FAYETTEVILLE — What could have been the sleepiest domestic atmosphere of the season for the University of Arkansas could turn into one of the most restless tonight.
Former Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino is back in town with his veteran Missouri State Bears to take on coach Sam Pittman’s sizzling Razorbacks at 6 p.m. at Reynolds Razorback Stadium. The crowd should be nearly at capacity and pumped up with plenty of storylines.
Both teams are 2-0 and are in the top 10 in their respective polls.
No. 10 Arkansas has won seven of its last eight games since Oct. 23, with the only loss in that span being a 42-35 loss to No. 2 Alabama.
The No. 5 FCS-ranked Bears reached the FCS playoffs both seasons under Petrino, who led Arkansas to back-to-back top-10 finishes a decade ago, including an 11- 2 in 2011 which was the most important of the program. last season with at least nine wins before a 9-4 performance last year.
Going back to basics is also a big step for Petrino, who will coach his 200th college game. Petrino has a 67.3% (134-65) winning percentage, a shade better than his 34-17 (66.7%) mark with the Hogs from 2008-11.
Pittman has been pretty complimentary to his predecessor all week, saying he’s using that brief golden spell in recruiting.
“He definitely had us on the map in 2010 and 2011, with 11 and 10 wins and a Cotton Bowl and definitely the Sugar Bowl,” Pittman said. “We are delighted to play against their team.”
Petrino played down the hype surrounding his comeback. But when asked about the many years of decline that followed his departure in the spring of 2012, he exclaimed: “They’re back now. They look really good.
“Sam did a great job. When you watch them play, first and foremost, you see that they deeply believe in what they do. What they do offensively, what they do defensively. coaches really believe in it and the players come out and perform it. And what he’s done with that program, he’s done a great job.
Arkansas will be aiming for its second straight 3-0 start, but only its 10th since joining the SEC for the 1992 season.
Missouri State will likely play in front of the biggest crowd in school history as the current record stands at 70,607 which saw the Bears mauled 51-7 on September 3, 2011 by a team from the Arkansas guided by Petrino.
Recognized as one of college football’s greatest callers of the past quarter-century, aided by a semi-photographic memory, Petrino’s presence evokes all sorts of reactions and emotions from fans, former players and alumni. competitors.
“In my opinion, he’s one of the best offensive game planners,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said this week. “I have huge respect for the problems he creates when you play against him.”
DJ Williams’ career as an Arkansas tight end straddled the first three years of the Petrino era, when the Razorbacks went from 5-7 to a Bowl Championship Series appearance in the Sugar Bowl. with a mark of 10 to 3 in 2010.
“I would say as difficult as it was to play for this man and how difficult it was, looking back, looking back, his approach left us with no choice but to lean on each other. others and just trying to keep up with those unrealistic expectations,” Williams said. “And then, by default, it got to a point where Petrino went from being a bully to ‘Hey, that’s my coach. I trust him and respect him. “It was just fascinating to see how quickly it all developed.”
Fayetteville high school coach Casey Dick, who started as a quarterback in Petrino’s freshman year at Arkansas, spoke about him at the Hawgs Illustrated sports club this week.
“He’s just an offensive mastermind,” Dick said. “It’s as simple as I can say. There’s so much that I took from him, from his brother Paul, from the staff we had at the University of Arkansas.
“He’s always been huge in the first practice of a game. Everyone asked me this week: ‘What can we expect from coach Petrino? I said, “Watch out for the first drive in the game, because he’s gonna get something spelled out just because that’s who he is.”https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2022/sep/17/ way -return-when/”
Petrino did not properly handle his big success in Arkansas, a failure he admitted in later interviews.
Some fans may never forgive the hubris that led to his downfall in Arkansas. He had an affair, openly rode his motorcycle with former Razorback volleyball player Jessica Dorrell on board, then lied about her presence after destroying the motorcycle on April 1, 2012. He only revealed that she was on the bike just before an Arkansas State Police report on the incident came out days before Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long fired him on April 10.
Petrino deflected questions about his time in Arkansas during his press conference earlier this week, but he spoke to ESPN’s Chris Low over the summer for an article published this week.
“Unfortunately I can always take this with me, how it ended there,” Petrino told ESPN.
“There’s an instant reaction when you hear my name, whether it’s negative or positive. I wish it was more positive, but it’s probably more negative and a lot of that is up to me.
“But a lot of these people don’t really know me. They know what happened when I was fired in Arkansas and how badly I handled everything, and that’s what they’re left with. “
Williams discussed Petrino’s impact on the players and the program in an informative interview with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette this week.
“Us being in this position, spending all this time together, we 100% understand that people make mistakes,” he said. “No one is above that. I would say for the most part the guys on my team, they would say, ‘Bobby P., he screwed up for sure’, but none of them instantly went in a place of hate. It was just like, ‘Man, I hope this humbles him and I hope he gets back on his feet.”https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2022 /sep/17/way-back-when/”
Dick expressed a similar view.
“When you step back and look at Coach Petrino, I know [he] skewed the opinions of everyone outside of the public,” Dick said. “Obviously he made a mistake. I don’t defend it. We all make mistakes. But the amount of football I’ve learned from this guy in six to eight months is unreal.”
Petrino’s coaching skills helped him get back on his feet quickly.
After a year away from the company in 2013, he coached for a year at Western Kentucky before returning for a second stint as head coach at Louisville, which he led to the top 10. in 2004 and 2006. He led the Cardinals to national prominence, culminating in 2016, when they were in the top 10 of the AP rankings for nine consecutive weeks, including two weeks at No. 3, led by the winning quarterback Heisman Lamar Jackson Trophy.
But it all came down to 2018, the season after the death of his father, Bob Petrino Sr. The first time in his coaching tenure, he made it a fifth year in the same role, the Cardinals fell apart after a 2-1 start, dropping their last nine games. Petrino was fired with two games remaining on the schedule and $14 million remaining on his contract.
Two seasons later, he was back in the game at Missouri State and he quickly breathed new life into what had been a moribund program.
Petrino told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette this week that he felt good in Springfield, Mo.
“I’m having as much fun as a coach as ever,” he said. “I have eight grandchildren who are around me all the time. So I smile a lot and enjoy life.”
The current Razorbacks were mostly between the ages of 9 and 13 when Petrino last coached at Arkansas, but they are aware of his impact on the program as Pittman used him for recruiting.
“They always tried to talk about that stuff because obviously Arkansas wasn’t where they wanted to be,” sophomore running back AJ Green said of being recruited for the December 2020 signing period.”[Pittman] just always talked about how they wanted to build a new team and start from scratch. I always wanted to be part of it. It’s one of the reasons I came here.”
Senior defensive tackle Isaiah Nichols was in the state watching these powerhouse teams in 2010-11.
“I was around 10 or 11 at the time, and growing up watching this kind of stuff makes you want to play football,” Nichols said. “That’s part of the reason why I fell in love with football just watching them play and play hard in those two seasons.”