How Bobby Petrino found his way back to Louisville

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It was the spring of 2012.

Bobby Petrino, thanks to a gift for crafting football schemes that made up for an equally-gifted scheming mind, had redeemed himself. His Arizona Razorbacks had gone 11-2 the previous season, finishing third in the always competitive Southeastern Conference.

If things had gone slightly differently, they may have played in a national championship. Instead, they had won the Cotton Bowl, a 29-16 win over a talented Kansas State team.

Life was good. Despite the fact that Petrino had bolted from the NFL's Atlanta Falcons  in the midst of a dreadful 3-10 record only four years before. Despite the fact that, before that, he signed a 10-year contract with the University of Louisville, only to leave in the first year of the deal.

All was forgiven: He was a winner, and that was enough.

Then Petrino got into a motorcycle accident with a woman who was not his wife, a former Arkansas volleyball player who he had hired earlier that year. Then he lied to his employer and to fans, saying that he was alone on that fateful trip, before finally being fired.

That was in April. Soon after, Petrino made a desperate call.

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An unlikely ally

People forget how big of a deal it was when Petrino left Louisville after the 2006 season.

The offensive wizard had been with the program since 1998 and had spent the last four years as its head coach. More importantly, he had raised the team to new heights. The Cardinals had 11 wins in 2005 and 12 wins in 2006, the second and third time in school history that they had won at least 11 games.

Louisville was fresh off a 24-13 win over Wake Forest in the Orange Bowl when its coach suddenly decided to jump ship for the Atlanta Falcons.

He made the decision despite the fact that he was only one year into his 10-year contract that was supposed to pay him more than $25 million.

That choice was most painful to Louisville's athletic director, Tom Jurich, who had hired Petrino in 2003. It's difficult to find top-level head coaches at a Big East program, and Louisville had just moved over from the tiny Conference USA only two years before.

Jurich could have been angry, could have been upset and, at the time, he was at the very least shocked. The team that had become a national powerhouse suddenly struggled through 6-6, 5-7 and 4-8 records in the next three years.

It was the spring of 2012 and, for some reason, Jurich decided to pick up the phone when his former coach called looking for redemption.

Return to Louisville

Petrino wanted to meet face-to-face, according to an ESPN report, and after Jurich agreed, the shamed coach packed up his car and drove 600 miles to talk with the athletic director he had turned his back on years ago.

They met for three hours and then made their separate ways once more. Because Petrino has always been an excellent coach despite his wandering eyes, he got another chance, this time with lowly Western Kentucky. He turned in an 8-4 season with the Sun Belt Conference school.

And when Charlie Strong decided to head to Texas after a successful 11-2 season with the Cardinals, the road back home was complete.

Jurich decided to bring Petrino back to Louisville, despite a cacophony of criticism and widespread concern: After such betrayal, how could you accept the coach back with open arms?

But the contract came with some safeguards, including a $10 million buyout, meaning that any school who would poach Petrino before the end of his seven-year deal would have to pay that enormous sum.

Now it will be up to Petrino to prove his old friend's trust was justified.

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