LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) – Louisville has fired coach Bobby Petrino with two games left in a spiraling season that includes five blowout losses in which the Cardinals allowed at least 50 points.
The school announced Petrino’s dismissal Sunday morning with statement from athletic director Vince Tyra, who said he “did not have the confidence” the coach could turn things around next season. The change “needs to start happening now.” Tyra said a new head coach would be chosen soon to “restore our football program to national prominence.”
A news conference was scheduled for later Sunday.
Louisville (2-8) lost 54-23 at No. 13 Syracuse on Friday night, dropping to 0-7 in Atlantic Coast Conference play.
Petrino, 57, departs with a 77-35 mark in two stints with Louisville, including 36-26 since returning in 2014. His exit will be expensive for Louisville, which owes him $14 million under terms of his contract extension signed in April 2016.
However, the school was left with little choice but to release Petrino with the team struggling and sections of empty seats at Cardinal Stadium recently after opening a new north end section in a $63 million renovation project.
Louisville’s stunning freefall comes a season after 2016 Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson capped one of the program’s most remarkable periods. Besides becoming the school’s first Heisman winner, Jackson had the program as high as No. 3 in The Associated Press Top 25 and within reach of the College Football Playoff at No. 5 that November.
The Cardinals quickly fell out of consideration and relevance with three consecutive losses to end the season, including a late collapse at home against in-state rival Kentucky. Louisville reached four bowl games under Petrino, beating Texas A&M in the Music City Bowl in 2015.
But other than sharing the 2016 Atlantic Division title with Clemson (which the Tigers won via tiebreaker), Louisville wasn’t a consistent contender after leaving the Big East for the ACC.
This season, the Cardinals failed to beat a Power Five school and needed second-half rallies to beat FCS Indiana State and Western Kentucky.
An offensive falloff was expected following the departure of the dynamic Jackson, who broke numerous school and conference records before entering last spring’s NFL draft and being selected by the Baltimore Ravens in the first round.
However, Jackson’s exit ended up revealing a host of deficiencies and weaknesses as Louisville struggled to score. The Cardinals rank near the bottom of several ACC categories, even with sophomore quarterback Jawon showing signs of growth after being pulled from several games.
Consistency and wins never materialized as Petrino benched Pass in consecutive games for Malik Cunningham.
Pass seemed headed toward his first win as a starter the next week against Florida State before throwing a late interception on first down at the Seminoles’ 21 with under two minutes remaining while leading 24-21.
FSU converted that turnover into the winning touchdown in a 28-24 loss resulting in harsh public criticism of Petrino for throwing the ball instead of running the clock down. Louisville’s defensive weaknesses were then exposed in a 66-31 loss to Georgia Tech, and things only got worse as opponents thrived in all phases.
Petrino is 119-56 overall in a college career that included stops at Arkansas and Western Kentucky. He also coached 13 games with the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons in 2007. His career has included a lot of wins and some controversy and hard feelings left behind.
He was 31-9 with Louisville from 2003-06, taking the Cardinals to the Orange Bowl, while also constantly coming up as a candidate for other jobs. He left college for the Falcons and lasted less than a season before taking the Arkansas job.
That ended with embarrassment. He was fired after getting into a motorcycle accident, which exposed an extra-marital affair with an athletic department employee and Petrino’s lies to his boss.
He resurfaced at Western Kentucky for a season in 2013, and then Louisville gave him another chance. Then-athletic director Tom Jurich re-hired Petrino as the program transition from Big East to ACC.
But now Jurich is gone as part of the fallout from a series of scandals involving the basketball program that also felled Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino.