Petrino owes second chance to AD

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Tom Jurich could have ignored the phone call. He could have ignored the man looking for a little bit of salvation.

Nobody would have blamed him if he had. Jurich owed Bobby Petrino absolutely nothing. Not after Petrino turned and walked away from Louisville the way that he did -- jarring Jurich and the football program for years to come.

Instead, Jurich picked up the phone and listened to Petrino on the other end. Petrino wanted to meet face-to-face following a scandal at Arkansas that cost him his job and very nearly his marriage and family.

Jurich agreed, but with a warning.

"You're probably not going to like what you hear," Jurich told him.

Petrino understood. He drove all night from Fayetteville, Arkansas, to Louisville, Kentucky, a miserable 600 miles through the darkness that had become his life. When he arrived, they talked for more than three hours. Not one word was spent on football.

They talked about life, family and mistakes. They talked about humility, and they talked about God. They talked about how to change. But the resounding piece of advice Jurich gave Petrino: "Your best friend or your worst enemy is that mirror. Get in front of it."

Unbeknownst to either of them, that 2012 phone call set the groundwork for where the two stand today. Reunited at Louisville and ready to take the Cardinals into their first year in the ACC, their relationship is the most important in the entire country between athletic director and head football coach.

Without that phone call, Jurich says he would have never rehired Petrino when Charlie Strong left for Texas after the past season. Without that phone call, there would have been no way to repair their fractured friendship, no way to truly know whether Petrino was committed to changing.

After their meeting, it took a year for Petrino to convince Jurich to trust him again. It took another year of quiet observation for Jurich to feel comfortable enough to make the decision to bring Petrino back -- a decision widely criticized in January.

Still, today, outside skepticism remains. On the surface, this looks like a marriage of convenience: Jurich needed a top-notch coach to lead his program into a tougher conference; Petrino needed a familiar spot in a good conference to begin repairing his image.

But Jurich has spent two years getting to know the new Petrino. The idea that Petrino has somehow changed is hard for the average college football fan to understand, given all the missteps he has made along the way.

Jurich knows there are people who doubt him and critics who cannot fathom why one of the most respected administrators in the country would take a risk on a coach who has burned him in the past. But Jurich believes he took no such risk. He is adamant that he hired a new man.

His reputation is riding on that bit of faith few others possess.

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