With the FBS's major coaching jobs out of reach, Bobby Petrino had a choice. He could accept a position with a lower-rung school or wait until 2014 to make his return. He has made that choice, and Western Kentucky should be the school that benefits.
A source confirmed to CBSSports.com's Bruce Feldman that Petrino had been hired as the Hilltoppers' new head coach, with the school making it official Monday afternoon.
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Petrino to Western Kentucky makes sense
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Salary figures issued to the media (and reproduced by SBNation.com) show that Petrino will be paid a salary of $850,000 per season, a major pay cut from his $3.5 million annual salary at Arkansas. Petrino will owe Western Kentucky $1.2 million in buyout money if he leaves before the end of the contract. He will receive a $300,000 bonus for taking the Hilltoppers to a BCS bowl.
That might seem farfetched given that Petrino is taking over a program still only four seasons removed from its transition from the FCS to the FBS, and only three seasons removed from an 0-12 disaster in 2009. But the Hilltoppers appear poised to be a player in the Sun Belt Conference for years to come after Taggart's good work (back-to-back 7-5 seasons, an upcoming appearance in the program's first bowl game and strong recruiting classes). The hire is a certified home run based on the merits of Petrino's coaching ability.
Petrino will arrive at WKU as not only the most accomplished head coach in school history, but likely the most accomplished in Sun Belt history. He boasts a 75-26 lifetime record after stints at Louisville and Arkansas, both of which he took to BCS bowl games. Petrino won at least nine games in six of his eight seasons.
None of that saved him, however, when a motorcycle accident uncovered Petrino's secret relationship with former Arkansas volleyball player Jessica Dorrell, whom Petrino had hired as an administrative official. He was fired by Razorbacks athletic director Jeff Long in April.
It was no secret that Petrino hoped to land a job further up the coaching ladder than the Hilltoppers, but his lies to Long and job-hopping past apparently made him too radioactive for any BCS-level school to touch.
"I just know this; he's interested in Kentucky," his father, Bobby Petrino Sr., said in November. "He wants to stay in the SEC. That was his life's goal, to go to the SEC."
But even the Wildcats -- almost without question the most difficult, lowest-profile job of the four SEC openings -- never seemed to consider Petrino seriously. Auburn made contact with Petrino and included him among its small pool of candidates but ultimately went with Gus Malzahn. (Petrino, like Malzahn, had served as Auburn's offensive coordinator -- in 2002, under Tommy Tuberville.)
Western Kentucky will play the first bowl game in the school's history Dec. 26 against Central Michigan in the Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl. The Hilltoppers will be coached by interim coach and Taggart defensive coordinator Lance Guidry.