By LARRY VAUGHT
How much should Kentucky value winning as it searches for a new football coach?
If winning is the priority, should a coach with a 75-26 overall record, including a 4-3 bowl record with appearances in the Sugar Bowl and Cotton Bowl, be at the top of the list? What if he had 11-win seasons at two different schools? Even better, what if he has already made it clear he has interest in the UK job even though the Wildcats have not won a Southeastern Conference title since 1977 or have just a 1-9 record this year?
Obviously, that coach is Bobby Petrino, the former head coach at Louisville and Arkansas.
His father told Adam Himmelsbach of the CourierJournal.com in Louisville that his son wants a job after being fired at Arkansas in the spring for not disclosing an “inappropriate relationship” with a 25-year-old female employee that he hired, gave money to and was involved in a motorcycle accident with that he did not immediately disclose.
Still, many Kentucky fans upset with the way Joker Phillips’ team has played the last three years have made it clear they would like to see athletics director Mitch Barnhart reach out to Petrino even if sources close to Barnhart have indicated that’s not going to happen.
“I just know this, that he’s interested in Kentucky,” Bob Petrino Sr. told Himmelsbach. “He wants to stay in the SEC. That was his life’s goal was to go to the SEC.”
Petrino would come with plenty of baggage.
He took over as head coach at Louisville in 2003, but he secretly interviewed with Auburn even though Tommy Tuberville was still the head coach before staying at Louisville. He won 11 games in 2004 and 12 in 2006 and singed a 10-year, $25-million contract on July 13, 2006. Six months later he left the Cardinals to become head coach of the Atlanta Falcons.
Of course, that turned ugly, too, and with three games left in the season he abandoned the Falcons without telling his players and took over as head coach at Arkansas. The Razorbacks went 10-2 in 2010 and lost to Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl. Arkansas won the 2012 Cotton Bowl and went 11-2 with losses only to Alabama and LSU.
This year Arkansas was expected to have a top 10 team that has bottomed out under interim coach John L. Smith — of course, the Razorbacks did still beat UK 49-7 in a storm-shortened game — without Petrino.
Several other SEC schools could have coaching vacancies — Tennessee, Auburn and Arkansas. Obviously, Arkansas is not going to contact Petrino. But Auburn could. So could Tennessee. And certainly Petrino would have as much, if not more, interest in those jobs than the one at Kentucky because both teams traditionally win more, pay the coach more and put more resources into football.
Will Kentucky make a move on Petrino? Probably not. Just don’t see Barnhart doing that.
Should Kentucky make a move on Petrino? Maybe. Depends on how much the UK administration wants to win more than anything else.
So what will happen? My guess is nothing with Petrino as Barnhart looks for other coaches he thinks can win and have the “integrity” Barnhart values. But if the UK administration doesn’t want to make a stronger overall commitment to football, will it really matter whether the coach is Petrino, a rising star like Sonny Dykes, a moderately successful coach like Duke’s David Cutcliffe or perhaps a rising college or NFL coordinator.
But remember this is not a guaranteed home run for UK. Money alone won’t buy a big-name coach who values winning unless other changes are made to the Kentucky football culture and that could be more difficult to do than having UK even take a run at Petrino.