Football coaches have long preached toughness in a game that has a way of weeding out those who weren’t meant to play it.
While hoping that Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino never climbs aboard a motorcycle again without wearing a helmet, I have a feeling his players will sit straight up and listen the next time he broaches the subject of toughness.
Watching the video of Petrino’s news conference on Tuesday, he looked like he’d just gone 15 rounds with Mike Tyson. It was obvious he was hurting. It was just as obvious that he’s correct when he says he’s fortunate to still be alive.
But what struck me more than anything was that he was back on campus just hours after being released from the hospital. He addressed his team and conducted a news conference. He later viewed the Hogs’ practice from the press box and was earlier reviewing practice reports from his hospital room.
We’re not talking about a guy who fell in his kitchen or slipped at his swimming pool, either.
We’re talking about a guy who went flying off the road on a motorcycle (without a helmet) and sustained four broken ribs in his upper chest and cracked the outside of the C-2 vertebra in his neck. He’ll be in a neck brace for another week or two, which is about the time it will take for the swelling and bruising in his face to subside.
Talking toughness is one thing. Exemplifying toughness is quite another.
As former Arkansas assistant and longtime Petrino colleague John L. Smith told The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s Tom Murphy, “He’ll bounce back right away. That’s the way he was raised. He was raised as a tough guy, by a tough guy, and that’s what he is -- a tough guy. He was raised in Montana. If the horse throws you to the ground, you get back up. You don’t stay on the ground.”
Anybody who knows Petrino knows he wasn’t going to stay away for long, and the second doctors release him, he’ll be back on the field coaching and lighting into players who aren’t doing it the way he’s coached them to.
The way he thinks (and the way most coaches at this level think) is that every second he’s away gives Nick Saban a leg up or Les Miles a leg up.
The difference between 11 wins and eight wins in the SEC can be miniscule. The margin is even smaller when it comes to contending in the Western Division and breaking through and winning the SEC championship and/or national championship.
Nobody knows that better than Petrino, who’s won 21 games over the past two seasons, but has yet to sniff the SEC championship game.
You take nothing for granted in this league. The smallest, most minute things count, and toughness often times is the great equalizer.
Something says the Arkansas players won’t take any of that for granted the next time Petrino reminds them.
In fact, he probably won’t have to remind them.