Everyone thought former Arkansas and Louisville Head Coach Bobby Petrino would be making a return to the bluegrass state this year when the job at Kentucky opened up. He did in fact return to the state of Kentucky, but it was as he was introduced as Western Kentucky’s new head football coach, and now between he, Mark Stoops, and Charlie Strong, you’d be hard-pressed to find a state with as many quality coaches as the Bluegrass state has.
After the departure of Willie Taggart at WKU, many assumed the Hilltoppers would once again fall by the wayside, and college football would only be relevant at UL and UK as far as the state of Kentucky was concerned.
That won’t be the case as long as Petrino is at the helm there. He’s 75-26 overall as a college head coach and had a 34-17 overall record at Arkansas before he was dismissed in the wake of the motorcycle mistress scandal. Petrino takes over a 7-6 Western Kentucky team that returns 10 starters and is coming off its first bowl appearance as an FBS school.
All-Conference running back Antonio Andrews returns for his senior season. Andrews finished 2012 with 2,116 total yards and 14 touchdowns, so while Petrino will need to break in a new quarterback, he knows he has a running back who can help carry the offense.
Petrino has plenty of experience coaching against elite competition, as he helped the Razorbacks ascend into the upper-class of the SEC, going 8-5 in 2009, 10-3 with a Sugar Bowl appearance in 2010, and went 11-2 with a Cotton Bowl bid in 2011.
While many people immediately claimed Petrino wouldn’t be long for WKU, an FBS starter program just now entering a somewhat respectable Conference USA, there’s reason to believe he may actually stay there for the foreseeable future.
Every big-time college program passed on Petrino this past offseason, and it looked as though he may take an offensive coordinator job before WKU pulled a fast one and hired him. given his past, he’s likely staying at WKU for at least 2-3 seasons, if for no other reason than no big program will want to take a chance on him after so many mistakes he’s made.
Because of this, Petrino will likely begin posing a threat to UK and UL in terms of in-state recruits, and he may even dip into the Ohio area where UL and UK are heavily recruiting as well.
As good of a resume as Charlie Strong and Mark Stoops have, neither of them can tell recruits they’ve accomplished as much as Petrino, who once ruled the state of Kentucky with an iron fist. Petrino coached at Louisville from 2003-06, going 41-9 and leading the Cardinals to a 12-1 mark and their first-ever BCS berth in the Orange Bowl in 2006 before departing for a brief stint in the NFL with the Atlanta Falcons.
UK plays WKU in Nashville this year, and Petrino has a chance to strike an early and decisive blow to one in-state rival. If the Hilltoppers win this game, it could be the start of something special for the Hilltopper program as they look to continue their ascent up the ranks of the FBS food chain. It doesn’t help UK that Petrino is 4-1 vs. UK all-time.
Last year’s victory over Kentucky was huge, but it was over a squad that went 2-10 and had a lame duck head coach in Joker Phillips from the moment the season began. A win over Mark Stoops, who currently has a top-5 recruiting class assembled at UK and figures to be in Lexington for at least three seasons, would be a program-changing victory.