Petrino in wings to return as Hogs’ offensive coordinator

Arkansas head coach Sam Pittman visits with Missouri State head coach Bobby Petrino, Saturday, September 17, 2022 before the start of a football game at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville. Visit nwaonline.com/220918Daily/ for today's photo gallery.

(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Charlie Kaijo)
Arkansas head coach Sam Pittman visits with Missouri State head coach Bobby Petrino, Saturday, September 17, 2022 before the start of a football game at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville. Visit nwaonline.com/220918Daily/ for today's photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Charlie Kaijo)


FAYETTEVILLE -- Former University of Arkansas Coach Bobby Petrino appears headed back to Hog Country.

Coach Sam Pittman targeted Petrino to fill the vacant offensive coordinator position on his staff, and after UA officials vetted the hire, the sides began working out a deal, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette has learned.

Petrino is expected to be on campus today, ESPN.com reported, reuniting him with the Arkansas program he led to big heights between 2008-2012 before a fateful motorcycle wreck torpedoed his tenure.

ESPN's Pete Thamel first reported Arkansas was vetting Petrino, who spent the 2023 season on staff at Texas A&M under Jimbo Fisher. Thamel reported Petrino has been indicating to recruits he was in the mix to become a coordinator at another SEC program.

Petrino posted a short video to X, formerly Twitter, on Tuesday evening with his granddaughter Bri "Calling the Hogs" as a toddler with help from her mother, Kelsey.

Because he was fired for cause by then-Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long on April 10, 2012, Petrino's hiring had to be approved by UA President Donald Bobbitt, based on university policy.

Petrino led the Razorbacks to a 34-17 record between 2008-2011, capped by an 11-2 mark and a ranking of No. 5 in the final Associated Press top 25 poll after the 2011 season. Arkansas spent the final 11 weeks of that season in the top 10.

However, he was fired after a wreck on his Harley-Davidson motorcycle on April 1 led to the discovery of his affair with staffer Jessica Dorrell and his misconduct regarding her hiring. Petrino did not disclose Dorrell's presence during the wreck to Long until an Arkansas State Police report brought that information to light.

Long fired Petrino during an emotional news conference five days later.

Pittman had been seeking a full-time replacement for Dan Enos, whom he fired on Oct. 22, the day after the Razorbacks mustered 200 yards in a 7-3 home loss to lightly regarded Mississippi State. Receivers coach Kenny Guiton was elevated to interim offensive coordinator and helped produce season-best offensive showings in wins at Florida and versus Florida International, with 481 and 510 yards, respectively.

However, the offense under Guiton was not as effective in conference losses at home to Auburn and Missouri down the stretch, producing 255 and 225 yards in those games. Pittman said he has interviewed Guiton for the full-time role and was uncertain if he would remain on staff if he names a different offensive coordinator.

Petrino is expected to have input on what the rest of the offensive staff will look like.

Petrino's first season back in the SEC this year came after he briefly accepted the offensive coordinator position with former Arkansas defensive coordinator Barry Odom at UNLV. Three weeks after that hiring was announced, Petrino left Las Vegas to join the Texas A&M staff.

The Aggies just completed a 7-5 regular season in which their offense ranked 53rd in the FBS with 403.8 yards per game, 87th in rushing (141.4 ypg), 41st in passing (262.3 ypg), 25th in scoring (34.2 points per game) and 38th in passing efficiency. The Aggies ranked eighth in the SEC in total offense, 10th in rushing, sixth in passing, fifth in scoring and eighth in passing efficiency with Petrino as offensive coordinator.

Petrino worked with three starting quarterbacks for the Aggies in Conner Weigman, Max Johnson and Jaylen Henderson due to injuries.

By contrast, Arkansas is 106th in total offense (326.5 ypg), 89th in rushing (139.0 ypg), 104th in passing (187.5 pg), 70th in scoring (26.6 ppg) and 52nd in passing efficiency.

Petrino made his first return to Reynolds Razorback Stadium last year, when his Missouri State Bears put a scare into the Razorbacks. Arkansas rallied from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter to win 38-27 while outgaining the Bears 597-409 in total offense.

Speaking of Petrino prior to that game, Pittman said, "[The] last time Arkansas was relevant relevant was when Coach Petrino was here. We're very grateful for his time here and what he did for the program."

Petrino, speaking to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette the week of Missouri State's game at Arkansas in 2022, was complimentary of Pittman.

"I'm really happy for Sam," he said. "I think he's done a great job of building that program.

"I'm happy for the state of Arkansas. They treated me great when I was there. It's great to see them all back and behind the Hogs. That's the one thing that I'm really excited about is it helps the state so much."

Prior to facing Texas A&M last September, Pittman was again asked about Petrino and said, "Coach Petrino is one of the best offensive minds in the game and we respect him a lot."

Petrino agreed to speak to the Little Rock Touchdown Club in 2019, partly to make his peace with the Razorbacks' fan base.

"I wanted to be able to come here and apologize to everybody, the fans, the players, and truly tell you how sorry I am for the way it ended," Petrino said at that speaking appearance in a video shared Tuesday by Touchdown Club host David Bazzel, the former Arkansas linebacker.

"But I also wanted to come here to thank you for everything that people in this room and in this state did for me and my family. You were great to us," Petrino said, choking up briefly before receiving a standing ovation.

Petrino led Arkansas to records of 5-7 and 8-5 in his first two seasons, including a 20-17 Liberty Bowl win over East Carolina in his second year before really cranking it up.

The 2010 Razorbacks went 10-3 and earned the program's only Bowl Championship Series berth with a 31-23 win over LSU in the season finale. Arkansas dropped a 31-26 decision to Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl, a win that was later vacated by the NCAA due to the Buckeyes' use of ineligible players.

The Razorbacks went 11-2 the following season, the program's first 11-win season since Coach Lou Holtz's 1977 team went 11-1, capped by a 29-16 win over Kansas State in the Cotton Bowl.

The Hogs' 21 wins in Petrino's final two seasons matched the legendary Frank Broyles for the most wins at Arkansas in a two-year span (1964-1965).

Petrino worked as head coach at Western Kentucky (2013), Louisville (2014-2018) and Missouri State (2020-2022) since leaving Arkansas.

Pittman is hiring an offensive coordinator for the second consecutive offseason after replacing three-year coordinator Kendal Briles with Enos last January.