by Nate Olson
A familiar name to Arkansas football fans will be coaching just up the road in the Ozarks next year. Missouri State named Bobby Petrino its head coach Wednesday. A press conference is set for Thursday.
Monday night, a local Springfield, Mo., outlet reported Petrino would be hired as the school’s new coach. Footballscoop.com reported disgraced Coach Art Briles was the pick. Briles was fired after eight years at Baylor when it was discovered he was the center of a sexual assault scandal involving Bears players. Briles hasn’t been able to land a college coaching job since and in 2019 became the head coach at Mount Vernon (Texas) High School. He is the father of Kendal Briles, who was recently hired as Arkansas’ offensive coordinator and served in the same position under his father at Baylor.
The bizarre situation spurred plenty of negative action on Twitter Tuesday night in regards to both coaches, but Briles in particular. The mention of both of the two coaches with checkered pasts was bizarre. If MSU had the thought of entertaining Briles, the reaction should have quelled that notion.
Petrino has had his own issues. He derailed the Arkansas football program when he was abruptly fired in 2012 after a motorcycle accident revealed an affair with a 25-year-old staffer the coach had paid $20,000 to. The Hogs were coming off a narrow defeat to Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl and a Top 10 team. They haven’t been the same since going through two coaches in that time.
Arkansas is scheduled to play Missouri State in 2022. That would add some juice to what would normally be a meaningless nonconference game. That is to say if Petrino is still there. More on that below.
Petrino rebounded from the Arkansas incident and landed at Western Kentucky in 2013. After a lone season there, he began his second stint at Louisville, which ended with his firing in 2018.
He enjoyed some success from 2015-17 when current Baltimore Ravens star Lamar Jackson was the Cardinals quarterback. Jackson won the Heisman Trophy as a sophomore in 2016. Also, in that year, Louisville blasted Florida State 63-20.
However, Petrino couldn’t survive a 2-8 record and seven-game losing streak in 2018.
Petrino appeared at the Little Rock Touchdown Club last fall and was apologetic to Arkansas fans. He indicated he wanted to coach again.
The fact that he took this job confirms he must really, really want to coach. Missouri State has had little success. Former Razorbacks player and assistant coach Jesse Branch was the last coach to win consistently in Springfield. He coached the Bears from 1986-94 and finished with a 55-44-1 record. Branch’s best teams were in 1989 and 90 when they finished 12-1 and 8-3, respectively, and captured Gateway Conference Championships. The 1989 team was 9-0 in conference play and advanced to the I-AA quarterfinals. In 1990, team lost in the first round of the playoffs. Before Branch, Missouri State, formerly Southwest Missouri State, hadn’t won a football conference championship since 1978. They haven’t won one since Branch and have only won eight since the program began in 1909.
Since Branch, four coaches have finished a combined 105-171, and it hasn’t been because Missouri State made bad hires. Terry Allen had great success at Northern Iowa and after a stint at Kansas took over at Missouri State in 2006. He finished with a nine-season mark of 37-64.
Allen’s replacement was highly respected Dave Steckel, who had been the defensive coordinator at Missouri. He was 13-42 from 2015-19.
The point is, the Bears program isn’t very good. But, apparently Petrino is really desperate. Maybe during this coaching carousel that has occurred over the past few weeks, Petrino realized he wouldn’t be considered for many FCS jobs. Petrino’ stock took a hit after a rough end to his tenure at Louisville. It’s a little surprising he’d stoop as low as the Missouri State job. Surely, he can still land a FBS job or at least a FCS program that has a better track record than MSU.
As for MSU, they seem as desperate as Petrino. To even think about Briles, who many think shouldn’t coach anywhere again, is a bad, bad look and hiring Petrino isn’t much better. Petrino has behaved, as far as we know, since the incident at Arkansas, but I still wouldn’t trust him. The sentiment from many who have played and coached for him is that he is a jerk that cares less about players and staff than winning. Those comments have come up at every stop.
History has also proven Petrino will jump for another job at a moment’s notice. He abandoned the Atlanta Falcons during the middle of the season and bolted for Louisville after WKU gave him a chance. He will fly out of Springfield if any measure of success leads to a sniff at an FCS program, and there is a chance he may not be present when the Bears meet the Hogs in three years. MSU is compromising its moral standards. Any program who entertains Petrino does.
Petrino may be the lesser of two evils, but MSU definitely could find a coach with better character. But can they find a coach who can actually win more than Petrino, who owns a 119-56 overall record? History says no, so that’s why he’s being introduced tomorrow.