Bigger Concern: Petrino's Past Or New 3-4 Defense?
By Jackson Wang
Louisville is coming off a successful season after going 12-1, finishing second in the AAC and winning the Russell Athletic Bowl. But there will be a lot of changes coming to Louisville this season.
Back in January, Charlie Strong left the Cardinals to go coach Texas, taking his coaching staff with him. That led to Louisville hiring Western Kentucky head coach Bobby Petrino to lead the Cardinals in 2014.
Petrino then hired Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham to take helm of the Louisville defense.
Both coaches bring a lot of experience, but they both also raise a lot of red flags. So who will be the bigger concern?
The Case For Todd Grantham's 3-4 Defense
Louisville has always run a 4-3 defense, which has been pretty successful in the last four years under Charlie Strong. But with Strong off to Austin, Grantham will now install his defensive schemes and base 3-4 formation.
Grantham has used this formation for more than a dozen years, dating back to his days at Virginia Tech and Michigan State and his decade-long run in the NFL. Most recently, Grantham has used it to sharpen up Georgia’s defense and shutting down tough SEC offenses to varying degrees of success.
Grantham will bring a lot of experience to Louisville, which will help a lot when coaching young, inexperienced players. But it will take time for the veteran players of the Cardinals defense to get used to what Grantham is trying to establish.
He improved the Bulldogs defense slightly in his first season in Athens. But Grantham’s hard work paid off in his second year at Georgia as the Bulldogs allowed just more than 277 yards and 20 points per game in 2012 before regressing with young talent last season.
The Louisville defensive will be more aggressive in the 3-4 scheme and likely will take more risk with blitzes. But that will leave the Cardinals vulnerable to giving up bigger plays, especially if the group of defenders are not used to playing in that type of defense.
The Case For Bobby Petrino
Petrino returning to Louisville is just like any other boss returning to his old job. It’s the same building, same rules and same duties. But his co-workers are completely different, with new coaches on staff and of course different players.
He’ll fit in fine, just as soon as he answers some questions about his past. It’s hard for a man to tell a group of teenagers and young adults to trust him when Petrino destroyed relationships back at Arkansas (not to mention in Atlanta with the Falcons and other places, like his own household).
But if Petrino, his staff and players, can put the past behind them, there’s a good chance he can keep up Louisville’s recent success. When Petrino first took over the program, he immediately turned them around by leading the Cardinals to four consecutive bowl games, including an Orange Bowl win in 2006.
When Petrino landed at Arkansas, he did the same thing.
There’s no doubt Petrino can continue Louisville’s success. But the real question is do his players trust him?
Petrino has been through a lot in the last three years. He’s apologized multiple times about his incident at Arkansas and even took a job at Western Kentucky to begin rebuilding his reputation.
Administrators at Louisville believe in Petrino, which is why they hired him. But some players may still have questions.
Players were recruited to come play for Strong, not Petrino. And for most of the players, all they know is Petrino got fired from Arkansas after an ugly personal mistake, which is going to affect they way they respond to Petrino as coach. Plus, young adults don’t enjoy change.
Grantham will be fine teaching players how to perform in his defense, but Petrino still has a lot of work to do in order to build up strong morals and ethics to show his players that he can lead them on the right path. And that will take more than a year, especially if players don’t know Petrino well.