LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- There was a sign-in sheet. I don't remember that at other University of Louisville media events. A security guard welcomed me to Papa John's Cardinal Stadium Thursday morning and pointed me toward a book where you signed your name and media affiliation.
I didn't ask why. I just wrote my name in a guest register, and wondered if I should've brought a gift. Or an alias.
But when I went in to sit down, it felt more like a funeral. People were hushed. There was a kind of daze, a surreal feel in the room.
Bobby Petrino was about to be named the University of Louisville's football coach, and everybody who had been around had a Bobby story to tell.
That morning, the new emperor had driven to the stadium, taking an old, familiar road that he'd driven many times. He was back. His home, he would call it later. His castle. He walked into the stadium to meet with players, his players, and told them they had a lot of ground to cover in a short time. He wanted to meet with each one individually. They would have a team meeting on Sunday. Then he had a senior-to-be, Lorenzo Mauldin, one of the players most stung by Charlie Strong's departure, walk into the meeting room clad all in black. The emperor's new clothes, it seems, are a black adidas uniform and helmet. The players seemed happy.
Upstairs, the University of Louisville Athletic Association would vote on his contract. The meeting ran a bit long, but the vote was unanimous. School president James Ramsey stood up and said that to continue on the school's current upward trajectory, "the management experts say, we have to have the right people on the bus."
Bus? It used to be a train. No matter. After interviewing Bobby Petrino, Ramsey said, "there was no question that we've got the very best person to lead our Cardinal football team forward."
Ah. The Best Man. I knew I should've brought a present.
Athletic director Tom Jurich got up next. I knew, for the most part, what Petrino was going to say. It was Jurich's message that I was most interested to hear.
"Bobby and I have a lot of history together," Jurich said. "A lot of it's great; a lot it's not great. And I knew that. But the one thing I believe in is forgiveness. Bobby has convinced me that he's a changed man. I told Bobby the coach I had here eight years ago is not the coach I want to hire. I want the new Bobby Petrino and I've been assured by the most important one in Bobby's life, (his wife) Becky, that I've got a new Bobby Petrino."
Later, somebody asked him about the problems Petrino was supposed to have left behind when he departed Louisville the first time, problems Jurich referenced often after he left.
"That was the old Bobby Petrino that I had," Jurich said. "That was the old one. I wanted to make sure the new Bobby Petrino that I had was not going to do that."
Definitely funeral. We have gathered here today to lay to rest the old Bobby Petrino. Poor guy. They took him for a ride. They cashed him out. The black uniforms. I get it now. May he rest in peace. He's gone. And they're not even saying nice things about him.
"I didn't like him. I really didn't," Jurich said. "I told him that. I'm serious. I'm shocked he stayed. Those first 30 minutes (of their interview) weren't fun. I didn't like anything about you. I didn't like the way he treated Rocco (Gasparro, football sports information director). I didn't like the way he treated the people around our building. It better be a new guy. It better be a new guy. If it isn't, I'm accountable."
Jurich wasn't just laying out a storyline about not liking the old Petrino. He means it. At the bowl game, in just Petrino's second season, he was ready to fire his coach, and the guy finished the season 11-1. He gave him a contract extension, and five days later Petrino interviewed with LSU. You remember that? He shows up for the Liberty Bowl press conference and there's a Christmas tree in the room, and it has purple and gold decorations. Brutal. It was just a year after Petrino had secretly interviewed with Auburn. He had chided reporters who questioned him about LSU on the day he was there to talk about his extension, and there he was, less than a week later, interviewing with them. Jurich wanted to fire him. He wasn't kidding. When they got back to Louisville, school administrators said you couldn't fire a coach you just gave an extension to. They had a press conference. But Jurich wouldn't do his coach any favors. He said Petrino would have to mend his own fences with fans. You know what's really good about mending fences? Winning football games.
Then the new Petrino spoke. Two things he said stuck out to me. He basically acknowledged that he wasn't going to get up and say anything to convince cynics.
"Well, I think that the number one thing that you have to do, is show you," Petrino said. "I don't think that words and everything can just come out of your mind. I always have a sign in my locker room that says, "It's a show me world," so it is up to me to show it. Again, like I said earlier, emotionally, I am completely tied to finishing my career here, and also contractually I am, so it is a great situation."
The new Petrino called Louisville his destination job. He called it home. When asked about how his arrival and being at Louisville might be perceived, he invoked a little of the old Petrino.
"Certainly you care," Petrino said. "And it hurts when you hear things that are said about you. It hurts the family. But we'll get the fans back. I remember when I was here, I think we had a 21-game winning streak at home and the fans had a lot to do with that."
There we go. It's tough. The family has a tough time with the criticism. But did I mention we, the old Petrino, won 21 straight games in this building? Remember that? Good times.
"This is my home," Petrino said. "I went to Western Kentucky so I could get close to Louisville."
He pauses a bit, and tears come to his eyes. Later, when asked about Petrino getting emotional, Jurich said, "I didn't know he had emotions." But there they were. Tears. He just wanted to be close to Louisville. When his dad said he wanted the Kentucky job last year, that was even closer to Louisville. It all makes sense now. Did you know the tears of a football coach are said to have healing powers? They can't heal disease, but are said to heal certain forms of skepticism.
Jurich, speaking later, said Petrino's buyout is $10 million. But, he says, Petrino wanted $100 million.
"You all know I've been wrong," Jurich said. "But I feel this is his last stop."
And then he said something particularly interesting. He said Petrino would be paid $3.5 million per year over seven years.
Wait. What? Did I hear that right? Did he say $3.5 million per year? Petrino was making $800,000 and change at Western Kentucky. I'm doing the math in my head. He was making $2.85 million at Arkansas. Gets fired. Sits out a season. Comes back at Western Kentucky. And now he's making more at Louisville than he started out making? Figuring in Jimbo Fisher's extension at Florida State, and if Gus Malzahn stays at Auburn, that makes Petrino roughly the 11th highest paid coach in college football. Even if James Franklin gets a bigger deal at Penn State, he's in the top dozen. That's a lot of money. That's more than the budgets of all but two academic departments in U of L's College of Arts and Sciences for a whole year. U of L's psychology department has a budget of $3.02 million. Petrino's salary is $3.5 million. There's a clever comment to be made here. Unfortunately, I'm too tired to come up with it.
While Jurich is talking, there is a roar from below. They have introduced Petrino to the fan party in a reception room in the stadium. It is packed with Louisville fans. And they love Bobby. They love him again, already. I wander down there after Jurich finishes. "This is amazing," one of them said. "Best thing that could have happened."
It's a wake. That's what it feels like. Celebration. People are chanting, "Bobby, Bobby, Bobby." They're drinking, toasting his success. Let the good times roll.
Upstairs, Jurich issued a warning. He said he asked the coach, "Do you have enough courage to look me in the eye and tell me you've changed? Because if you lie to me, I'll kill you."
I believe him. They put the old Bobby down yesterday, and I'm not even sure what they did with the body. Long live the new one.