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November 28, 2012
MAKING THE CASE: Bobby Petrino
AUBURN -- Athletic director Jay Jacobs and his own Coalition of the Willing, selected members of the search committee, are now in their third day of work to find coach Gene Chizik's successor.
A new leader could be revealed as soon as Friday, so the time for seriously analyzing the most likely candidates is at hand. We start today with a man who needs no introduction, though the surprising strength of his statistical profile often is obfuscated by his personal travails.
Let's take a deeper look at the former Arkansas coach.
He's been a head coach for eight seasons - four at Louisville, four at Arkansas - and has paved a trail of success from start to finish. His career winning percentage (74.3%) places him ahead of Nick Saban (74%), Les Miles (73.3%) and Steve Spurrier (72.8%), which is some impressive company.
And it's not like Petrino wasn't exactly piggybacking off someone else's success. He took Louisville to its first Bowl Championship Series game in 2006 and guided the Razorbacks during their maiden BCS voyage in 2010.
No other coach has taken two programs to their first BCS bowl.
The talk surrounding Petrino always starts with his offense.
By fusing spread elements, strong quarterback play and pace, Petrino created an offense that simply overwhelms most opponents. During Petrino's four seasons at Louisville, the team ranked no lower than 15th among all NCAA programs in scoring and yards.
The 2004 team led the nation in both categories.
Arkansas wasn't far off those numbers during Petrino's time in Fayetteville. After a sub-par season in 2008, his first with the Razorbacks, Arkansas never again finished below third among Southeastern Conference teams in passing yards, total yards or scoring.
Meanwhile, the program flourished. The Razorbacks set or tied 98 school records during Petrino's final three seasons in Fayetteville, cracked the 10-win plateau in consecutive seasons, finished above .500 in SEC during consecutive seasons for the first time in school history and scored at least 30 points in more than half of their games.
For all that offensive success, though, Petrino's defenses have been surprisingly good. His final defense at Louisville ranked 17th among all NCAA teams in points allowed. Each Arkansas defense improved over its immediate predecessor, cutting points allowed from 31.7 in 2008 to 22.2 last season.
Also telling is what happens to the teams once Petrino leaves. His time at Auburn as offensive coordinator, which yielded a 9-4 season, led to the infamous experiment involving Steve Ensminger and Hugh Nall. Points and yards dropped in 2003 - and the Tigers finished 8-5.
That season prompted an attempt on Auburn's behalf to hire Petrino away from his new job at Louisville.
You know how that ended.
Louisville won 41 games during Petrino's four years there. The program won 22 games during the next four years. Arkansas won 21 games during Petrino's final two seasons in Fayetteville - and finished 4-8 this fall.