Wednesday December 12th, 2007

When I think back on Bobby Petrino's NFL head-coaching era in Atlanta, there's only one phrase that seems entirely apt: Thanks for stopping by.

While the late Tuesday afternoon news of Petrino's resignation after just 13 games as the Falcons head coach was shocking in some ways, I can't say I'm all that surprised. You could see this one coming from miles and miles away.

Like Steve Spurrier and Nick Saban before him, Petrino is just the latest big-name ex-collegiate head coach to jump to the NFL for the big money, and then make the quick discovery that they can't win as much in the NFL, they can't construct their usual little fiefdom in the NFL, and they sure can't exert the same total control over their players or their program in the NFL as they could back in their college coaching days.

The end result will wind up being the same in each case: Skulking back to a college campus after a year or two in the NFL, saying they realized it's just where they belong. Cue the down-home theme music.

I really wasn't stunned by Petrino bailing on the Falcons, because in an early October story that I wrote about him and the problems he was having internally in his own locker room just five games into this season, I raised the specter of Spurrier and Saban's brief two-year NFL head coaching tenures and questioned whether he would be the next to follow their lead?

At that point, I was already hearing that some in the Falcons organization were claiming they didn't think Petrino was a lock to even make it to a second season in Atlanta, by his own choosing. In that story, I wrote the following passage:

"Whatever passed as a honeymoon period for Petrino in Atlanta, it's over. Five games into his Falcons tenure, his team's lack of success has left him open to questions about whether he's in over his head or has the tools to run his power-spread offense. Does he have enough of a rapport with his players to motivate them to follow him, or is he merely the latest big-name collegiate coach who won't be able to work his same magic in the NFL?

In this case, the relatively rapid failures of Butch Davis, Steve Spurrier, Nick Saban in the NFL coaching ranks has shortened the timetable for Petrino to transition from winning college coach to winning NFL coach. It may not be fair, but that's the reality he's dealing with in Atlanta. He took this job with some built-in doubt to overcome, and he hasn't yet put a dent in that skepticism with his rocky first few months.''

To be fair to Petrino, he didn't sign on for the Michael Vick debacle in Atlanta, but that's what he got, and it effectively ended his team's 2007 season even before it began.

But there was more to Petrino's apparent distaste for the NFL and the Falcons job than not having No. 7 under center. Petrino was not only wildly unpopular in his own locker room, he wasn't even liked by those who worked in the Falcons team office, and who got to see him in supposedly a more relaxed setting.

I visited Atlanta's training camp in early August, and sources within the building in Flowery Branch told me Petrino's lack of a personal touch left even the office secretaries cold, and that his disinterest in anything outside of football inspired some to describe him as having the personality of a doorknob.

Something tells me that there was no gnashing of teeth within the Atlanta organization when the doorknob made for the doorway on Tuesday.

As I watched Petrino coach in his Falcons' swan song Monday night at home against New Orleans -- a loss that dropped his team to a desultory 3-10 -- I had the sense that I was seeing a guy who didn't have the long haul in mind. He seemed disengaged, and as aloof and devoid of personality as several of his players had described him to me in August. People I talked to within the Falcons say they never once saw any indication that Petrino seemed to enjoy his work, or for that matter, really wanted to be there.

Given that, Petrino shouldn't be surprised his players never bought into his program in Atlanta. It appears, even he didn't.

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