The Arkansas Razorbacks had to endure a tumultuous offseason filled with scandal and several arrests that ultimately led the team to firing head coach Bobby Petrino.
Now months later, with a new coach and an optimistic outlook, the Razorbacks are ready to compete for the SEC Championship. Despite the problems, it is quite evident that Petrino is still an influence to the current roster.
Is it possible that the door is left open for a return of the embattled coach?
When the Razorbacks hired John L. Smith to replace Petrino, it was obvious that it was a temporary move. Smith is currently working on a 10-month contract, and unless he brings a National Championship to Arkansas, there is a good chance there will be a new head coach next year.
Petrino may not be the coach anymore, but he is still in contact with the team. During the SEC Media days, it was reported via ESPN that Smith and several players have been in touch with Petrino.
Stellar running back Knile Davis admitted that he has heard from Petrino on several occasions.
“He said he was sorry for what happened,” Davis said. “He expected me to have a good season. I could hear the humbleness and the hurt in his voice. I told him, ‘Coach, don’t be too hard on yourself. You’ll come back from this.’ He told me he loved me and that was pretty much it.”
Davis and many of the other players on both sides of the ball still feel for Petrino.
Petrino also reached out to the defense, and it is obvious the team still believes in their ex-coach. (via ClarionLedger.com)
"We have a new face leading us out of the tunnel," linebacker Tenarius Wright said. "And with the seniors we have and the team we have come back, we all know what it takes. ... We still have those goals to be a champion, and we still believe in what (Petrino) taught us."
When asked about the conversation with Petrino, Smith said, "It was basically about our football team at Arkansas, of which he's always concerned about."
Smith’s choice of words was very interesting. He said “our football team,” which opens the door for an interpretation that Petrino is still a part of the team.
According to the Arkansas news, Petrino is in the middle of a long healing process. He continues to put back the pieces of his shattered life and reputation. It is a step in the right direction that could eventually lead to his return to football.
It could be argued that athletic director Jeff Long has set the stage for a return by Petrino. Long hired Smith knowing that he had financial issues and kept both the staff and system in place. It may be a longshot, and it will be based on the performance of the team this year, but don’t be surprised if Petrino becomes a candidate for the job at season’s end.
James Brown is a B/R featured columnist and can be followed on Twitter. Feel free to contact James at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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