Doc Harper: For Arkansas Razorbacks, The Bobby Petrino Era Is Dead

by Doc Harper  on Monday, Sep. 10, 2012 8:31 am  

Bobby Petrino is gone. Fans should start looking forward to whatever era of Razorback football comes next. (Photo by Mark Wagner)

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Bobby Petrino may have been fired in April, but the team that lost to Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday was the team he put together, and it was coached by his staff. When Jeff Long made the decision to hire John L. Smith to keep as much in place as possible, Petrino’s shadow was destined to loom over the program. 

The hope was that a team loaded with seniors at several key positions and experienced coaches on the sideline wouldn’t need Petrino’s presence. There was further hope in some circles that Smith, or one of the higher-ranking assistants, would even be named permanent head coach after the season was over. Clearly, the goal was to make the magic of 21-5 continue for as long as possible, and it didn’t seem like too much of a stretch to think someone on the current staff could emerge to handle that.

We all knew Petrino was a tremendous coach, but there seemed to be a hope that his abilities had somehow rubbed off on others involved with the program. 

Fans hoped Petrino’s brother, Paul, who’d spent all but the last two seasons of his career with Bobby, would prove to be just as effective a play-caller as Bobby. His play-calling talent is a huge part of what earned Bobby his status as an elite offensive coach. Against the Warhawks Saturday night, with redshirt freshman Brandon Allen filling in for an injured Tyler Wilson, the Razorbacks only ran nine combined running plays for Knile Davis and Dennis Johnson in the second half and overtime. Meanwhile, the Hogs ran 22 passing plays during that span. Hardly the type of play-calling to ensure victory.

Even on the defensive side, after an impressive performance in the Cotton Bowl, there was hope that Paul Haynes and Taver Johnson would produce significantly better results than former defensive coordinator Willy Robinson, the man most often blamed by fans for any Razorbacks disappointment over Petrino’s four years. In the first two games this season, the Arkansas defense has given up 872 yards and 58 points to a Football Championship Subdivision team and a Sun Belt team.

Becoming as successful a coach as Petrino isn’t something one can just be trained to do.  It also requires an inherent talent. That’s why so many well-trained coaches aren’t successful. Give different carpenters the same tools and they build different things.

The season may only be two games old, and there is plenty of football remaining to be played, but all of that hope is gone. The Top 10 ranking is gone. College GameDay changed plans to come to Fayetteville. After losing to Louisiana-Monroe, hopes of another BCS berth, or even a return trip to the Cotton Bowl feel like they’re on life support.

But just because the Petrino era is over doesn’t mean Razorback football is over. Many of this season’s most aspirational goals appear to be doomed, so fans will naturally begin looking to the future. The pressure on Jeff Long to find a new coach to keep the program at the level of the last couple of seasons is going to amplify from this point on. 

The toughest part for the new coach and Long is that the new coach will be unfairly compared to Petrino. Because Arkansas was at a peak when Petrino was fired, he will forever be seen as a sort of symbol of Razorback greatness. He doesn’t have to participate in the eventual reality that a new assistant coach doesn’t replace several four-year starters from the defense, even if they are all the players he recruited. He won’t be the one blamed for an offensive line that’s struggling to develop, even though they were still struggling most of the years he was here. If next year’s coach doesn’t show immediate promise of a 21-5 period in the near future, fans will turn on him, even though Petrino was just 13-12 in his first two seasons.

It’s fitting that in the second game of Petrino’s Razorback tenure, the Hogs stole a victory against Louisiana-Monroe in Little Rock by a single point, despite trailing much of the game. The game that cemented the end of his era was a game the Razorbacks gave away to Louisiana-Monroe in Little Rock.

The Petrino era is over because fans now have a reason to look toward the future instead of desperately clinging to the last few years. It isn’t over because the Hogs are sentenced to mediocrity. They’re not. This group of seniors comes from Petrino’s best recruiting class, and with conference play still yet to begin, anything can happen. And Arkansas complements those seniors with some talented younger players who will spend most of their Razorback careers coached by someone who is hopefully an excellent coach, but will not be Bobby Petrino.


Doc Harper is the editor of and is a regular contributor to You can email him at and follow him on Twitter @doc_harper.





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