Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Gutless Wonder

So the big NFL news of the day comes from the Atlanta Falcons and surprisingly this time it had nothing to do with Michael Vick.

No this time it's their brand spanking new head coach Bobby Petrino who apparently decided in Saban-esque fashion that he wasn't cut out for the flaming hot glare of the spotlight that is the NFL.

So instead of honoring the five-year, $24 million contract he signed, Petrino has decided to high tail it out of town and return to the comfort of the college game at the University of Arkansas.

On the surface some might say that the move was predictable given his struggles through 13 games as an NFL coach and if his heart wasn't in it then good riddance.

I'd agree with that to a point, but all of this contract breaking by coaches who realize the harsh reality of life in the NFL has got to stop. It seems to me that no player would be allowed to switch teams less than a year into a freshly signed contract.

That is they wouldn't without a prolonged hold out that would inevitably paint that player as a malcontent in the court of public opinion and ultimately drive his value down. Starting to see the hypocrisy in all this?

For coaches who want to try their hand at the big leagues, contracts might as well be replaced by secret handshakes because they seemingly have no meaning besides stipulating what that coach may make in a particular year if he decides to stick around.

Players have to force trades, coaches trade themselves (albeit down a level), and for some reason in my little brain that seems wrong.

Think about it, how different is this move by Petrino to say Chester Taylor, a year after signing a contract to be the feature back for the Vikings, deciding that he doesn't want to play second fiddle to rookie sensation Adrian Peterson and deciding to take his skills elsewhere? That sounds outrageous, but honestly what's the difference?

Taylor signed on to be the man and then the team decided it's going to stake it's future on a younger, more explosive player, why can't he negotiate elsewhere to be the starting tailback? I don't understand why coaches are able to make these sort of unilateral decisions without ramification or compensation, while players are held like precious commodities by the franchises that sign them.

Aside from the obvious double standard when it comes to a move like this, consider the ramifications it has across the board on players left behind on teams and players on their way into a program.

Don't forget that Petrino left a very talented Louisville team that massively underachieved with new head coach Steve Kragthorpe at the helm. What could have those players accomplished with Petrino guiding the ship and allowing kids that he recruited and coached for several years to keep the system rolling?

Think about the disservice he did to a guy like Brian Brohm who spent his entire collegiate career up to that point perfecting his ability to execute Petrino's system and then has to start over with a new head coach his senior year. How is that fair to him or any of the other upperclassmen that started the year with National Championship hopes and ended it 6-6 and without a bowl bid altogether?

Oh yeah, did I mention Petrino signed a 10-year extension with Louisville a year before he jumped ship and left the college game for the pros? That's special.

Think about the guys on the Atlanta Falcons who have had to struggle and fight daily battles on the football field as well as away from it in the wake of the Vick dog fighting case that left the team without its biggest star.

Those are grown men who are going to have to learn a new scheme for the second time in two years, a fact I'm sure not lost on them. Players in the NFL get criticized and even cut for poor performance and sometimes the culprit for the poor play is as simple as not picking things up quick enough.

In that case we're talking about people's livelihoods on the line, and while I know it can be difficult to feel sorry for high-paid professional athletes, it's still a job and they can get fired just like the rest of us. Remember, there are no guaranteed contracts in the pros.

Then think about the players that Petrino will be recruiting to join him at Arkansas. Impressionable kids who can and will be lured by the promise of playing time and gridiron glory at a tradition rich school like Arkansas.

But how can any of those kids or their parents believe a word that comes out of Petrino's mouth? Why on earth would you send your child to play for a guy who clearly has one foot out the door at all times?

The sad part is that most likely Petrino will get his blue-chip prospects and build himself a nice little powerhouse in the always tough SEC. Life will go on and all will be merry for Petrino and the Razorback faithful.

But watching Petrino whoop it up at his press conference with the cries of "pig suey" was more than a little annoying and if I were good old Bobby Ball Coach I wouldn't dare show my face in the state of Georgia for at least six months.

Now I know coaches changing jobs is a part of life, and generally speaking I have absolutely no problem with that. But when a guy like Petrino makes a long-term commitment as he's done twice now in the last two years and then backs out, I have to seriously question his character and his integrity.

That said, I hope all you Razorback fans take the time to enjoy the Bobby Petrino era, it could be over before you know it.

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