This is part 3 of a seven-part series detailing every head coaching change in the NFL this offseason. Today’s installment focuses on the Atlanta Falcons and new head coach Bobby Petrino.

This is the only installment in this series that feels kind of redundant for me, because it’s about a guy I’ve talked about some in the past, Bobby Petrino. When I have mentioned him, it has been overwhelmingly negative. Not negative because of his coaching ability, but because of his complete disloyalty to those who have helped him get where he is today. He tried to leave Louisville a couple times before actually accomplishing it this past year (one year after signing a lucrative new contract, and five days after their last game of the season), interviewing with Auburn behind the back of his former boss Tommy Tuberville in one of his failed attempts. Of course, the other side of all this is that none of these places would have gone after him in the first place if he weren’t successful. Whatever else you say, you have to grant him this: at Louisville, despite his intense desire to be anywhere else, he won all the time. He went 41-9 there in four years, to be exact, capped with a win in the 2007 Orange Bowl. Clearly he had seen enough and bolted to the Falcons. It was the move he clearly wanted to make, and a move he surely had no doubt would be a great success, but some funny things happened between then and now.

For the most part, those “funny things” involve Falcons QB Michael Vick, who is singularly athletic for his position but still doesn’t play it all that well. Apparently this delightful chap loves him some dog fighting. For more, see this. Or this. Or this. Or this. It’s been a highly publicized event, and obviously not in a good way. Besides the damaging off the field aspect, there’s the fact that Vick is the Falcons’ franchise player and the team is built around him. This case casts some serious doubts about his future with the team – not the way Petrino envisioned his tenure beginning. (I’m crying a single tear for him.) There is little doubt in my mind he coveted this job in large part due to Vick: he saw his vast potential and must have thought that if Vick were paired with a genius like him, they would go on to world domination and ride off into the sunset together. Well, it certainly doesn’t appear that will be the case. Maybe Vick will still play for the Falcons, but franchises whose franchise players are in limbo (and can’t complete more than 53 percent of their passes) are generally not especially successful.

Besides that (even though brushing that matter to the side is kind of ridiculous), it’s gone well for Petrino. He’s making almost $5 million per year and had a pretty good draft. Their first two picks went toward getting better up front on both sides of the ball (defensive end Jamaal Anderson of Arkansas in the first round and offensive lineman Justin Blalock of Texas in the second) and they picked up some other good players like Chris Houston (defensive back from Arkansas) and Stephen Nicholas (linebacker from South Florida). The coaches raved about Vick’s football-related work in the offseason, and it all sounded pretty promising until this whole dog fighting business came up. Unfortunately for the Falcons, it’s not going away, either.

Petrino said when he signed with Atlanta that he considered the Falcons’ position to be the best job in the NFL. That is a load of crap. It’s a standard NFL job that he took because it was available, it wasn’t Louisville, and because of Vick’s talent. Two out of those three still firmly apply; it will be interesting (and possibly ugly) to see what they do if Vick isn’t good to go, considering their backup plan is the generally unsuccessful Joey Harrington since they traded away their previous backup QB, Matt Schaub. All of this is not to say Petrino isn’t a good coach; he is a very good coach. He even has a few years of experience as an NFL assistant, including one season as an offensive coordinator.  He has a reputation as one of the best offensive minds in football, and he’ll need every bit of that offensive mind if at some point Vick isn’t around and he has to rely on Harrington, aging running back Warrick Dunn, and new (but aging) receiver Joe Horn. Plus, the recent success rate of college-to-NFL head coaching hired isn’t too good, even when they have experience as an NFL assistant like Butch Davis. (There was also Jimmy Johnson, but he was a while ago now.) Petrino is undoubtedly the kind of guy who doesn’t imagine himself to be the failing type, and his insatiable ego led him to give coaching at the game’s highest level a try. What will follow is going to be a tougher road than he anticipated due to Vick’s legal troubles, and considering the type of weasel Petrino has been in the past, it wouldn’t exactly disappoint me (or surprise me all that much) to see him go something like 19-29 over the next three years, get forced out, then either take a coordinator job or a college head coaching job with his tail between his legs. However, at present all that matters is the 2007 season, and considering the Falcons are coming off a mediocre 7-9 record, it’s shaping up to be a dogfight difficult road.

The next installment, hopefully up tomorrow, will focus on the San Diego Chargers and new head coach Norv Turner.

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