Louisville, Petrino bring championship pedigree, controversy to ACC

Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino answers a question during a news conference at the Atlantic Coast Conference Football kickoff in Greensboro, N.C., last month. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

Usually, players will muster a stock cliché to a question they're not sure how to answer. Louisville defensive end Lorenzo Mauldin wouldn't even attempt that, when asked if he could compare Charlie Strong to Bobby Petrino.

"No, not really," Mauldin replied, after a few moments of thought.

They're that different. Everything's different these days in Louisville. New league, new football coach, new buzz in the largest city in Kentucky by a long shot.

The Cardinals haven't lacked in championships, nor controversy. Louisville claimed a Sugar Bowl victory, a men's basketball title, a women's basketball Final Four runner-up finish and a College World Series baseball berth in its final 18 months of membership.

"It shows there's been a great commitment by our administration, and (athletic director) Tom Jurich," Petrino said last month at the ACC Football Kickoff. "All sports are competing at a national level.

"We have a group of young men that we're coaching that have been playing for a number of years that know how to prepare, that have played in big games, and know how to win. We expect to compete for a championship."

Petrino brings a bunch of baggage just by returning to Louisville, where he signed a 10-year contract entering his fourth season as head coach in 2006, then fled for the Atlanta Falcons less than six months later.

Eleven months after being announced as Atlanta's head coach, Petrino was off to Arkansas. Four years later, the infamous motorcycle accident involving Petrino's mistress within the Razorbacks' athletic department.

Petrino was gone, and spent 2012 out of football. He took over Western Kentucky in December 2012, and it was no random destination.

"When we decided as a family to go to Western Kentucky," Petrino said, "one of the reasons we went there was to get back closer to the University of Louisville. I have a daughter and son going to school (here), and that's where our kids consider home to be."

A year later, Strong took the Texas job, and Jurich took Petrino back in. The Cardinals couldn't last a month without the circus chime sounding - Sports Illustrated reported this week Petrino and new defensive coordinator Todd Grantham are already feuding, though both coaches have laughed off the report.

"I'm going to work hard on coaching the person as much as the player," Petrino said. "I think with the experiences I've had, I can help young men with the obstacles they're going to be presented with off the field, and give them second chances."

The players he inherited were more concerned with transitioning from the Strong era.

"Yeah, we hear about how he left and then came back," wide receiver DeVante Parker said. "Some people were kind of mad he came back, because they think he's going to leave us again. Who knows. I don't think he'll leave us again, though."

At least for 2014, Petrino and Louisville join together into the school's new ACC era, which will begin by hosting Miami on Labor Day at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium and follow with a visit from defending national champion Florida State, plus trips to Clemson and Notre Dame.

"It's just crazy right now. We're going against teams that are a real higher level of competition, and that's a good thing for us," Parker said. "We've played teams like that before - (beating) Miami in the (2013) Russell Athletic Bowl. That game proved we can play up to this level of competition."

In a few months, Louisville's welcome will be even louder with Rick Pitino joining the fray of fellow Naismith Hall of Fame basketball coaches Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams and Jim Boeheim along with Tony Bennett, Mike Brey, Jamie Dixon and Buzz Williams.

But for now, it's football's time to shine.

"The basketball team has always been able to bring some of the best teams in the country into Freedom Hall," Petrino said. "Our football fans have always wanted that, dying to see the games that we can have at Papa John's. And now we're able to do that."