Take the NFL's cash and run

The Baltimore Sun

Denver -- As I absent-mindedly watched that awful Monday Night Football game from the Georgia Dome, giving thanks that I cover a better product, I couldn't help noticing something peculiar about Atlanta Falcons coach Bobby Petrino. He had the serene look of a man at peace. That seemed odd with his team getting waxed, 34-14, putting it at 3-10 on the day that his star quarterback was sentenced to 23 months in prison.

Then, on Tuesday, I found out why.

One more college coach had cashed in on an NFL promise, then lied his way back to his comfort zone. When will NFL owners learn that college head coaches don't make good NFL head coaches? When will successful college coaches stop jilting their loyal fans and players for what amounts to a cheap, get-rich-quick scheme, then bounce back to a rival school?

I understand the coaches' quest for security. That's as flimsy a term in college athletics as "student-athlete." But in July 2006, Louisville gave Petrino a 10-year, $25.5 million contract that he bolted from the following January for a five-year, $24 million offer from the Falcons.

You can't buy credibility. Petrino lost most of that when his players said good riddance as he left town. You can't buy sincerity. He lost all of that after he told Falcons owner Arthur Blank - on the day of the game! - "You have a coach."

Less than 24 hours later, Petrino was reduced to looking stiff and silly during a nationally televised news conference as he did Arkansas' "Woo Pig Sooey!" call.

I don't blame Arkansas. Petrino, 46, is a great college coach. He transformed Louisville from a regional program to a national powerhouse.

What should be a red flag to NFL owners was the brazen way Petrino - and Nick Saban the year before - left when the going got tough and their bank accounts got filled.

Saban jilted LSU for the Miami Dolphins in 2005. While Miami was flopping to 6-10 last season, he repeatedly denied Alabama rumors, then went there anyway, signing for eight years and $32 million.

As you see, flopping in the NFL does nothing to hurt your negotiating power in college. Neither does lying.

And Petrino was a flop. He can complain to Arkansas boosters about the unfortunate mishap of Michael Vick's getting convicted for torturing and killing dogs. But listen to the Falcons, and you wonder how long Petrino would have lasted.

Falcons cornerback DeAngelo Hall told ESPN on Tuesday night that Petrino was "a college coach that didn't fit. He didn't know how to talk to guys. ... Don't talk to me like I'm a 17- or 18-year-old kid."

Taking over for the beloved but flawed Jim Mora, Petrino, according to media reports, talked too tough too early and hated dealing with the salary cap and players' concerns.

Safety Lawyer Milloy told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "Everything he preached over the past eight months was a lie. Everything he said he stood for was a lie."

Petrino, who is getting $2.85 million annually for five years, will recruit plenty of players. They won't care whether he lied. They will believe everything he says. He is their ticket to the NFL. After all, he left such a fine impression. As always.

John Henderson writes for The Denver Post.

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