Let me preface all of this by saying that I understand the case against Bobby Petrino and sympathize with and understand the concerns harbored by many of those who are touting it. That said, it's not like Tom Jurich is making this move because he lost a bet or because he wanted to say, "look what I can do."
There are many legitimate arguments out there for Petrino being the best possible candidate to fill the void left by Charlie Strong. Here are five.
1. Now more than ever, Louisville can't afford to lose momentum
The turnaround job that Charlie Strong was able to come in here and pull was nothing short of remarkable, but it was also aided considerably by playing in the weakest of the six BCS conferences. That safety net is gone, which makes the stakes in this coaching search exponentially higher than they were four years ago.
Louisville needs to win right away. A 3-9 or 4-8 season in 2014 likely means a big recruiting hit and a blow to the psyche of existing players, which could now result in a two or three year rebuilding process. In 2009 or 2010, the same type of result meant significantly less because you knew it would be easier to bounce back, you know you didn't have to have elite talent or perform near the best of your ability to win every week.
If U of L wants to be a top-tier ACC team three or four years from now, it needs to prove right out of the gate that it's worthy of competing at that level. Could Chad Morris or Pat Narduzzi accomplish that feat? Maybe. Or maybe they'd take a couple of years to learn how to be a successful head coach, a curve which would kill any chance of being successful at Louisville before the fan base and the boosters started to revoke support. It's a risk I'm not sure the program an afford to take.
If you're looking solely at the resumes of the existing candidates and trying to pick the guy most capable of winning 8-10 games next season, there's no question that one name stands out.
2. Petrino provides some culture consistency
According to multiple players on the 2007 team, Steve Kragthorpe made his biggest mistake at U of L during his first couple of weeks on the job.
Kragthorpe inherited a group of players who had been terrified of disappointing Bobby Petrino, and he tried to be their friend. The result was players who started skipping workouts, who stopped going to class and who didn't buy it at all when Kragthorpe attempted to magically morph into a disciplinarian.
Louisville players have loved Charlie Strong for the past four years but they've also feared and respected him. Bringing in a coach who doesn't demand that same level of fear and respect could result in a disaster similar to 2007-09.
The worst thing that could happen at U of L right now is for there to be a culture clash that results in wide-scale dismissals, transfers or suspensions of key players. Petrino is enough like Strong that I don't think that's going to happen.
3. We've kind of seen this work out well before
An intense guy with a brilliant coaching mind who achieves a great deal of success early in his career, goes to the professional level, fails, comes back to college and wind up having to deal with some extreme non-sports drama, and then winds up getting what many national writers call a "second chance" at Louisville.
I realize there are some extreme differences in the two situations, but I think it's also silly to dismiss the parallels as being irrelevant.
If the past three or four years have taught us anything, it's this: a brilliant coach with a chip on his shoulder after being adequately humbled is capable of accomplishing some remarkable things. Bobby Petrino is a brilliant coach with a chip on his shoulder after being adequately humbled.
It's not like Petrino doesn't know what's being said, it's not like he isn't aware of all the people who want to see him fail. The distractions and the wandering eyes are no longer a concern, because "New Bobby" understands that if he doesn't win now, it's pretty much over for him.
Basically, we're about to get what we always wanted from 2003 to 2006: a Bobby Petrino focused solely on winning big at the University of Louisville.
4. Petrino never lost his affinity for Louisville
Though the way he left rubbed more than a few people here the wrong way, Petrino never harbored any feelings of ill-will towards Louisville. In fact, it was quite the opposite.
During a press conference when he was the head coach at Arkansas, he told a reporter wearing a Kentucky hat to take it off because he couldn't look at it. Three of his children have attended the University of Louisville, including daughter Katie, who is currently a standout golfer for the Cards. When his house in Fayetteville was put on the market a couple of years ago, pictures revealed that it was full of memorabilia and mementos from his time at Louisville.
He liked it here and he was comfortable here, but he was also a relatively young coach consumed by ambition...as most relatively young people in any profession are. Through everything that happened since, Petrino never lost his affection for the city of Louisville, the university and the football program. That should both help and motivate him immensely in tenure two.
5. He has the faith of Tom Jurich
Perhaps more important than any of this, Petrino has repaired and maintained a strong relationship with Tom Jurich, a person to whom he has to feel indebted.
Remember this? When Petrino was at rock-bottom, he turned to Jurich, who played an instrumental role in him landing the WKU job.
"Tom really helped me going through this rough time," Petrino said. "With the year off I talked to him a number of times. I was really happy that he was able to give me some guidance and direction on how to go. I'm very, very grateful for that."
It wasn't the first time Jurich had helped Petrino navigate a tight spot. He did the same when Petrino coached at U of L. This time, however, Jurich's vote of confidence was available for anyone who wanted to consider Petrino for a job. And his recommendation carries considerable weight, including at Western Kentucky, where Petrino landed as head coach.
"Obviously, he's a great athletic director and a great person and I can't say enough about how much he's helped me throughout my whole career," Petrino said.
Ms. CC and I spent a few weeks during the offseason watching "Orange is the New Black" on Netflix (the key is finding shows you both enjoy and then watching the ones the other person hates after they fall asleep), and there's a moment in the show that I've kept thinking about since the rumors of Petrino's return first started.
The show is about a woman's experience in prison, and in one of the later episodes, one of the characters (Nicky) admits to the prison's alpha female that she betrayed her, even though it was the alpha who took her under her wing back when she'd first arrived. The alpha takes it in stride, and offers up this response when a confused Nicky asks if she understood that she'd just revealed her betrayal:
"I know. And that's why I trust you. Because I know you'll do whatever it takes to make things right."
None of us should trust Bobby Petrino. He's earned that doubt. But if there was ever a situation where Petrino would be loyal enough to focus all of his attention on achieving the task assigned to him by his employer, this would be it. Career restoration will fuel that same effort, sure, but it's impossible for Petrino not to feel like he owes Jurich a great deal right now.
Above all else, this is Jurich's call, and his track record indicates that it will eventually be proven to be the right one.