Just about everyone in Atlanta - Falcons executives, players, fans and the local media - continues to savage Bobby Petrino, and rightfully so, for leaving the flailing franchise 13 games into his first season to go yell "wooo-pig-sooie" in Arkansas. Fine. Petrino was gutless in promising to be the Falcons coach one day, then abandoning the franchise the next.
But let's not forget about two other men who deserve the blame for the Petrino fiasco - Falcons owner Arthur Blank and team president Rich McKay. They should never have hired Petrino in the first place. A dictatorial college coach, Petrino wasn't head-coaching material in the National Football League, a game played by grown men, not by impressionable teenagers. And Petrino is a career climber. Just look at his resume.
While turning Louisville into a Bowl Championship Series-caliber team in just four short years, Petrino constantly flirted with other schools - other Southeastern Conference schools. He interviewed with Auburn in secret, and then lied when confronted with it. He was up for the Louisiana State job that eventually went to Les Miles. And he left Louisville to join the Falcons six months after signing a 10-year contract extension, proclaiming Louisville to be his dream job.
Dream job for the moment.
Blank and McKay should have looked at Petrino's history of flirtations and suspected, if not known, that it would continue. What's the best indicator of future behavior? Past behavior. But what the executives fell in love with, blindly, was Petrino's spread offense and winning college record. They wanted to make a splash, and they thought Petrino was it.
That was all well and good, with the exception of this fact - he was never the right guy. He wasn't tough enough, didn't have the necessary communication style NFL players need, and apparently thought NFL players could master 1,000 plays for every game. And, he simply isn't a loyal guy. Plain and simple.
Even if Michael Vick hadn't gotten incarcerated for dogfighting, the Falcons needed Petrino to give more than a one-year commitment. Under the best of circumstances, they needed serious retooling, and it would take two, maybe three years for Petrino and McKay to build the roster to reflect Petrino's coaching style.
Blank was willing to give Petrino the time. But when things got tough and the losses piled up with no quick fix available, Petrino didn't return the favor to Blank. He bounced, leaving nearly 200 employees stranded, asking why.
The answer was because Petrino has always looked for what he considers to be the better situation. And Blank, a man who built The Home Depot into an $80 billion company with 350,000 employees, should have known that. He should have allowed himself an objective look at the executive he was trying to hire, instead of getting blinded by statistics and records.
On Wednesday, the day after Petrino bolted for Arkansas, Blank held a jaw-dropping news conference where he eviscerated Petrino. His anger and resentment - and embarrassment - were evident by his harsh words condemning Petrino's actions. Every time Blank pounded the lectern, it was as if he was hitting Petrino over the head.
Blank didn't indicate he made a mistake. McKay, who was in charge of the hiring, took full responsibility. However, Blank did elaborate on the challenges of hiring a head coach, as opposed to a CEO of a traditional company.
Most businesses, Blank said, have "proper succession planning" and promote from within. NFL teams typically hire from the outside, which makes for a riskier investment.
Candidates from the inside, "you know them," Blank said, "you understand their capacity and loyalties and you don't have an issue of them not being able to handle the heat in the kitchen, if you will, and the tensions that come with the job."
That's well and good, but Blank has been in the NFL business since 2002. He has poured money into a franchise that has never had back-to-back winning seasons. He wisely slashed some ticket prices, sold out the Georgia Dome, and built a posh training facility. The Falcons reached the playoffs two of Blank's first three years as an owner. They have gone 18-27 since. To ignore obvious character flaws when hiring a coach was unforgivably naive.
For Atlanta to prosper again, Blank is going to have to sign off on a better coaching candidate than Bobby Petrino. He can't afford another mistake. Not now. Not with everything that has happened this year.