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Falcons coach Petrino resigns

Just 13 games after leaving Louisville, he left the NFL to return to the college ranks at Arkansas.

ATLANTA - Bobby Petrino was named the football coach at Arkansas late last night, capping a whirlwind day in which he stunningly resigned from the Atlanta Falcons after just 13 games.

Petrino was hired to succeed Houston Nutt, who stepped down at Arkansas two weeks ago and became the head coach at Mississippi.

Petrino was introduced as the 30th Razorbacks coach by incoming athletic director Jeff Long at a news conference late last night.

"Today was a day of decision," Petrino said. "It was difficult on one side very easy on the other. It was difficult to leave Atlanta, the staff, players, fans. The timing of it probably was the thing that made it most difficult."

Petrino, 46, went 41-9 in four years at Louisville, coaching some of the highest-scoring teams in the country before leaving in January to join the Falcons.

He signed a five-year, $24 million contract handed out by a team that felt he could help star quarterback Michael Vick reach his full potential.

A few months later, Vick came under investigation for a grisly dogfighting operation that led him to plead guilty to federal charges.

He was sentenced Monday to 23 months in prison without ever taking a snap for Petrino.

The Falcons would not comment beyond a terse two-paragraph statement last night.

Owner Arthur Blank and general manager Rich McKay were scheduled to hold a news conference today.

There was no word on who would take over as head coach for Atlanta's final three games, although defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer and offensive coordinator Hue Jackson would be the logical candidates.

After losing Vick, Petrino tried three quarterbacks. The Falcons are 3-10 and assured of the 32d season of .500 or worse in their 42-year history.

On Monday night, with Chris Redman at quarterback, they were routed by the Saints.

"Anytime you're without one of the best athletes in the National Football League, it's going to be tough," Pro Bowl cornerback DeAngelo Hall said earlier in the season. "Take Peyton Manning from the Colts, and they'll go through a little slump."

Petrino's resignation was another jarring blow in a surreal year for the Falcons, who had dealt with Vick's legal troubles since the first day of training camp. A plane flying over the team's practice facility pulled a sign that said: "New team name? Dog Killers?"

Petrino's stint was one of the shortest for a non-interim coach since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger. Pete McCulley was fired after starting 1-8 with San Francisco in 1978, and Sid Gillman lasted only 10 games in his second stint as San Diego coach, going 4-6 in 1971 before quitting.

Lou Holtz coached the New York Jets to a 3-10 record in 1976, then left to become Arkansas' coach.

Before the merger, Bo McMillan coached the 1951 Eagles for two games before stepping down due to cancer.