Mike Zimmer rips Bobby Petrino, Bobby Petrino backer rips Mike Zimmer, Anthony Stalter rips backer

NASHVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 07:  Head coach Bobby Petrino stands on the sidelines with Joey Harrington #13 of the Atlanta Falcons after taking him out of the game against the Tennessee Titans during their game at LP Field on October 7, 2007 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

I remember when Bobby Petrino ditched Louisville to join the Atlanta Falcons in 2007. The writers for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution briefly mentioned Petrino’s penchant for leaving teams in the dust for bigger and brighter opportunities, then they moved right into breaking down his offense and how he could transform Michael Vick into an elite quarterback.

Not too long after Petrino left Atlanta in the middle of the night to go “Call Hogs” in Arkansas, those same writers ripped him for being a coward. He kind of has that way about him.

When he’s on your side (no matter how briefly), you want to overlook his many weaknesses. But as soon as he shows you his true colors, you hope he never wins another game.

Mike Zimmer, who was the Falcons’ defensive coordinator in Atlanta when Petrino performed his disappearing act, had some not-so-nice things to say about his former boss in a recent interview.

“I never even was there,” said Zimmer. “When a coach quits in the middle of the year and ruins a bunch of people’s families and doesn’t have enough guts to at least finish out the year … I am not a part of that.

“You can put that in the Arkansas News-Gazette. I don’t really give a (hooey). I am serious. He is a coward. Put that in quotes.”

“Most people in football have enough courage about them and enough fight to stick through something and not quit halfway through the year. It is cowardly,” said Zimmer. “He came in and said he resigned, he would talk to us all at a later date, walked out of the office and no one has ever talked to him since. Not that anybody wanted to.

“He’s a gutless (expletive). Quote that. I don’t give a (hooey).”

If you’re abreast of the situation, then you know that Zimmer spoke the truth. But apparently at least one writer in Arkansas is still blinded by Petrino’s lore and took exception to Zimmer’s comments.

These are excerpts from an article by Jim Harris of ArkansasSports360.com in reference to Zimmer’s comments:

Zimmer said earlier this week that Petrino ruined lives when he abruptly left Atlanta for Arkansas with three games left in the 2007 season. Please.

Zimmer’s had a very difficult four years of his life, both on the field and off it. Some of it tragic. His parting with Petrino was not among the tragic occurrences, as Zimmer had a contract and also was able to find work with Cincinnati.

Lives were ruined by Hurricane Katrina. Lives are ruined daily in Haiti, in the aftermath of an earthquake and now a cholera epidemic in a country with no money.

Harris’ mention of how Zimmer has “had a very difficult four years of his life” is in reference to the defensive coordinator finding his wife Vikki dead in their home in the middle of the football season. And while Harris has a good point about Hurricane Katrina and Haiti, let’s not mince words here.

I’m willing to bet that Harris doesn’t know Zimmer personally, so how would he know if the situation ruined Zimmer’s life or not? Besides, isn’t Harris being a little too literal here? I’m sure Zimmer would say that Hurricane Katrina was a bigger deal than Petrino leaving Atlanta, but the situation still affected his life in a profound way. It essentially cost him his job with the Falcons and while he still wound up on his feet in Cincinnati a year later, that doesn’t mean that Harris has the right to downplay the situation and go with the standard “life is bigger than sports” anecdote that some writers use these days.

Petrino’s departing of Atlanta didn’t ruin anyone’s lives. It’s amazing how bitter Arthur Blank could be at the time, and yet his franchise has probably been better off with different direction. Who couldn’t see, either from Petrino’s side or the owner’s, that the college-oriented discipline Petrino brought to the Falcons would never cut it with professionals?

Hindsight is always 20/20. At the time, Petrino left the Falcons in the lurch and while an argument could be made that Blank should have never hired Petrino, that’s not the point. The point is that Petrino broke his contract because he couldn’t hack it in the NFL and he left Blank to clean up the mess. And just because things have worked out for the better in Atlanta, doesn’t mean that Blank or Zimmer don’t have the right to call out Petrino for the snake he is. “Please.”

