LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- When tears filled Louisville coach Bobby
Petrino's eyes as he prepared to speak to his players during a team
meeting Sunday night, defensive lineman Earl Heyman knew that he
was leaving the program.
"He said he loved us, but he had a decision to make and he made
it," Heyman said.
The decision -- accepting the top coaching job with the NFL's
Atlanta Falcons -- was one Petrino had flirted with seemingly since
the day he assumed the head coaching job four years ago. Less than
six months after signing a 10-year, $25 million contract with the
Cardinals and saying "this is where I want to be," Petrino made the
But after leading Louisville to a 41-9 record -- including a 12-1
record this season and a win over Wake Forest in the Orange Bowl --
Petrino couldn't turn down an offer to run an offense featuring one
of the NFL's most dynamic players in quarterback Michael Vick.
"At first, you're kind of shocked. You think, What are we going
to do now?' But we're going to come together," defensive tackle
Adrian Grady said.
Petrino's departure could have a ripple effect on a program that
was talking about competing for a national championship next year
after beating Wake Forest for the first Bowl Championship Series
win in school history.
Junior quarterback Brian Brohm and injured running back Michael
Bush have until Jan. 15 to decide whether they'll return next fall,
and a coaching change could be factor in their decision to come
back. Neither player was made available to the media on Sunday
night, as most players walked out of the Howard Schnellenberger
Football Complex talking in small groups with slightly stunned
looks on their faces.
"I think it'll bring us extra-closer," Heyman said. "We've
faced diversity this whole season."
Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich said in a statement on
Sunday night the Cardinals will move quickly to fill the head
coaching job. Jurich is expected to address the opening during a
news conference Monday.
The Falcons are the latest in a long line of college and NFL
teams that have courted Petrino seemingly since the day he
succeeded John L. Smith following the 2002 season. Petrino flirted
with jobs at Auburn, LSU and the NFL's Oakland Raiders, but said no
When Petrino's name popped up as a candidate for the Alabama job
in late-November, he hastily put out a statement saying, "I'm not
a candidate for any job openings."
"I thought he was going to be here for 10 years," Heyman said.
"But you can't fault him for looking out for his family."