wonderful mind. He's a wonderful playcaller. The bottom line is we need to win games and I thought that [hiring Petrino] was the best possible way we could do it. Once I knew his interest in us, it was really a no-brainer."

Heading into Petrino's second time around Arkansas, aspects have changed considerably. As an assistant he answers to Pittman and to Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek rather than be the into spring 2012 head coach acting like he answered to nobody.

Should Petrino's conduct veer back to a leopard who can't change his spots, that's Pittman's problem.

If Petrino, without drawbacks, coaches like he's capable, that's Pittman's progress, which will progress the Razorbacks, too.


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