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Vandals name Paul Petrino new football coach

Fans got a chance to meet and greet new Idaho football coach Paul Petrino on Monday after his introduction at the Kibbie Dome in Moscow. (DEREK HARRISON)
Fans got a chance to meet and greet new Idaho football coach Paul Petrino on Monday after his introduction at the Kibbie Dome in Moscow. (DEREK HARRISON)

MOSCOW, Idaho – Growing up in a football-mad family in Montana, Paul and Bobby Petrino heard the same message from their father that he told his other players at Carroll College: The game is about discipline and execution.

“Execution is created by constant repetition that creates a conditioned reflex in a given situation,” Paul said. “Anyone that played for my dad can repeat that right now.”

Drilling into his players the importance of the smallest details, Bob Petrino Sr. had gobs of success at Carroll.

The same for Bobby at Louisville and Arkansas.

Now it’s Paul’s turn to try a similar recipe at Idaho.

Petrino was announced as the 33rd head coach of the Vandals on Monday at a lively news conference at the Kibbie Dome. Greeted by the Idaho marching band, boosters and fans, the 45-year-old former UI assistant said he had been preparing for this day since he was a boy.

“That’s all I’ve ever wanted to do is be a head coach,” he said after being introduced by Idaho president Duane Nellis. “That’s what I’ve trained for.

“A lot of parents take their kids hunting and fishing,” he continued. “Our dad would take us up to the office and first teach us how to play the game, and then teach us how to coach the game.”

Petrino, the younger brother of the prosperous but controversial Bobby, showed a fiery demeanor while laying out his step-by-step plan for reviving the moribund Idaho program. He takes over after the Vandals fired Robb Akey, who went 20-50 in five-plus seasons as head coach.

Petrino, the former Arkansas offensive coordinator, who also oversaw explosive offenses at Illinois and Louisville, agreed to a three-year contract that will pay him $390,000 per year and includes two potential extension years based on paid home-game attendance goals.

The contract must be approved by the Idaho State of Board of Education, which meets today at 2 p.m. PST in Boise.

“We’ve just proven today that we can hire one of the best coaches in the country, one of the most innovative offensive minds in the country,” athletic director Rob Spear said.

Spear said more than 50 coaches applied for the job and he had phone interviews with at least 15 candidates. He received a call from Bobby Petrino, who recommended his brother for the job, and Paul was quickly on the Vandals’ short list.

After narrowing in on Petrino, Spear and the search committee talked with John L. Smith, who was Petrino’s boss at Arkansas this season and at Idaho from 1992-1994, former Illinois coach Ron Zook, Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long and others. All vouched for the detailed-oriented, lifelong assistant.

“I don’t know if you can find a better, more knowledgeable coach offensively,” Smith said via telephone. “He definitely needed a chance to become a head coach, and this is his opportunity to do that.

“He’s going to love those kids. He’s going to push those kids. He’s going to give those kids the same tough love that he had growing up. And they will develop that work ethic, that discipline that he has. So I think (Idaho’s) getting a steal.”

After two years at Illinois, Petrino rejoined his brother at Arkansas in December 2011. A few months later, Bobby was dismissed for having an affair with a former Razorbacks volleyball player whom he had hired as a football department staffer.

Smith took over as interim coach for this season, and Arkansas suffered through a 4-8 campaign.

Jeff Long, the Arkansas A.D., told Spear that he would have hired Paul as interim coach if it wasn’t for his last name. And Bobby told Spear how much responsibility he put on his younger brother’s shoulders when Paul was on his various staffs.

“My understanding (is) that’s he’s been training for this job since birth,” Nellis said.

Paul said he has commitments from a few coaches to join his staff, though he didn’t disclose any names. After meeting with UI players on Monday afternoon, he planned on watching film of the Vandals’ one-win season and recruits until 1 or 2 a.m.

Regarding Idaho’s future without a conference home, he and Spear were firm in their commitment to the Football Bowl Subdivision.

“We want to stay FBS, and that’s something we talked about,” Paul said. “There’s going to be so many conferences moving around that we’ve just got to go out and put a good product on the field and put ourselves in a great position to end up in a conference.”

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