Recently this spring, Louisville coach Bobby Petrino and offensive coordinator Garrick McGee were talking about a play they ran together more than 20 years ago, when Petrino was McGee’s quarterbacks coach at Arizona State.
“He said, ‘I bet you don’t even remember what we called that at Arizona State when you were playing,’” McGee said. “I said, ‘Yeah, we called it Omaha.’ He was like, ‘Yeah, that’s right.’ I said, ‘I paid attention in your meetings. I was paying attention.’”
He still is.
The longtime coaching connections and friendships run deep on Petrino’s offensive staff, making for a smooth transition this spring in spite of the numerous changes that have occurred within the program. Not only have Petrino, McGee and running game coordinator/offensive line coach Chris Klenakis produced the top offense in the SEC during their time at Arkansas, the trio went 21-5 together with the Razorbacks. They share a philosophy and history that can be traced as far back as when Petrino and Klenakis played together at Carroll College for Petrino’s father. Now they plan on using their past success to help them duplicate it in Louisville’s first season in the ACC.
“To get Garrick here was really special for me because we go way back,” Petrino said. “I can remember when he was 18 years old and I was coaching him and he’d come over to my house and hang out at the house and eat dinner. I couldn’t get him to leave. It’s really fun. … He’s such a good football coach and such a good person. I just really enjoy the fact that we work together and I know that any time I step out of the room, he’s going to take over and keep going because we both understand and believe in the same things.”
McGee was with Petrino all four years at Arkansas, where they completely rewrote the playbook, but their terminology dates back as far as their days coaching together with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Petrino and Klenakis also still use snippets from the playbook they wrote together at Nevada, particularly when it comes to the offensive line terminology and certain blocks they use.
“It’s an easy transition,” Klenakis said. “We don’t have to be trained into a system or how things are being done, or philosophies or terminology. All of that stuff has already been accomplished.”
McGee said one of the most enjoyable parts of his job is now teaching the quarterbacks what Petrino is thinking.
“Just teaching them how he thinks -- that’s where us being together so long really helps, because I understand what he’s thinking,” McGee said. “We’re at the point where myself and Klenakis, we can finish each other’s sentences, which is a good thing, because [Petrino] doesn’t have to worry about if it’s being taught the way he wants it taught.”
Their beliefs begin with a pro-style, multiple offense that utilizes a tight end and fullback and runs the same concepts out of different formations while looking for favorable matchups at each position.
In 2010, during McGee’s first season as offensive coordinator at Arkansas, the offense set 11 school single-season records. In 2011, the Razorbacks led the SEC in total offense and were first in the league and 15th in the country in scoring offense (36.7 points per game).
Yes, Louisville’s players watched a bit of Arkansas film this spring.
“There’s a lot of Ryan Mallett and Ty Wilson clips of those plays working in there,” McGee said. “They’ve seen a lot of those clips.”
Before Petrino even interviewed at Louisville, he called McGee and asked if he would be interested in coaching together again.
McGee asked Petrino one question:
“He said, ‘Is it a place where we have a chance to win a national championship?’” Petrino said. “I said, ‘Yeah, definitely.’ I’m really fired up he’s here. It makes my job much easier. It’s really fun to watch him coach and talk and do the same things I was trying to teach him when he was young.”
They've all grown up together.
Klenakis was an outside linebacker at Carroll College when Petrino was a senior. He said Petrino called him as soon as he was offered the job at Louisville.
“We’ve had success everywhere we’ve been together, most recently at Arkansas,” Klenakis said. “We look forward to continuing that success here at Louisville.”