It took less than 48 hours after a press conference announcing the search had begun for Missouri State University President Clif Smart and Director of Athletics Kyle Moats to introduce their pick for head coach of the Bears football team.
“When we spoke on Monday, President Smart mentioned three things,” Moats said to start Thursday’s press conference. “One: we would find the best football coach. Two: we would talk to many constituents about the job to get their feedback about what traits they were looking for in a head coach. And three: accomplishing all this within a two-week period.
“I sincerely believe we have met those directives.”
Ex-Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino stepped up to the podium in the the Prime Overtime Club of JQH Arena ready to get to work at Thursday morning’s press conference.
“I’m really excited to be back as the head football coach,” Petrino said. "Being away from the game for a year was difficult. It’s never been about a job for me; it’s been about a way of life.”
Petrino did not have a job for the 2019 season, and he said the time off gave him extra motivation when head coaching searches began. He said one of his daughters reached out and asked if he knew about the MSU opening after she saw the news of Steckel’s departure on FootballScoop, a national site known for sharing news about college football. Petrino knew Moats from overlapping time at Louisville and reached out right away.
Petrino said he tried to get in contact with Moats through multiple people. Moats was in Frisco, Texas, attending the Football Championship Subdivision national championship game and eventually got in contact with him.
Smart said he and Moats flew to visit Petrino Monday afternoon after the first press conference regarding the football team. The two knew they needed a coach who could achieve the standards Steckel set for his team in the classroom and one who could also produce a winning program.
“Stec was great on that piece of it, but he didn’t win on the field,” Smart said. “We can’t bring in a guy who's going to win on the field and not be good on that piece of it.”
Smart said Petrino met those requirements and one other key element: he wasn’t a safe, traditional hire.
“There were dozens of people interested in this job,” Smart said after the press conference. “As we sorted through them, we had the ‘this is going to make a difference pile’ and ‘this is the conventional hire pile.’ We wanted to hire out of the ‘this is going to make a difference pile’ and by far and away, the guy at the top of that list from day one after he expressed interest was Bobby Petrino.”
Smart went on to say he believes and is excited about the direction Petrino can take the program.
“Guys, we just made a tremendous hire that can change the trajectory of our program and will raise the profile of the university,” Smart said.
Petrino was not a conventional hire based on his history off the field.
Moats and Smart said after the formal press conference that Petrino was a different person than he was eight years ago. Petrino was fired from the University of Arkansas for “a pattern of misbehavior” after a motorcycle accident led to the discovery of a relationship between Petrino and the team’s 25-year-old player development coordinator, according to Sports Illustrated.
“Certainly, I made a mistake at the University of Arkansas,” Petrino said. “I’m fortunate enough to have a great wife and great family and work forward, and that’s what we did.”
Moats, who worked with Petrino at Louisville in 2006 and 2007, said the two kept in touch after leaving Louisville, and he believes Petrino has earned time to reflect on things in the last few years.
“I think he has a better perspective on things (now),” Moats said.
Regardless of his past off the field, Petrino has all the credentials to get the job done on the field. In his 14 seasons as a head coach, he has a 119-56 record at the Division I FBS level with only two losing seasons — his first at Arkansas and his last at Louisville. He’s had 11 bowl appearances and was the Cardinals’ head coach when Lamar Jackson won the Heisman Trophy.
He has plenty of hope for his time at Missouri State despite the past.
“This is the job that I want,” Petrino said. “I told Kyle, if you’re going to write a script, write it like this: I come here, be very successful, I decide 8-10 years from now I still want to coach with a national championship in my pocket.”
Despite his previous success, Petrino will not be making nearly as much money as he was at his previous school.
The pay cut
As Missouri State’s 21st head football coach, Petrino took a deep cut in his annual salary. Not only was his previous contract for $3.4 million a year, but he also took a pay cut compared to what previous Bears head coach Dave Steckel was getting paid.
Steckel earned $289,152 in his final season at Missouri State. Steckel’s contract was originally at $270,000.
Steckel, though, was not receiving money from his previous job at Mizzou. Petrino still is.
Petrino was fired from Louisville after the 2018 season, but his contract required a $14 million buyout and Louisville will still pay him even with his new job, according to Tim Sullivan who covers Louisville for The Courier-Journal.
Despite the lack of pay coming from his new employer, Petrino said it’s not about the money for him.
“I missed coaching — I missed the daily grind, I missed working with the players, I missed working with the team, being a part of a team, being with the assistant coaches,” Petrino said.
Moats said that along with the pay cut, Petrino will be donating $70,000 of his own money into the pool of money for assistant coaches.
“A big thing about being a head coach is not just about coaching the players, it's about coaching coaches,” Petrino said.
The players, who Petrino said will have their scholarships honored if they choose to stay, found out who their coach was going to be at about the same time as everybody else, according to multiple MSU officials.
Petrino was announced as the head coach of the program via a press release that was sent out Wednesday morning. Moats, Smart and Assistant Director of Athletics, Communications Rick Kindhart said the team found out around that time.
Petrino met with the team at 5 p.m. Wednesday.
“I met with the team (Wednesday) night, which was fun — it felt very familiar,” Petrino said. “I was excited for their attentiveness and I’m looking forward to looking ahead.”
Moats said on Monday he met with the team to gather their feedback on what traits they were looking for in a head coach.
Smart tweeted on Tuesday night, “Tomorrow we announce that one of the best football coaches in America will be leading(the Missouri State football) program. If you love football, stay tuned.” From there, the rumors swirled with local KY3’s sports director, Chad Plein, hitting the nail on the head — and a national football site missing the mark by a mile.
The coaching rumor
On Tuesday night, a report from FootballScoop said a source reported to them Art Briles would be the next head coach at MSU.
Obviously, Briles is not the head coach at Missouri State.
Smart, who was the only other member of the search committee besides Moats, said Briles’ name was never mentioned as a possible head coach.
“We did not contact (Briles),” Smart said. “We did not contact anybody about him. He was never on our list. He would never have been considered under any circumstances period. That’s the piece that's frustrating because for a football association to put out based on nothing — when there was no interaction — that’s the piece of the world now that I hate. I own this decision, but that’s not my decisions and never was and to have (Briles’) name associated with mine, I find offensive.”
Smart had one reason for not denying the claim that Briles would be the next MSU head coach: “Because we don’t respond on social media to garbage.”
So, despite the controversy of Petrino’s past and outside coaching rumors, Smart and Moats seem confident in their decision to not only interview Petrino but to hire him on a five-year contract.
“We got our No. 1 choice,” Smart said.