Petrino was introduced Monday as Western Kentucky’s new head football coach. The 51-year-old was fired by Arkansas in April for a “pattern of misleading” behavior following an accident in which the coach was injured while riding a motorcycle with his mistress as a passenger.
“At this point in my career, it’s about getting back and coaching players,” Petrino said. “It just happened to open up at a place we love.
“I hope it can be as long as possible.”
Petrino had a 34-17 record at Arkansas before he was dismissed in the wake of the scandal. Petrino had an affair with former Razorback volleyball player Jessica Dorrell, who he later hired as a football assistant had gave $20,000 in gifts. Petrino said initially he was the only person on the motorcycle but later admitted to Dorrell’s presence.
“I’m going to be able to sit down with mom and dad and the student-athlete and make them understand how this experience has made me a better coach, a better person and will make me understand their son better,” Petrino said during a packed news conference at Houchens-Smith Stadium.
“I’m looking forward to the opportunity I’ll be able to give student athletes when they make a mistake.”
Petrino is replacing Willie Taggart, who left WKU last week to become South Florida’s coach.
Western Kentucky gave Petrino a four-year deal with a base annual salary of $850,000. If he terminates the deal at any time, he must re-pay the university $1.2 million in six monthly payments starting the month after he leaves.
Athletic director Todd Stewart knows he might get criticized for hiring Petrino.
He and Petrino had a long discussion over the weekend about the coach’s past. Stewart said Petrino was candid and honest about his conduct and took responsibility for his actions. He said Petrino’s contrition convinced him to give the coach a shot.
“What it comes down is that he made a big mistake and he acknowledges that and he’s taken ownership of that,” Stewart said. “And he’s paid a heavy price for it.
“But this is the United States of America, and we’re a country of second chances. I was confident after talking with him and with other people that he deserved a second chance and we are more than happy to give it to him.”
Petrino, 75-26 overall as a college head coach, said he is looking forward to “building on the foundation and standards” that Taggart established.
Petrino had been looking to get back into coaching since he was let go by Arkansas. His name had been recently mentioned in connection with several openings, including Kentucky and Auburn.
He returns to the state where he successfully began his head coaching career. Petrino coached at Louisville from 2003-06, going 41-9 and leading the Cardinals to a 12-1 mark and their first-ever BCS berth in the Orange Bowl in 2006.