By NOAH TRISTER, AP Sports Writer Wed Dec 12, 6:42 AM ET
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. - Arkansas' patience was rewarded by a coach who wanted out of the NFL after less than a season.
Bobby Petrino was introduced as the Razorbacks' new coach Tuesday night, hours after he abruptly resigned from the Atlanta Falcons. The move gave Arkansas a big-name catch to replace Houston Nutt, who left the Hogs two weeks ago and was hired by Mississippi.
"I knew I wanted to come back and coach in college football," Petrino said. "I'm very excited to get back and work with the student-athlete."
In January, Petrino left as head coach at Louisville to take over in Atlanta, agreeing to a five-year, $24 million contract handed out by a team that felt he could help Michael Vick reach his full potential.
However, the star quarterback came under investigation for a grisly dogfighting operation that led him to plead guilty to federal charges.
Vick was sentenced Monday to 23 months in prison without ever taking a snap for Petrino. That night the Falcons lost to New Orleans 34-14, and hours later Petrino left the team with a 3-10 record to return to the college ranks.
Petrino got a five-year deal worth $2.85 million per year to take over the Razorbacks, according to an athletic department spokesman.
"One of the most attractive things about coming to the University of Arkansas is the fan base," Petrino said. "It basically ranges all the way from Fayetteville to Little Rock to West Memphis, and I'm excited about that — to be the main show — there's no question."
Arkansas fans were divided all year over Nutt's status, and after he left, the school looked for a proven coach to replace him. The Razorbacks came close to hiring Wake Forest's Jim Grobe last week, but Grobe remained with the Demon Deacons, raising questions as to whether a top candidate would come to Fayetteville.
With Petrino, Arkansas may get the last laugh. He went 41-9 in four high-scoring years at Louisville before leaving to join the Falcons.
"First of all, offensively, we want to be very aggressive," the 46-year-old Petrino told a cheering crowd when he was introduced. "What I like to do first is establish the fact that everybody expects to score every single time we take the field on offense. That is the expectation."
Arkansas was clearly eager to announce Petrino's hiring. Instead of waiting until Wednesday morning, the university held a news conference that started around 10:30 p.m. local time Tuesday night. A couple hours before that, some fans braved foggy, rainy weather to stand outside at Fayetteville's small airport, hoping to catch a glimpse of Petrino on his way in.
Jeff Long, Arkansas' incoming athletic director, handled the search for a new coach. Long takes over for Frank Broyles, who is retiring at the end of the year. Long said he wasn't deterred as the search appeared to drag on and many wondered if the Razorbacks needed to lower their standards.
"I wasn't listening or reading," Long said. "I was going to work to find the best coach."
Petrino's stint in Atlanta was one of the shortest for a non-interim coach since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger. Pete McCulley was fired after starting out 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.
In an interesting twist, Lou Holtz coached the New York Jets for 13 games in 1976. He went 3-10, then left the team with one game remaining to become the coach at Arkansas.
Petrino was the latest college coach to flop in the NFL. Steve Spurrier quit after two mediocre years with the Washington Redskins. Nick Saban made it through just two seasons with the Miami Dolphins before returning to the college ranks at Alabama.
There were signs of dissension in Atlanta, in particular because of the way Petrino dealt with his players.
To some he seemed aloof, feeling no reason to share personnel decisions with affected players. He could walk through the locker room without speaking to anyone and was openly criticized by two of the team's stars, Pro Bowlers Alge Crumpler and DeAngelo Hall.
A decision to cut nose tackle Grady Jackson, one of the team's most productive defensive linemen, during the bye week drew the ire of veteran players.
Atlanta owner Arthur Blank and general manager Rich McKay were scheduled to hold a news conference Wednesday. There was no immediate word on who would take over for the team's final three games.
Meanwhile, Petrino will try for a fresh start with Arkansas — something both the coach and school appear ready for.
The Razorbacks played in the Southeastern Conference championship game in 2006, but they finished that season with three straight losses. During the offseason, fans used the Freedom of Information Act to investigate Nutt's cell phone records.
This season started with Nutt's long-term status shaky, and the mood in Arkansas worsened when the Razorbacks began SEC play 0-3. They finished strong, beating then-No. 1 LSU in their regular-season finale to go 8-4.
However, within days of one of his biggest victories at Arkansas, Nutt departed and defensive coordinator Reggie Herring was named interim coach.
Herring will coach the 25th-ranked Razorbacks when they face No. 7 Missouri in the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 1. Then Petrino is the only person in charge.
"It was one of the most difficult things I've had to do," Petrino said. "I truly believe from the bottom of my heart that I made the right decision."