Louisville Cardinals fire Bobby Petrino rapid fall after Lamar Jackson departure


Exactly two years ago this week, Louisville made its College Football Playoff push. Behind future Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson and a string of blowout victories, the Cards sat at No. 5 in the playoff rankings, with a last-second loss to eventual champion Clemson as its only blemish.

Could unheralded, upstart Louisville challenge conventional wisdom and possibly make it into the CFP as a one-loss nonconference champion? The debate raged until a Thursday night in Houston. Louisville looked like a lost, disorganized, uninterested team and got blown out 36-10, squandering not only its playoff hopes but a New Year’s Six game, too.

As it turns out, that game was the beginning of the end for Bobby Petrino, fired Sunday from his second stint at Louisville.

“If you want to say culture equals effort, then something screwy was going on,” athletic director Vince Tyra said on Sunday. “Because the effort wasn’t what it has been historically. … The players can’t hide that. It shows up on film.”

It was hard to tell at the time, of course. Jackson papered over the cracks that are now obvious in hindsight. Jackson became such a focal point — from his Lamar Leap to his speed to his game-changing ability to his record-setting career — that the only conversation about Louisville began and ended with him.

In reality, Louisville had major issues that Petrino either would not fix or could not fix, and nobody really bothered to delve deeper for two reasons. Not only did Jackson help mask the weaknesses both on the team and inside the program, athletic director Tom Jurich stood as Petrino’s powerful protector. Even though Petrino burned Jurich the first time he coached at Louisville, Jurich rehired him in 2014, gave him a $4 million contract with an extremely generous buyout clause (Louisville owes Petrino more than $14 million now) and vowed repeatedly this time would be different.

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