From a distance, Bobby Petrino's sudden resignation as coach of the Atlanta Falcons would appear to be more chaos for the wounded franchise, just a day removed from learning that suspended quarterback Michael Vick had been sentenced to 23 months in prison.
From a closer view, Petrino's departure might be a blessing.
After Petrino got his Nick Saban on by leaving for Arkansas on Tuesday, the reaction from Falcons veterans had to be relief, not angst. Petrino's aloof, standoffish style was accentuated by what some veteran players believed were questionable tactics.
The tactics were questioned by cornerback DeAngelo Hall and tight end Alge Crumpler earlier in the season, Crumpler raising the issue of whether Petrino was coaching to win at one point. Hall, fined $100,000 and suspended by the team for the first quarter of play against the Houston Texans in Week 4 after a run-in with the coaching staff, demanded a trade in September, two sources told Yahoo! Sports at the time.
There was even some belief that Hall, the No. 8 overall pick in 2004 and one of the top cover men in the league, might sit out part of next season if he had not been dealt and Petrino had returned. After the news Tuesday, one person close to Hall said the corner, Atlanta's best player, might be in the mood to do an extension with the Falcons now.
Bottom line: The Falcons (3-10) were one unhappy bunch and the ill will went beyond the usual complaints about losing.
"This is the worst year I've ever had in football," one veteran player said. "It's just miserable. I think (Petrino) had a clue about offense, but he couldn't communicate with anybody. You'd talk to him and it was almost as if he would stare at you and not get what you were talking about. He's a strange guy."
That player went even further, claiming that Atlanta owner Arthur Blank had told some of the veteran leaders on the team, including Crumpler and running back Warrick Dunn, that the team had made a mistake in hiring Petrino.
That conflicts with what Blank was saying Monday night during the Falcons' fourth straight loss, a 34-14 dismantling at the hands of the New Orleans Saints. Blank talked supportively about Petrino, even backing up Petrino's theories about taking a quarterback in the first round in April's NFL draft, but not playing him right away.
"I feel real fortunate we have a terrific guy leading our team, our CEO, in Bobby Petrino," Blank said Monday night before the game. "I think he's proven to me he's a better head coach than we thought he was going to be, dealing with a set of cards we didn't see unfold this year, which probably never in the history of the NFL has anything like this happened. Bobby has done a wonderful job dealing with all of these issues. He's kept the players focused."
There has been plenty of speculation since Vick's legal troubles heated up in the summer that Petrino would take Louisville quarterback Brian Brohm. Petrino recruited and coached Brohm at Louisville before leaving for Atlanta.
That speculation was put on hold as quickly as Petrino could take millions from Arkansas and join Saban in walking away from the NFL for the college ranks. Unlike Saban, who spent two years with the Dolphins and had the courtesy to finish his second season with the Dolphins before going to Alabama, Petrino abruptly ended one of the shortest coaching tenures by a coach who was not an interim.
This leaves the Falcons, who have been below .500 in 32 of the franchise's 42 seasons, back searching for another head coach. Petrino had been brought in to tutor Vick originally, only to see that plan go up in smoke.
Whoever the new coach is – defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer and offensive coordinator Hue Jackson are the obvious interim candidates – expect him to have an offensive background. The Falcons, who have gone through three starting quarterbacks this season, need to rebuild much of the offense and will still likely draft a quarterback.
Among NFL offensive coordinators, Jason Garrett of the Dallas Cowboys and Brian Schottenheimer of the New York Jets, are usually referred to as among the top young minds in the game. On defense, Jim Caldwell of the Indianapolis Colts and Jim Schwartz of the Tennessee Titans are also considered viable candidates.
- Bobby Petrino