Tyler Wilson won’t have to look far for advice from a Petrino when No. 10 Arkansas opens its season against Jacksonville State on Saturday.
The Razorbacks quarterback no longer has coach Bobby Petrino’s guidance to rely on following his April firing. However, Wilson will still have offensive coordinator Paul Petrino on the sidelines – Bobby’s brother and a steadying hand for Wilson through a tumultuous offseason.
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Paul Petrino returned to the Razorbacks after last season, following a two-year stint as the offensive coordinator at Illinois. The Illini set school records for total points and points per game during Petrino’s tenure, but he was available following the firing of coach Ron Zook.
When Petrino returned to Arkansas, where he was the offensive coordinator for two seasons before leaving for Illinois, he expected to coach once again alongside his older brother. Then came Bobby Petrino’s April 1 motorcycle accident with his mistress aboard, and the subsequent revelation that he had hired her to work in the athletic department without disclosing their relationship to his boss.
Through the turmoil, though, Paul Petrino never once complained openly to the Razorbacks as they completed spring practice. That professionalism endeared Petrino to the players, particularly to Wilson – who was Petrino’s first recruit during his first stint at Arkansas.
”I think that’s the biggest point for me, as far as respect, is with all the distractions and all that went on, he came to work each and every day and had the best interests of his guys and the people here in the locker room in mind and tried to keep this thing together,” Wilson said.
Petrino has talked openly since his brother’s firing about the difficulties it presented, mostly with regard to keeping a team with goals of a Southeastern Conference and national championship focused.
He’s also talked about his support for his brother, and his pride in his last name.
”Very proud, always will be proud,” Petrino said. ”My mom and dad are great people, my sisters are great people. My wife and kids have that same last name, and my brother does. I’m proud of it, and I’ll always will be and stand behind it 100 percent.”
Petrino’s career achievements have been largely overshadowed by his older brother, from their time together at Louisville to the Atlanta Falcons and then the Razorbacks.
New Arkansas coach John L. Smith said Petrino has the same demanding style as his brother, and he has no doubt about his ability to lead an offense and call plays on his own.
”I think that Paul, without a doubt, has learned a lot in his career from being with Bobby at times,” Smith said. ”He’s learned a lot when he’s gone out on his own. I see a lot of similarities, but there are differences because everybody has to be themselves.”
Petrino proved he can guide a prolific offense on his own over the last two seasons, but he’s never had a chance like this season. Arkansas led the SEC in total offense and scoring last season, and it returns a first-team All-SEC quarterback in Wilson.
The duo knew each other before Petrino’s return thanks to his earlier stint at the school. Neither was prepared, however, for just how much they would come to lean on each other and seek each other’s guidance the second time around.
That’s included late-night texting binges between the two about that day’s practice, availability appreciated by Wilson.
”He’s a guy that really cares about his players,” Wilson said. ”He wants you to succeed on every account, whatever it takes. He loves football; he loves being here. With that, you don’t feel like you can hesitate to call him, whatever it is that you need, he’s there for you. I think that’s the biggest thing for me as a player that you like in a coach.”
The closeness of the Petrino-Wilson relationship even led Petrino to admit this week that his communication with Wilson is one of the primary reasons he’ll call plays from the sidelines this season rather than the coaching booth.
Wilson threw for 3,638 yards and 24 touchdowns last season under Bobby Petrino’s leadership, leading Arkansas to an 11-2 record and Cotton Bowl win over Kansas State. Now all that’s left is for the quarterback/coach duo to show once and for all what they can do together – not on their own.
”We both have that same fire-type attitude, and I just think (Wilson’) prepared himself to have a very good year,” Petrino said. ”He’s won all the way, and I don’t think he’ll have any regrets.”