Before Petrino takes over, WKU preparing for bowl
Interim coach Lance Guidry says it best: ''There's a lot of stuff going on at Western Kentucky.''
The Hilltoppers are preparing for their first bowl game since joining college football's top tier in 2009. And then, after accepting a bid to the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, Western Kentucky lost coach Willie Taggart and made a huge splash by hiring Bobby Petrino to replace him.
Guidry, who was the team's defensive coordinator, will coach the bowl against Central Michigan. It's not the first time he's been asked to guide a team through the postseason on a temporary basis. Guidry was Miami of Ohio's interim coach for a win over Middle Tennessee in the 2011 GoDaddy.com Bowl.
Taggart left to take over the program at South Florida, and Western Kentucky moved quickly to hire Petrino less than a year after he was dismissed at Arkansas after it was learned he had hired his former mistress to work in the football department. His hiring has almost overshadowed the fact that the Hilltoppers still have another game to play.
''At least it's out of the way now. The younger guys know who their head coach is going to be next year,'' Guidry said Thursday at a media luncheon for his team's Detroit-based bowl. ''They know that they're mine right now, and they're good with that.''
For seniors like tight end Jack Doyle, the focus needs to be on the present - not what Petrino might do once he takes over in full after the bowl.
''I know a lot of the players are excited about at least knowing who their new coach is going to be,'' Doyle said. ''We're excited to get this bowl going.''
The Dec. 26 game isn't just a run-of-the-mill postseason trip for the Hilltoppers. This is only Western Kentucky's fourth season in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
The team went 0-12 in 2009, but its ascent has been quick since then. The Hilltoppers were 7-1 in Sun Belt Conference play a season ago, but they didn't get to play in a bowl despite being eligible. They received a bid this year.
''I think they've got a chip on their shoulder. These seniors, they've been through so much,'' Guidry said. ''As freshmen, they went 0-12. Then the next year, I think we had a 26-game losing streak, and they finally broke it. Then the following year, we start off 0-4, then we won seven of our last eight games.''
Western Kentucky is led by junior Antonio Andrews, who has rushed for 1,609 yards and 11 touchdowns this year. He's also a receiving threat and returns kickoffs and punts. He has 2,977 all-purpose yards on the season, just 273 behind the record set by Barry Sanders.
Petrino met with Hilltoppers players Monday afternoon, and he's hopeful this month's bowl will be only the beginning.
''We need to consistently - every year - go to a bowl game. We need to win a conference championship, be in the run for a conference championship every single year,'' Petrino said. ''We need to get in a position where we're ranked in the top 25, and we need to get in a position where we can compete to be in a BCS bowl game. That's where we see our program going.''
Petrino wasn't part of Thursday's event. For now, Guidry is still in charge of preparing the team for its next challenge.
When Guidry was an interim coach at Miami, it was because Mike Haywood had left to take the job at Pittsburgh. But that move fell apart when Haywood was arrested on a domestic violence charge - before Miami even got around to playing its bowl that season.
Now Guidry's future is unclear again, and he's taking that in stride.
''We're kind of all in limbo, because we don't know if we're going to go with Coach Taggart to South Florida,'' Guidry said. ''My resumes are out there. ... It's a crazy profession. Only thing I can do is control the controllable.''