MOSCOW, Idaho – When Idaho runs the first play from scrimmage of the Paul Petrino era this evening at North Texas, it could line up in an option-based offense that has its roots at Carroll College with Petrino’s father, Bob Sr.
Or the Vandals might use a one running back spread offense popularized by Dennis Erickson. Then again, maybe they’ll start with a two-back power formation – something Petrino’s brother, Bobby, adopted while coaching under Tom Coughlin in the NFL and Bruce Snyder at Arizona State.
Petrino could go in any of these, or other, directions in his head-coaching debut. Which is exactly what he’s had in mind since replacing Robb Akey in December.
“Really what we want to be is multiple,” he said. “And we want to make the defense defend both the run and the pass. A lot of times we’re really going to try to spread them out and throw the ball around, but then in the fourth quarter you’ve got to be able to run the football to win.
“That’s what it really comes down to.”
Petrino’s offense is an amalgamation of what he learned in his 22 years as an assistant coach and offensive coordinator – bits and pieces from Scott Linehan and Art Valero at Idaho, Jeff Bower at Southern Mississippi and Chris Klenakis at Arkansas.
These and other coaches – some with ties to the Petrinos, others with no connection at all – have played a part in the offense the Vandals will unveil against the Mean Green, a 16-point favorite.
Paul and Bobby, the former Arkansas, Louisville and Atlanta Falcons coach now at Western Kentucky, used to devote hours to studying NFL offenses and coaches they didn’t know. They would make cut-up game tapes of two or three teams a year, often return to video of the Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots to study both teams’ deep play-action pass plays.
“Just be a football junkie,” Petrino said, summing up he and his older brother’s approach. “Learn everything you can from anybody you can.”
After two-plus decades in the profession and even more years studying his dad’s offense (and running it as Carroll’s quarterback), Petrino’s playbook is large and varied and complex.
He and his offensive staff introduced it to players, section by section, this spring in the first installation of the offense. The players then repeated the installation by themselves in the summer before digesting the playbook a third time in the fall.
In addition to blitzing through practices at a frenetic pace – the more repetition, the better to Petrino – the Vandals also digested a huge amount of film, some of which goes back years.
“The video that goes with (the installation of the offense) is really important to us,” said offensive coordinator Kris Cinkovich, who coached with Petrino at Arkansas. “Because it kind of traces back to the offense, and it will take each play and show it being executed the way it needs to.
“It could be from Arkansas, it could have been a snap at Illinois, it could have been from Louisville. Some of the snaps are from the Atlanta Falcons.”
When they were at Louisville, the Petrinos joked that they should call the system they had melded together “the Derby offense.” Although they coached just a mile from Churchill Downs and won 41 games in four seasons, the name never stuck.
That was just fine to Petrino. He cares little how his or other systems are labeled. The read-option offense, for instance, that’s become so popular? He said it’s essentially the same thing as the traditional option offense his dad ran at Carroll.
“Nobody wants to say they’re a true option coach anymore because they’re scared no one will hire them,” he said. “It’s all it is. I mean, people are doing the same option that Bill Yeoman and Lou Holtz ran years ago underneath center. Now they’re just doing it in shotgun and now they’re a guru, while if they were still under center, they’d be a boring coach.”
The bottom line for Idaho’s first-year coach, though, is a catchphrase he shortens to “FTS.”
“We always talk about, ‘Feed the studs,’ ” Petrino said. “And the more of those we have, the better off we are.”