Garrick McGee had opportunities to leave Louisville last season but turned them down.
This time, he could not pass up Illinois and good friend Lovie Smith, taking the same role he had with the Cards as offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach.
And now, Bobby Petrino faces a crucial hire at a crucial time.
While it is true there never is a good time to lose an assistant, Louisville is less than two weeks from opening spring practice, with an offense that showed the potential to make gigantic leaps when we last saw them play.
Yes, Petrino remains the mastermind behind the scheme and calls plays, but McGee played a vital role, especially in the development of quarterback Lamar Jackson, poised to have a breakout sophomore season. Jackson is not the only player returning; Louisville brings back nearly every single starter who played a meaningful snap in 2015.
That is a big reason why expectations have been ratcheted up headed into the season, not only among pundits. Louisville has yet to hit the offensive numbers Petrino is used to getting, but he has targeted 2016 as the year his unit finally looks the way he wants.
That brings us back to McGee. He and Petrino worked together for years and had a keen understanding about one another. McGee left his job as UAB head coach to work for Petrino again when offered the opportunity in 2014 and chose to stay on board in 2015, too.
Petrino needs to bring in a coach who not only has a clear understanding of the offense but who will fit right in with him and the staff because the talent is there for Louisville to make something happen with this group – starting with Jackson.
His development this spring remains one of the biggest story lines to watch. As terrific as he was against Texas A&M in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl, Jackson needs to work on his accuracy, timing and holding onto the football, all while taking on a much greater leadership role.
At this time last year, Jackson was not even on campus. When fall practice began, he was at the bottom of the depth chart. So McGee took him a long way in just a few short months. There is plenty more work to be done. The right coach will get Jackson there. Perhaps that right coach is Petrino’s brother, Paul, struggling as coach at Idaho – a program that is in shambles.
It is becoming more commonplace for lower-level FBS coaches to leave head coaching jobs to become assistants (as McGee did). The Petrinos have worked together at various stops, including Louisville when Bobby was head coach from 2003-06. Bobby just promoted his son, Nick, to receivers coach so this could truly be a family affair.
Or Bobby Petrino could opt to go in a different direction and select somebody such as Memphis offensive coordinator Chip Long, with whom he worked at Arkansas.
No matter what Bobby Petrino decides to do, there’s no getting around just how important this hire will be for a team hoping to pull a few upsets in the Atlantic in 2016.