Thu, Dec 13, 2007 - Page 19 News List

Petrino resigns as Falcons head coach, takes Arkansas job

AP , ATLANTA

Bobby Petrino resigned as Atlanta Falcons coach on Tuesday after only 13 games with the NFL team and within hours returned to the college ranks as coach at the University of Arkansas.

"Today was a day of decision," Petrino said. "It was difficult on one side, very easy on the other. It was difficult to leave Atlanta, the staff, players, fans. The timing of it was probably the thing that made it most difficult. Coming to Arkansas was the easy part."

Petrino left the University of Louisville to become Falcons coach in January for a five-year, US$24 million contract, largely because Atlanta felt he could help star quarterback Michael Vick reach his full potential.

However, Vick came under investigation for a grisly dogfighting operation that eventually led him to plead guilty to federal charges. He was sentenced on Monday to 23 months in prison without ever taking a snap for Petrino.

That night, Atlanta lost their fourth straight game 34-14 to the New Orleans Saints and hours later Petrino left the team with a 3-10 record.

Other than confirming his resignation, the Falcons declined further comment on Petrino until a news conference with owner Arthur Blank and general manager Rich McKay.

There was no immediate word who would take over as head coach for the final three games.

Petrino was hired at Arkansas to succeed Houston Nutt, who stepped down two weeks ago and became the head coach at University of Mississippi.

After losing Vick, Petrino tried three other starting quarterbacks without success. The Falcons are assured of the 32nd non-winning season in their 42-year history.

Petrino's stint was one of the shortest for a non-interim coach since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger. Pete McCulley was fired after starting 1-8 with San Francisco in 1978 and Sid Gillman lasted only 10 games in his second stint as San Diego coach, going 4-6 in 1971 before quitting.

Petrino assembled one of college football's highest-scoring offenses at Louisville, but the Falcons were anemic without Vick. They also were plagued by injuries on the offensive line, which forced them to start two players who were not even drafted out of college.

The resignation had to be a major surprise to Blank, who fired Jim Mora just two seasons after he led the Falcons to the NFC championship game and lured Petrino with a lucrative contract.

But there were signs of dissension. He ran the team with an aloof style, feeling no reason to share his decisions on personnel with the affected players. He could walk through the locker room without speaking to anyone and was openly criticized by two of the team's stars, Alge Crumpler and DeAngelo Hall.

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