Bobby Petrino knows the questions are coming.
Six months after he was hired as Western Kentucky’s football coach, he still gets asked about his past. Thursday was no exception as he met with reporters before a Toppers on Tour caravan stop at Jonathan’s Grille in Green Hills.
The 52-year-old said he is moving in the “right direction” since his ouster at Arkansas 14 months ago after he lied about the details of a motorcycle accident in which his mistress was in tow.
“Obviously during the recruiting process and with the media there were things that needed to be answered,” he said. “We try to do everything straight up and up front. Certainly you live and learn. I think I’ve worked hard at it. Try to make sure I’m doing everything in the right direction. It is fun to be back working with young men.”
Petrino was unemployed for only eight months when WKU athletic director Todd Stewart offered him a job. Stewart said Petrino’s college coaching credentials — a 75-26 record in eight years at Louisville and Arkansas, seven bowl games, five bowl victories, two BCS bowl trips — were too good for the Hilltoppers to pass on.
But Petrino admits during his time away from coaching he was uncertain when a new opportunity might arise.
“I didn’t really know,” he said. “I thought I would at some place, some level, somewhere — whether that was as an assistant, as a coordinator or whatever. I was really fortunate that Todd Stewart reached out to me.”
So far Petrino’s summer has been filled with evaluating recruits, hosting summer camps and welcoming the freshman class to campus. When he’s not working, he plans to visit his sister and parents in Montana. He also tries to go to the links with his daughter, Katie, who is a member of the golf team at the University of Louisville.
“I’ll go out and hit the ball around with her and she beats me just about every time out,” Petrino said with a grin.
Fewer than 80 days remain before WKU opens its season against Kentucky and first-year coach Mark Stoops on Aug. 31 at LP Field for the last of a four-game series. The Hilltoppers will follow that up with another Southeastern Conference foe and first-year coach — Tennessee and Butch Jones.
“Those are tough games,” Stewart said. “That is tough to ask him to open his campaign with two games like that. That’s hard. Ideally, you would want to have a couple wins, so to speak, where you could just show up and win the game and get used to everything. But these schedules were set years in advance, long before he came here. But he has welcomed that. He has not one time we complained about playing Kentucky and Tennessee right out of the gate.”
When players start to file back in for preseason camp in August, Petrino won’t only be showing his team game film of Florida State’s defense from Stoops’ time with the Seminoles or snippets of Cincinnati’s offense and defense when Jones led the Bearcats.
He also plans to put his players through an etiquette class.
“That is all part of the personal growth and development,” Petrino said. “One of the things we always try to do is teach them how they need to prepare outside of football, outside of the classroom, to go do their first interview, sit down and have dinner and try to get a job. That is one of things that will be fun to do.”
Petrino also says he has been encouraged by the support from WKU coaches, staff, fans and alumni — and not just in Bowling Green.
He, along with men’s basketball coach Ray Harper and women’s basketball coach Michelle Clark-Heard, have made stops in Louisville and Owensboro this week with appearances in Elizabethtown and Glasgow next week.
As the season approaches, Petrino hopes to provide answers to an energized fan base.
“The fans have been great,” he said. “I think there is a lot of energy, a lot of excitement. Now we just have to go out and put a great product on the field, be entertaining and win games and sell tickets.”