By Jim Thomas
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
There was a time, years ago, when career advancement by Bobby Petrino meant career advancement for Scott Linehan.
But on Sunday at the Edward Jones Dome, any success by Petrino will come at the expense of Linehan. The longtime friends and coaching associates square off for the first time as NFL head coaches when Petrino's Atlanta Falcons take on Linehan's Rams in a noon kickoff.
"He's probably the best Xs and Os coach I've worked with," Linehan said. "I'm not surprised he's done what he's been able to do. He's a great teacher, got a really fiery personality. He's a little old school."
Linehan and Petrino worked together on John L. Smith's staff at Idaho in 1989 and '90. Petrino was offensive coordinator-quarterbacks coach; Linehan was wide receivers coach. Those are the only seasons they coached together; but their careers have intertwined over the years and they've stayed in touch.
"We had a great relationship (at Idaho), and we have been close friends ever since," Petrino said in a conference call with St. Louis reporters. "I've talked to him a couple times during the season this year, and certainly in the offseason."
So have they commiserated about the tough times they've experienced in 2007?
"No, we haven't done that," Petrino said. "The one thing you do in this business is just try to win the next game, so you just focus on that and try to prepare for that."
In his second year with the Rams, Linehan has nine players on the injured reserve list and a 2-9 record. In his first year with Atlanta, Petrino has 13 players on IR and a 3-8 mark. Both have offensive lines that are in tatters. And despite impressive offensive résumés which helped get them NFL head-coaching jobs, neither of their clubs are scoring much.
The Rams have scored only 14 offensive touchdowns in 11 games; the Falcons have scored 13 TDs. (By comparison, New England's Randy Moss has scored 16 TDs all by himself.)
The Rams are 26th in total offense; the Falcons are 28th.
With so much in common in their respective lost seasons, maybe they should commiserate.
"I just really respect his knowledge and opinion on things," Linehan said. "I've always thought he really, really had that great eye for schemes and offense, and teaching and getting the most out of his players. I really respect him."
Following the 1991 college season, when Petrino left Idaho for a job in the Pacific 10 — as Arizona State's quarterbacks coach — Linehan replaced him as Idaho's offensive coordinator-quarterbacks coach. It represented a big step forward, career-wise, for Linehan.
"I'd never been a coordinator, and really didn't have much experience," Linehan said.
But with Doug Nussmeier — the Rams' current quarterbacks coach — as his QB, Linehan and the Idaho offense took off.
"The next two years, we led the country in offense," Linehan recalled. "We averaged almost 50 points a game, and about 500 yards a game. We had good players for that level."
Seven years later, the same thing happened at Louisville. Petrino left the Cardinals for his first NFL job as quarterbacks coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Linehan was out of work at the time, part of a staff that had been fired at the University of Washington.
Smith, then the head coach at Louisville, threw out another coaching lifeline. Once again, Linehan replaced Petrino as offensive coordinator and QBs coach for Smith.
"For like 12 years, the only two guys that either coached John L.'s quarterbacks or were his coordinator were me and Bob," Linehan said. "He just flip-flopped us. I'd leave, he'd hire Bob. Bob would leave, he'd hire me. So I went to Louisville for three years. That was one of the best moves I ever made."
After the 2001 season, Linehan left the college ranks to coordinate the Minnesota Vikings' offense. In 2003, Petrino became head coach at Louisville, where he compiled a 41-9 record in four seasons before the Falcons came calling.
"Now we're facing each other as (NFL) coaches," Linehan said.
If the Falcons lose Sunday, and they're slight underdogs to the Rams, Petrino will have lost as many games in three months in the NFL as he did in four seasons at Louisville. The NFL can be a humbling experience. Petrino and Linehan are learning that the hard way this season.
Re: Coaching lifeline
Now we know who are next HC is after Linehan is let go by the Rams! :)