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January 14, 2014

Petrino, top assistant McGee think alike




Kris Kristofferson's tune, "Me and Bobby McGee" would be the perfect theme song for new University of Louisville football coach Bobby Petrino and offensive coordinator/assistant head coach Garrick McGee.

Or is it Bobby McGee and Garrick Petrino? They've been together so often over the years that over time their offensive personalities have more or less blended. So much so that during a press conference Monday afternoon to announce McGee's hiring they sometimes sounded like an old married couple that could complete each other's sentences.

The relationship started when Petrino coached McGee as a quarterback at Arizona State from 1991-92 before McGee finished his career at Oklahoma. As a coach, he worked with Petrino at Arkansas, where he was offensive coordinator in 2010 and 2011 and as an offensive assistant under Petrino with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

"Garrick and I go way back," Petrino says. "Any time I've had an opportunity to hire him, I've hired him. It's really fun because we think a lot alike. He knows exactly how I like to coach quarterbacks. He's run the same drills I made him do when he was playing.

"I'm just really excited he's here. It makes a great situation for us. We have the same thoughts and beliefs on offense and how we want to run the offense. So I have complete trust in everything that Garrick does."

The feeling is mutual. That's why McGee, who was the head coach at UAB for the past two seasons, had only one question when Petrino called him, even though Petrino didn't initially tell him the school he was talking about.

"The one thing I asked him was, 'Is there a chance for us to win a national championship? And if there is, then I'm interested,'" McGee said.

Petrino's answer, according to McGee: "Yeah, this is the one, that we can get back together and we can go into a university that's set up for us to build a program that can compete for it every year."

McGee admitted, though, that he knew full well what university Petrino was referring to.

"Nowadays with social media, the way it works, things start to leak out," The Tulsa, Okla., native said. "So before he told me I kind of had a feeling what was going on. I watched the University of Louisville for awhile from a distance and I knew Louisville was going into the ACC and they were 12-1 last year.

"They have a lot of respect throughout the world of college football from all coaches all over the country, that this is a big-time program, we're going to recruit like it's a big-time program and we expect to play like that."

Like Petrino, McGee says that he and his boss are on the same page when it comes to offense, which could promise some big numbers when the two team up again this fall. During his first tour of duty at UofL from 2003-06 Petrino's teams were known for their high-powered offensive attacks. And it was a similar situation during their two seasons together at Arkansas.

In 36 games, the Razorbacks scored 30 or more points 19 times as they went 10-3 and earned the school's first BCS appearance, losing to Ohio State in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. In 2011, Arkansas scored 40 or more six times, led the SEC in total offense (438.1 ypg), was 13th nationally in passing offense (300.7 ypg) and 15th in scoring (36.7 ppg).

"I cannot express how happy and how blessed I am to be back with Coach," McGee says. "It's a little different with us. I think most of the time when head coaches hire coordinators, they have to have conversations on 'what's your philosophy in the red zone, what's your philosophy on third down, what's your philosophy in managing and teaching the coaches?'

"We didn't have to have that type of conversation. We've been together long enough, I played for Coach, and then us coaching together, that there's only one way to coach this offense. Coach it very hard, very tough. We believe in putting a lot of pressure on our kids in the meeting room and on the practice field so that when the pressure shows up in the game they're comfortable in that environment.

"So at this point in our career and our relationship, I think he understands the way he sees running an offense is the same, exact way I see it and to us that's the only way to run this offense. And that's why I think it's a fit, and that's why I think it works."

No matter who his offensive coordinator was, Petrino has always called the plays and that will apparently continue at UofL.

"He's one of the best play-callers in the history of college football," McGee says. "So my job is to set the table for him so that when he shows up and opens up the play-call sheet and starts dialing them that it's going to work how we want it to work."

McGee watched game and practice film of the 2013 Cardinals, along with the other new coaches, over the weekend and said he's impressed with the caliber of the returning players.

Virtually the entire offensive unit will be back, with one very big exception of course in quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who is foregoing his senior season to enter this spring's NFL draft.

Under the previous staff, redshirt sophomore-to-be Will Gardner was considered Bridgewater's heir apparent, but McGee said the competition will be wide open among all the QBS on the roster.

"I see talent," McGee said. "But we're just going to sit back and watch them and see which guy steps forward and becomes the leader and takes charge of our football team, and who can execute the offense the fastest."

McGee says he likes big running backs, so he's glad to have senior Dominique Brown(6-2, 216) on board. And he said the only problem with the talented wide receiving corps is that there are too many upperclassmen, presenting a recruiting challenge for 2015. Robert Clark, DeVante Parker, Kai DeLa Cruz, Eli Rogers and Michalee Harris will all be seniors, as will tight end Gerald Christian.

"It's top-heavy," McGee said. "We have very good seniors-to-be next year. We're going to have to have a good recruiting class for the next couple of years. We have good young players, but the lead guys are upperclassmen and I think they fit into our system."

McGee was asked if he was going to mount a sales pitch to try and get Bridgewater to change his mind, and he answered with a touch of the humor he displayed throughout the press conference.

"Yeah. Yeah. I think I could get him too if he came and listened," McGee said. "First of all, I've watched a lot of film on him and I think he's ready. He's a very talented kid, you can tell he's under control. He understands his ability, his body, never gets out of control, he has the ability to make all the throws on the move, on the run.

"And in the NFL you have to make throws off balance because the defensive fronts are so good. So I think he's ready. Selfishly, it wouldn't be bad to have him on the team again, so I would talk more about a little bit more development (smiling)."

GARRICK McGEE AT A GLANCE
Age: 40.
Hometown: Tulsa, Okla.
Family: Wife Tiffany. Sons Cameron, 3, and Grant, 2.
Education: Associate degree, Northeastern Oklahoma A&M; bachelor's degree, Oklahoma.
Playing Experience: (Quarterback) Booker T. Washington High, Tulsa, under his late father, Larry McGee; Arizona State, 1991-92; Oklahoma, 1994-95.
Coaching Experience: 1996-98--Langston (Okla.) University, defensive backs; 1999--Northern Iowa, receivers and kickoff returns; 2000-01--NFL Jacksonville Jaguars, offensive assistant and quality control coach; 2002--Toledo, receivers; 2004-07--Northwestern, receivers and punt returns (04-05) and offensive coordinator/quarterbacks (06-07); 2008-11--Arkansas, offensive coordinator; 2012-13--Head coach UAB (6-18).


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