Louisville Head Coach Bobby Petrino
Q. Your thoughts on this week, sir.
BOBBY PETRINO: First of all, I’d just like to thank Steve Hogan and the Citrus Bowl and his staff for making this such a great experience for our players and our staff and everybody involved. It’s been a great week. The schedule worked out great. We have been able to get our practices in. We have been able to still get our players some time to enjoy the experience, which I think is really important for them. We’re looking forward to the matchup. LSU is a very, very good football team, does a great job of playing defense. They’re very big, strong, physical. They’ve got some really good cover guys. So I think that’s a tremendous challenge for us. Offensively, they have been able to move the ball and we know we have a great running back to defend and a quarterback that has been able to distribute the ball and do a great job for him. So looking forward to the game and looking forward to our players getting back on the field and competing.
Q. Coach, how has the Central Florida/Orlando experience been for the players? You said some genuinely kind things in anticipation of coming here. Have we lived up to the expectations?
BOBBY PETRINO: Yeah. No question about it. This is a beautiful area. I actually have a home here that my wife and I come down and vacation at. And what we did is we traveled on Christmas night so that we could get up early on Monday morning and let our players go to Universal and spend from 9:00 till 2:00 in the afternoon there. A lot of them had never been there before. It was a new experience for most of our team. And then we were able to get a short practice in on Monday night and then our normal week on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. They also had a great time yesterday at the community service and the event with the — where you hosted with an LSU player and a young child. And I know that’s special to our team. They always do a great job with community service.
Q. Coach, can you just talk about Lamar [Jackson] and the preparation has the Heisman Trophy and obviously a lot of hoopla that week. How has he been in practice and what have you seen during these bowl practices for him to improve a little?
BOBBY PETRINO: Yeah. That was quite the experience for him and it started really on a Thursday night in Atlanta and then went all through the weekend in New York. And there was some intense moments wondering whether he was going to win the award or not win the award. I thought he handled it great. I thought he did a tremendous job representing our football team and the University of Louisville. I did think it took a little toll on him, wore him out a little bit. So when we first came back and got back in the routine of practice and lifting and conditioning, it took him a few days to get lack to Lamar. But he’s a guy with a tremendous amount of energy. He loves going out and practicing. He loves being around his teammates and he’s done a great job in our bowl preparation.
Q. Coach, one of the defensive backs for LSU, I asked him last week, said that you guys have absolutely not faced a defense like LSU. One, do you think you have? And, if so, who and what is this defense going to present to you guys most problems with?
BOBBY PETRINO: Yeah. I think they’ll be the most talented defense that we’ve went against this year. They’re very physical up front and do a great job in their run gaps. Their linebackers are big and can run and are physical and they’ve got guys that can match up and play man coverage. So I think just the number of snaps of man coverage that they play will be new to us than most of the people we’ve played this year.
Q. It’s interesting the juxtaposition and preparation. Lamar Jackson is obviously a feature on your side, but with Leonard Fournette sitting this week, it’s a little bit tougher to pick out who the feature player might be potentially in preparation. How did you adjust for that?
BOBBY PETRINO: Well, we have been able to watch guys carry the football, and he’s a really good football player. He can run. He’s physical. They do a tremendous job in their schemes of how they attacked people in running the game. So there’s a lot of video on how they’re going to operate with him in there. And it’s a great challenge to us. We’re going to have to be very disciplined. We’re going to have to run full speed to the ball and we’re going to have to get a lot of guys there and gang tackle and just play with great effort to be able to control their running game.
Q. Bobby, is the LSU offense much different than it was when you were at Arkansas?
BOBBY PETRINO: Yeah. I mean, that was a long time ago, so I think what they have been doing a great job of is being able to run the ball in different groupings, different scheme-wise. They like to run the football. They always have like to run the football and they’ve always been good at it, but they have been able to mix it up now more in their passing game. I think that’s changed a lot in how they attacked you with their passing game, how they’ve got their tight end involved in the passing game. So, again, I think it’s a great challenge for us.
Q. A lot of people look at you as an offensive genius. They look at Dave Aranda as a defensive genius. How do you view that matchup in the game and what challenges does Aranda present as a coordinator?
BOBBY PETRINO: Yeah. Dave’s a very, very good defensive coordinator. We’ve watched some of his stuff when he was at Wisconsin and how much success they’ve had there, and then he came to LSU. He’s actually doing some things different, you know, and I think what you see there is a guy that really knows how to utilize his personnel and how to get the players in the right spots and use the skills that they have. So for him to be able to make that transition and the success that he’s had at different places and doing different schemes speaks a lot for him.
