The short version: this is an absolute home run hire. The Falcons obviously needed an offensive coach since they've committed so much to that side of the ball in terms of cap room and draft picks and they hired possibly the best one available. You can argue that Norm Chow and possibly Cam Cameron have slightly better raw offensive credentials, but Chow has never been a head man before (I view him as the Leo Mazzone of football) and Cameron was underwhelming as the head man at Indiana (an opinion I reserve the right to revise if he becomes the head coach at his alma mater [Michigan] in the near future. Incidentally, Petrino was my dream hire for Lloyd Carr's replacement, although he was a pipedream in that regard, given Michigan's refusal to pay top dollar and general stodginess about outsiders.) Petrino has been successful everywhere he's been, which indicates that he can handle the other aspects of being a head coach: motivation, managing a staff, handling the media, etc. His hiring will resolve once and for all whether Mike Vick is an above-average NFL quarterback.
Mark Bradley agrees. The world waits with baited breath for Terrence Moore's endorsement of the move.
1. I've been resisting "everything was Jim Mora's fault" narrative being put out on 790, a.k.a. Pravda Flowery Branch, and I'm more than willing to criticize Arthur Blank and Rich McKay, but you have to hand it to them for this hire. First, Blank's willingness to pay a head coach $4.8M per year gives the Falcons a leg up over much of the NFL. Blank may be too involved in certain respects, but he puts his money where his mouth is. It's too bad that he owns the Falcons as opposed to the Braves, a team that operates in a league without a salary cap, but I digress. Second, the fact that this hire came completely out of leftfield without any hints speaks well to Blank and McKay's ability to run a discreet coaching search. It's confidence-inspiring to know that the people running the local NFL team are able to run a hiring process in which there are absolutely no leaks and they get the guy they want quickly and with a minimum of fuss.
2. You'll be shocked to know that as a card-carrying member of the "College football is great! The NFL is boring!" junta, I don't buy the argument that college coaches can't be successful in the NFL. The reason for this is simple: the college coaches who tend to get hired are the successful ones who come from programs with natural advantages. When they lose those advantages in the NFL, they attain mediocre results. Exhibit A: Steve Spurrier. Spurrier was also put in a terrible situation. He's pretty much a x's and o's guy who needs assistance in assembling talent. In Washington, player acquisition is handled by a guy whose talents lie in outsourced marketing services. Notably, Joe Gibbs, whose NFL credentials are beyond reproach, is 21-27 in three years there, a marginal improvement over Spurrier's 12-20. Exhibit B: Nick Saban. As mentioned here last week, Saban was universally applauded in 2005 for getting a 4-12 team to 9-7. This year, he was done in by injuries at the quarterback position and I don't see how he can be faulted for relying on medical advice that told him that Daunte Culpepper's injury was less serious than Drew Brees's.
In any event, both Saban and Spurrier benefited in college from having superior talent. (I've often said that, all things being equal, the top three teams in the SEC should be LSU, Georgia, and Florida because they are in the best spots in terms of proximity to talent.) Petrino had no such advantages at Louisville. Kentucky is not especially talent-rich and Petrino has to compete with UK, the state's flagship school, for players. He is hemmed in like Poland in 1939 with the Nazis (Tennessee) on one side and the Communists (Ohio State) on the other. (I just adore that analogy. I'm very proud of myself right now.) The success that Petrino achieved was not the result of superior talent (although Brian Brohm and Michael Bush aren't a bad pair of building blocks and Petrino was fortunate that both players came out of Louisville high schools during his tenure with the added benefit of Brohm being a legacy), but rather a quality offensive scheme. The Cards have been successful regardless of who's been under center. Louisville also improved defensively over his tenure; this year, they were 40th in total defense, 17th in scoring defense, 19th in rushing defense, and 22nd in pass efficiency defense. This is encouraging because it indicates that Petrino is able to bring in the right assistant coaches to compensate for his presumed lack of defensive knowledge. (Charlie Weis might consider doing the same.)
3. We all need to agree on this right now: Petrino has shown some serious wanderlust over his career and we can't be upset in a few years when he starts looking elsewhere. If he gives the Falcons four good years and then replaces Phil Fulmer at Tennessee or Bobby Bowden at Florida State, then we should thank him for his service and move on.
4. I only have a casual familiarity with Petrino's offense based on watching Louisville for the past several years and Auburn in 2002, but my impression is that he tends to favor a power running game, which is inconsistent with the Falcons' current personnel on the offensive line, especially at guard and center. If I'm right about this, the Falcons would be wise to stockpile draft picks this year, i.e. trade down, and bring in several good interior offensive linemen. This would be an especially viable strategy because the team is set at the premium positions - QB, RB, WR, OT, DE, and CB - and needs to focus on mid-round positions: C, G, MLB, and FS. Ordinarily, I would say that trading Matt Schaub would be a good way to acquire additional picks in rounds 2-4, but the buzz on the radio this morning is that the Falcons told prospective head coaches that they are not wedded to Mike Vick and that the new coach won't be forbidden from going in a new direction at QB if he feels that Vick isn't a good fit in his system. Whether that's doable under the salary cap is another question entirely, but it does reflect that the team doesn't share Vick's view that he had a great year this year and it might also reflect that Arthur Blank is willing to put aside his personal affection for Vick.