I’m trying to find any old quotes from 1976 on whether Lou Holtz was accused of ruining lives when he told the New York Jets owner that he was going back into college coaching after 11 uncomfortable weeks dealing with the likes of Joe Namath. I don’t think there are any. Holtz was told he didn’t have to stick around for the Jets’ last three games of a 14-game season that year.

But, for some reason, an owner who had fired another coach before Petrino was crushed that Bobby P. didn’t want to hang around for three more miserable weeks in Atlanta, promises broken. It saved Blank millions, and yet all he did was lead a crucifixion of Petrino through his friends and PR contacts via his previous ownership in Home Depot.

It also put Blank’s franchise in a state of major duress, but I guess because everything worked out, Petrino should now be excused. Harris should also do his homework – Holtz didn’t have three games left with the Jets – he only had one. Either way, we’re comparing apples to oranges. The Jets knew Holtz couldn’t hack it and it was a relief that he wanted out. The Falcons still showed/had faith in Petrino and he couldn’t make it through one full season before running away.

Petrino, to his credit, was asked about Zimmer’s comments and didn’t go there. He never does, though he has admitted that he could have handled things differently when departing Atlanta. Petrino absorbed a brutal assault from any ESPN and NFL columnist or TV personality willing to write or talk about him in late 2007 and early 2008. About the nicest thing said about him was that he was “disingenuous” in his dealings with the University of Louisville or the Falcons. Most diatribes read like bitter screeds. Some, such as a few zingers from Sean Salisbury, were unprofessional.

Yeah, let’s laud Petrino for taking the high road here. What is he going to say? That Zimmer is wrong? That he isn’t a gutless wonder? The only thing Petrino could have said was, “I agree.”

Even before Zimmer’s shots across the bow of the SS Petrino, Sports Illustrated Peter King was tweeting some 140-character anti-Petrino blather, while not acknowledging that the guy had donated $1 million to charity.

This is another standard ploy that writers sometimes use. So because the guy donated to charity, he doesn’t deserve the criticism for all of his past transgressions?

Hey, he’s not an easy guy for some of the daily media folks in Fayetteville to cover, and he’s apparently not an easy guy to play for or work for. We get that Petrino, like Nick Saban, turned his back to the NFL before the NFL kicked him out on the street, and returned to college football. Apparently, NFL hides are thin and sensitive. And Mike Zimmer has had a tough go of his life, even if he hasn’t wanted for a job, and had a lot of frustrations pent up that suddenly came roaring out. With the money flowing over these days, the NFL surely can provide him with some help there, no?

You just never know when some of these columnists or outbursts such as Zimmer’s aren’t fueled by rival coaches with connections who would love to continue to poison the recruiting well for Petrino in those talent-rich areas the Hogs staff are mining these days.

College fans are adorable. They’re blinded by their loyalty to their program and win, lose or draw, nobody can say anything bad about their team, their coach, or their players. In some respects I think this is admirable, but Harris is off-base here. Zimmer was asked a question about his days in Atlanta and decided to go off on Petrino. Not totally unreasonable seeing as how Petrino’s situation was the catalyst for Zimmer losing his job.

Personally, I would have loved it if Zimmer said more. He could have talked about how Petrino’s in-game management was a total joke and his mismanagement with the players led to issues that GM Thomas Dimitroff and Mike Smith (the Falcons’ current head coach) had to clean up a year later. Zimmer also could have talked about how Petrino’s offense was so bad that Zimmer’s defense was left on the field for lengths at a time, or how Petrino was so overmatched that players like DeAngelo Hall told other coaches (Sean Payton) that he wanted to play for them – during the middle of a game, no less.

Was Petrino handed a bad card in Atlanta? Yes, especially considering he took the job to work with Vick, who was hauled off to prison before he had the chance to. But you don’t leave people hanging the way he did and it’s not enough to say that things worked out for the Falcons or, “well, Petrino could have handled things better.” He deserves the criticism.

When Petrino ditches Arkansas in a couple of years for a bigger and better job (because it will happen), I wonder how Harris will feel about Zimmer’s comments then.

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