Q. Coach, without [James] Hearns and [Henry] Famurewa, how does that affect your defense? How have you seen them adjust?
BOBBY PETRINO: Yeah, that’s a lot to us. There’s no question. James has been a great pass rusher for us. Henry has been a guy that provides a lot of depth and can play multiple positions. So, we’ll just have to make up for it with a couple of different guys. Jonathan Greenard will be in there. Jonathan’s had a good year. He’s played a lot of snaps. He’s been productive and made plays for us. Stacy Thomas is another guy that can play multiple positions. He actually started his career at the position that James plays. So we’ll be able to mix him in there and get production. And we all know Stacy has been a really good football player for us.
Q. I know we’re talking about the bowl game, but this is the first time we’ve seen you since a lot of the Wake Forest stuff happened. When it first happened, you issued a statement saying you had no knowledge of the situation. When did that change, and what was your reaction to learning stuff — more stuff?
BOBBY PETRINO: Yeah. I did not know that there was a radio guy from Wake Forest that was in contact with one of our coaches. We’ve had an extensive investigation. Obviously, we all know that our athletic director is suspended, our co-offensive coordinator, and the commissioner has put down a fine. And, you know, we’ve worked through it. We’ve had the investigation, and we consider the matter closed, and we’re here to play a bowl game.
Q. Bobby, along those lines, what did you think of sort of the way it affected your image or your reputation that you guys got a lot of criticism for your integrity and things like that over this past month?
BOBBY PETRINO: Yeah, you know, I think that, first and foremost, you’ve seen their coach come out and say that it was a Wake Forest issue. Like I said, we’ve dealt with it. I think [Director of Athletics] Tom Jurich has done a great job. It’s not fun to be here with without our offensive coordinator. Lonnie’s [Galloway] been a great coach for us. He does a tremendous job with our players. He’s added a lot to our staff this year, and we certainly miss him.
Q. With so much going on off the field, I mean, with the Heisman and then the two topics we’re talking about now, how have the players handled kind of those distractions trying to prepare for this game?
BOBBY PETRINO: Yeah, I think our players have done a great job. Unfortunately, we had the issue with two players being shot, and that was something that was a tragedy, something that we talked to our team about, that we’re very fortunate that we’re not at a funeral right now, that both of them are healthy and have an opportunity to continue their career and get their degrees and do everything that they came to the University of Louisville to do. One of the things I always try to do with our players is put it all out there to them. And then they need to understand what our job is: To focus and get better throughout the bowl practices. We worked a lot of individual technique. We worked a lot of goods versus goods, ones versus ones, and then we took basically the last seven practices and focused on LSU and, you know, game-planned and prepared like we normally would for a game. So I’ve always liked the schedule for bowl games because I think part of it is the player just trying to get better. You know, the seniors trying to improve for this game and for the combines and for the draft and the young guys trying to get into the depth and see the competition that they’re going to have for spring ball.
Q. As it relates to James [Hearns] and Henry [Famurewa], what’s the extent of their injuries? When — could you expect them to be back for spring or any time like that, or do you have any idea about that kind of –.
BOBBY PETRINO: Yeah, I think James will be back for spring for sure. He has an elbow injury. Henry has an injury to his foot and his shoulder. But, we do think that they’ll both be back. I’m not sure of the timetable on Henry just yet.
Q. Good morning, Coach. With [Lamar] Jackson winning the Heisman and, like you said, the investigations and players being shot, can you talk about the mindset of the football team and who has stepped up inside the locker room to keep these guys focused on the task and defeating LSU?
BOBBY PETRINO: Yeah, that’s been one of our strengths all year long, is that we have tremendous leadership from within the team. You know, we’ve got the four seniors now that came back last year after their junior year. All four of them could have went out into the draft. They chose to come back to be leaders of the team. We’ve got tremendous leadership on the offensive side from Brandon Radcliff and Tobijah Hughley. I think they’ve all done a really good job. One of the things that we always focus on too is the good things that are going on and the positives. So, we have a Heisman trophy winner. We just had 16 guys graduate here at mid-year. Our guys are working extremely hard for this bowl game and doing a great job for that. So, we feel like we’ve got a tremendous upside and coming off a great year where we have nine years and went 7-1 in the ACC conference and we’re excited about this football game. I’ve always felt like a bowl game does two things: No. 1, it sends the seniors out and finishes their career; and, No. 2, it’s the first game of next year. So what a great opponent to play for our guys coming back next year as the first game for next season.
Q. Last year, Lamar [Jackson] kind of emerged during practice for the bowl game. Has anybody jumped out to you this year?
BOBBY PETRINO: You know, there have been guys that have made tremendous improvement. One of them is Reggie Bonnafon making the move from quarterbacks last running back to full-time receiver. We saw him improving all year as the year went on and he’s been very productive for us. But I really feel like this concentration in the bowl practice, he’s really refined his skills and his technique. He understands it more, which makes him play even faster and quicker. And I feel like he’s really jumped out and done a great job.
