Bobby Petrino back in the saddle again

Petrino's Return To Louisville
Petrino's Return To Louisville

College Contributor Network

Bobby Petrino is one of the most recognizable faces in college football. He is known both for his on-field successes and off-field miscues. Falcons fans know him as the failed experiment. Arkansas fans know him as the one who couldn't stay off of his motorcycle. And Louisville fans ... well, that's a complicated one.

When Petrino left Louisville after four soaring seasons with a cumulative 41-9 record, Cardinal fans felt scorned to say the least. To some, it was unforgivable that Petrino would sign a new 10-year, $25.6 million contract with Louisville, only to then leave for an even bigger paycheck in the NFL.

Nevertheless, Petrino took his talents to Atlanta to help in the creation of Michael Vick - super quarterback. Unfortunately for Petrino, Vick, and pit bulls everywhere, the Falcons' star was sidelined for the season due to... legal issues. With the offense floundering under a backup quarterback and the job not turning out as planned, Petrino headed back to campus for a five-year, $14.25 million contract with the Arkansas Razorbacks.

This chapter didn't start out perfectly either, with a dismal 5-7 record in the 2008 campaign. But in the ensuing seasons, Petrino and the Razorbacks seemed to trend upward by improving to a 10-2 record in 2010 -- including the program's first BCS bowl appearance, a Sugar Bowl loss against Ohio State.

The 2012 season couldn't have started off better for the Hogs, with a 29-16 Cotton Bowl win over Kansas State. Arkansas completed the 2012 season with an 11-2 record, just the third 11-win season in the school's 119-year history.

April 1, 2012 however, the wheels fell right off ... on Highway 16, to be specific. The infamous motorcycle wreck -- and the ensuing investigations and firings -- were the top story on Sportscenter for weeks and found Petrino unemployed, again.

Three months after that fateful April Fool's day, Western Kentucky signed Petrino to a four-year deal that would result in one season, with an 8-4 record and an all-important victory over in-state rival University of Kentucky.

Two hours up the road, Petrino's old Louisville Cardinals were soaring under the direction of Charlie Strong. In 2012, it had been announced that the Cards would join the prestigious Atlantic Coast Conference in 2014, with this news capped off by a Sugar Bowl upset win over the University of Florida.

In 2013, Strong, Teddy Bridgewater and Louisville were working their way through their lone season in the American Athletic Conference, all the way to the Russell Athletic Bowl. Louisville routed the Miami Hurricanes 36-9 and all seemed to be looking up for the newest ACC member. That is, until Charlie Strong announced that he was headed to Texas and the Cards were suddenly coach-less headed into a power five conference without Bridgewater - who had entered the NFL draft after his stellar junior season.

Who would fill the void and lead the team strongly into its new era? Many names were tossed around and in the end the most unlikely of heroes emerged.

When Athletic Director and Vice President for Athletics Tom Jurich stepped up to the podium on Jan. 9 and announced that Petrino would once again be taking the reigns, the news was met with mixed emotions.

The University called it Petrino's homecoming and spun it as the native son's return. While this may be the story they told, to a lot of Cardinal faithful it seemed more like watching your best friend get back with the ex that cheated and left them heartbroken, only to come crawling back years later.

That said, there was still a division of Card fans that was happy to have Petrino and his offensive machine back. Despite the off-field issues we all know, fans in Louisville remember Petrino's golden days: offensive dominance, double-digit winning seasons, an exciting time.

Now, headed into a season with more uncertainty looming than any in recent history, Cardinal fans are left with many questions. Perhaps the most prominent being, "What will Petrino's second coming hold for the University of Louisville?"

For many, the answer lies with Jurich. Tom Jurich led University of Louisville from Conference USA to the Big East, from the Big East to the American, and now to the ACC. During his tenure, the University has seen success across the board: advancements in its athletic facilities, the addition of new programs and a complete transformation of the college athletics landscape in the city of Louisville. Noted college sports analyst Dick Vitale was quoted as saying that Louisville should build a monument to Jurich.

Jurich didn't have to stick his neck out for Petrino but he did, and if he is truly the heart of University of Louisville athletics then his voucher should be all that Louisville fans need. There's no doubt that after the rise Louisville's football program has seen in the past few seasons, Jurich's call sheet was full of worthy applicants for the job.

But he picked Petrino. He invited Petrino back into the house that he spent years meticulously constructing. He did this knowing full well that after 24 years of progress, if Petrino messes this up, it will be what everyone brings up when they talk about Jurich's tenure.

Annie Moore is a junior at the University of Louisville majoring in Communications with a Sport Administration minor. She believes Pete Rose should be in the Hall of Fame. Follow her on Twitter: @AnyMoreSports