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National Columnist

Petrino's a snake, but some win-starved program will let him in the house

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Bobby Petrino is college football's forbidden fruit, so tempting but so destructive. Fans want him. Schools need him. Nobody can hire him.

Until ...

Somebody does.

Who will it be -- Auburn? Tennessee? Colorado? It will be somebody, if not this season then next, and you know it. A coaching talent like Bobby Petrino, a football savant, won't stay unemployed for long. Not in this money-whipped era of college football, with schools hopping from one conference bed to another in search of more revenue.

How much revenue would Bobby Petrino be worth?

Look at Arkansas. Train wreck under Houston Nutt before Petrino got there. Train wreck under John L. Smith after he left. In between? A top-10 program, a potential No. 1 team in the country this season before the motorcycle crash that made a rash of Petrino's face -- and a hash of his career.

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That accident exposed Petrino's affair with the young woman who crashed along with him, a woman Petrino had hired as his team's student-athlete development coordinator. It was that decision, hiring his mistress, that got Petrino fired. Not the affair.

That was in April. Arkansas was coming off an 11-2 season and a No. 5 national ranking in 2011, and looking at entering the 2012 season ranked near the top five. Petrino did that -- he's that good.

Without him, Arkansas plummeted to 4-8. Petrino did that, too -- he's that bad.

But he's so damn tempting. He's more than the fruit you can't touch -- he's also the snake hissing at you to approach, pluck it, taste it. Just one bite, Mr. Director of Athleticssssss. He'll win gamessssss. He'll make your program millionssssss.

He'll embarrass you, eventually. Or he'll make you furious. One or the other, maybe both, and ultimately he'll leave in a way that leaves you stunned. That's how he left Louisville, flirting with every big-time school that batted its eyes, even a school (Auburn) that still had his friend (Tommy Tuberville) as coach, then vowing to stay, then leaving anyway for the Atlanta Falcons. That's how he left the Falcons, too, not sticking around for one full season before leaving a cowardly note in each player's locker explaining it had been real, and it had been fun, but it hadn't been real fun and he was going to Arkansas.

And that's how he left Arkansas.

That's how he will leave his next school, too, but think of the short-term benefits: He'll win more games than he should in his first season, and he'll win even more in Year 2, and by his third season -- assuming he's still there -- he'll have that team contending for a conference title. And all the while, Mr. Director of Athleticssssss, think about selling all those ticketssssss.

He's temping, this snake. He's as talented as almost any coach in the country and he can be had at pennies on the dollar. Fans are torn, too. Go to message boards of any SEC school and look at the reaction to Petrino's name. On this story at a Kentucky site -- noting that Petrino's father had said his son was "interested in Kentucky" -- the first response on the message board below was from a UK fan saying, "Hire him tonight. Why is this even in discussion?" More than 300 posts followed, but you don't have to scroll far to get the spectrum:

"Hire him now. We will love him after we win."

"Worst loyalty/morals in the game, but the dude wins. So what if he leaves us in a bad situation? It couldn't get much worse than it is now!"

"You know this means us UK fans would have to give up our Karen Sypher jokes, right?"

Kentucky hired Mark Stoops on Tuesday so Kentucky is out, but look at a message board at Auburn. At Tennessee. North Carolina State. Petrino is the most divisive name on the list, and athletic directors know it. They know that hiring Petrino is no way to win the press conference -- the school that hires Petrino will take a PR beating, nationally -- but they also know some of their fans desperately want Petrino now, and the rest would get over it eventually. Winning doesn't heal everything, but winning big? That's the magic elixir.

Alabama fans didn't like Nick Saban when he was at rival LSU, but they love him now. Same with Ohio State fans and Urban Meyer. Louisville basketball fans and Rick Pitino. Fans dislike most superstar coaches -- whether he has baggage or not -- until he's their superstar coach. And then they love him.

Fans would love Bobby Petrino for the results. Schools would love him for the revenue. Everybody else would despise him for his past, but all it takes is one school with a half-empty stadium and dwindling donors.

Petrino is the best available coach on the market, Mr. Director of Athletics. Make him an offer, and he's yourssssss.


Gregg Doyel is a columnist for CBSSports.com. He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.
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