Q. Coach, you mentioned that LSU’s passing the ball better than they used to or at least are mixing it up. I just wanted your take on Danny Etling and the job he’s done. He’s been kind of labeled as a game manager, so to speak. But what have you seen?
BOBBY PETRINO: Yeah, I think he’s came in and given a big boost, you know. Anytime, you don’t turn the ball over and you take care of it and you allow your offense to move and get first downs, you make it very difficult on the opponent that you’re playing. And his ability to convert first downs and get the ball to different receivers and tight ends and running backs — you know, I’ve never felt, as a quarterback, that you’re ever just a manager of the game. It’s a very, very difficult position. We ask them to do a lot out there. There’s a lot of pressure on — that they put on themselves. So for his ability to come out and perform the way he has is, I think, a real credit to him.
Q. Coach, a gentleman asked you earlier about your image, your reputation. I’m wondering, how much does that matter to you? You seem to be able to kind of bounce back from some things that might have been potentially damaging to your reputation in the past.
BOBBY PETRINO: Yeah. One thing we do is look forward and really work on what’s ahead of us and, you know, I feel really good about what we’ve got going at Louisville. I think the three years we have been there, we’ve done a tremendous job in two ways: getting players an opportunity to pursue their dream and going to the NFL draft and do what they want there and then also the ability to prepare for life after football, which is really important for us, that they have a degree in their pocket and they’re ready to go out and attack life when football ends because we all know that it ends at some time, some of them at the end of their college career and some of them three or four, if they’re lucky enough, eight or nine years in the NFL. But, we do a really good job in our program with that.
Q. Would winning this bowl game mean anything more or different to you in the program, given all the struggles on and off the field that you’ve had the past month or so?
BOBBY PETRINO: Yeah, you know, I don’t feel that way. There are struggles on and off the field. This football team has done a great job for 10 weeks, really 11 weeks throughout the season. We’re in the mention for the playoffs and being there. We stumbled at the end. That’s hard to deal with, and certainly something we’re going to evaluate and really put a lot of time into finding out what the reasons were and, you know, how we correct that moving forward. But we’ve got a group of guys that love each other, do a great job of practicing every day with a smile on their face, truly care about each other. So the benefits that they get from this season are going to last for the rest of their life.
Q. Bobby, two questions: One, your predecessor had a no-guns policy. Wondering if you could clarify what yours is and whether you’ve reassessed it, whether players need them for self-defense, given what happened. Secondly, what is the difference, in your mind, using this game as a springboard going into next season, between winning and losing? How much difference can that make?
BOBBY PETRINO: Yeah. We do have a no-guns policy. That’s something — and we also have it on campus. So it’s something that every player on our team knows that you cannot have a gun, and you cannot have it on campus. It’s a crime to have a gun on campus, and you’re dismissed from school immediately. The second question was about what the game springboards us for next year. You know, like I said, I always feel like this game ends our seniors’ career and starts our guys returning. So certainly we’re playing a tremendous football team from one of the best conferences in the country, a program that I know a lot about and competed against them before that have great players and are very, very well coached. So it’s a tremendous challenge for us.
Q. Can you just talk about, with your recruiting base in Florida like it has been, how big this game is, to be right here in Central Florida, for the program. And then as a follow-up, one of those guys, Keith Kelsey, has kind of been the poster child with the leadership and what he’s done. What has he meant for this program?
BOBBY PETRINO: We’re going to miss Keith a lot. My entire time coming back at Louisville, he’s been one of our leaders. He’s a young man that truly tries to do what the coaches are asking you to do and influence the other players on the team to do that in the right way. He also is a great player, loves playing the game and practicing. And I think what he does in practice helps everybody on our team in his attitude and how much he’s improved his body and how much he takes care of it. He’s just a great example for what it is to be a true student athlete. He did graduate here in December, which is a great thing. He had that decision last year whether I stay and graduate or do I come out, and I think it truly was important for him to graduate. I feel like our recruiting is going great. We do put a lot of time in here in South Florida, Central Florida, and Northern Florida. It’s really good football. We’ve got a number of our players that get to come here and play in front of their family and friends, so it’s a big game for us.
Q. Being a former SEC coach yourself, what are your thoughts on the firing of Les Miles and the subsequent hiring of Ed Orgeron?
BOBBY PETRINO: I’m happy for Ed. I’ve known Ed for a long time. I used to go down to Miami when he was coaching the D-line down there. Used to spend a week or two during the spring with Dennis Erickson and his staff and always admired how Ed got his guys to play and how talented they were and how well coached they are. I think he’s done a tremendous job coming in both at USC and LSU as the interim coach, and he certainly has earned it and deserves it, and I wish him the best of luck
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