Let’s get this out of the way to start things off: Peter Sirmon’s defense has played extremely bad and he’s in charge of that defense. This isn’t an attempt to excuse him from his responsibilities. This post is meant to point out one huge flashing neon sign that is being ignored by some. Peter Sirmon’s defense was bad last year and Bobby Petrino hired him anyway. Petrino is the head coach of this football team and it is time for people to treat him as such. He’s not an offensive coordinator. He decided to hire an unproven coach to lead his defense and he’s also responsible for recruiting players on both sides of the ball. Not just on offense.
Louisville decided to bring Bobby Petrino back to coach their team headed into the ACC. Charlie Strong left a lot of veteran talent when he moved on to Texas. 10 players were drafted after that first year including 5 guys that Strong recruited on defense. Yet after 4 years, Louisville is still relying on Strong’s players on defense. They haven’t upgraded the talent on that side of the ball at all. Trevon Young signed with Strong before he moved on. James Hearns and De’Asian Richardson were both in Strong’s last class. Stacy Thomas was sorely missed against Boston College. Chucky Williams is a meme now that AJ Dillon tossed him like a kid on his big run. But, those guys are key players on the defense. Hearns led the team in sacks last year. Stacy Thomas was a PFF All-American. Chucky makes a ton of plays on defense even though he makes me scream at times.
How has Petrino not upgraded the talent with the move to the ACC and a much higher pedigree than Strong? James Sample, Josh Harvey-Clemons, and Devante Fields were all productive guys that Petrino brought in over the last few years. But, what about four year players? Louisville filled most of the holes in the defense with transfers and they didn’t do anything to bring in guys that would need to play when Strong’s players and those transfers moved on. That’s why you see two true freshmen at middle linebacker when Thomas went down last week. That’s why they had such a drop off when Shaq Wiggins transferred and Jaire Alexander got injured.
They didn’t recruit nearly well enough on defense. That’s it. When the team can’t upgrade at any position on defense in four years, it’s on the head coach. At this moment right now I can name two single players that Louisville has recruited on defense that have improved at least their one spot. Jaire Alexander and Jon Greenard. That’s the list. In four whole classes they couldn’t get a second corner that wouldn’t get picked on. They’ve missed on front seven players so much that Greenard is playing four different positions.
What’s really frustrating, though, is that the talent level isn’t that much worse than 2016 when the defense was solid and even very good at times. They really miss DeAngelo Brown. They really miss Keith Kelsey. But who else would you say that about? They were fine without Shaq Wiggins for most of the season last year. Trevon Young is an improvement over Devonte Fields. Khane Pass has the same flaws that JHC had but I’d argue that he’s played very well against the run and is at least close to being as good. So how did they fall off so badly?
Bobby Petrino hired Peter Sirmon to coach them. That’s how. Sirmon’s defense at Mississippi State had two games where they allowed less than 5.5 yards per play last year (That number alone would’ve ranked 50th in the country last year). That was against a bad South Carolina offense and a bad BYU offense. In every other game teams moved the ball with ease (Trust me. I watched nearly every defensive snap). They gave up 35 points and 5.94 yards per play to UMASS. They allowed FCS school Samford to score 41 points and 6.09 yards per play. Samford could only get a field goal when they went against Todd Grantham’s defense the year before. Alabama almost averaged 10 yards per play in their matchup. That’s a first down per snap. Peter Sirmon had one year of evidence of his coaching ability and none of that evidence was good. Bobby Petrino hired him anyway and stated that Sirmon was the guy they had wanted for a while.
Bobby Petrino is the head football coach for UofL. He gets paid handsomely to be the head coach. He gets a ton of credit for coaching Louisville’s first Heisman Trophy winner and he deserves that credit. But, it’s not his only job. He runs the entire team and he gets paid to be in charge of the whole team. When you look at the top programs in the country none of those coaches are excused from recruiting on one side of the ball. None of those coaches get a free pass when the side of the ball that they’re not experts on is failing. You could also argue that none of those coaches have or would hire a defensive coordinator that performed so poorly at his previous school. Bobby Petrino not only made that hire, he gave Peter Sirmon a $300,000 raise when he brought him in from MSU. Maybe it’s time to hold him accountable for this defense.