(Photo: ECU SID)
Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino and East
Carolina coach Skip Holtz both have some history with the programs they
will oppose in the 51st Liberty Bowl on Jan. 2.
Petrino contributed to some bad karma
with the Pirates when he was coach at Louisville. Former ECU coach John
Thompson was not happy about a late touchdown in
a 36-20 Cardinals win in Greenville
in 2003. Thompson said something about the rushing score as he shook
hands with Petrino after the game and Petrino questioned why Thompson
was calling timeouts with the game apparently decided.
The bad blood simmered for a year and
boiled over in
a 59-7 Cards win in Louisville
the following season. The Cardinals players accused the Pirates of
disrespecting their logo at Papa John's Stadium before the game and
piled on the points with two late touchdown passes and then a field goal
after the Cardinals were already leading 56-7.
"They're ahead 56-7 and kick a field
goal with 1:47 left," Thompson said. "I guess getting that 59th point
was important to them."
It may have been important to the Cards
in terms of impressing voters in the polls at the time. But several
Cardinals players indicated in published reports that the one-sided
result was fueled by hostilities generated by the Pirates before the
Louisville went to the Big East the
following season and Petrino, who has been characterized by some as a
job hopper, eventually left a multi-million dollar contract with the
Cardinals to coach the Atlanta Falcons to a 3-10 record in 2007.
Petrino left the Falcons before the
season was over to fill the coaching vacancy at Arkansas. He has a 12-12
record with the Razorbacks, including 7-5 this season.
Petrino and Holtz were in Memphis on
Thursday for a news conference.
Petrino may have had a case of
selective amnesia when asked about past games with the Pirates. Maybe he
didn't want to stir up any old emotions, but he was certainly
complimentary of the current ECU program.
"When I was in Conference USA, we
actually beat East Carolina twice but they were really good football
games," said the Razorbacks coach. "I think what you've seen since Coach
Holtz has gotten there is the continuity and what they do offensively,
defensively and in special teams."
Petrino indicated that the Pirates had
made progress in recruiting.
"When you turn the video on and you
watch 'em play, you're saying, 'Why is that guy not playing for us?'
Petrino said. "They've done an excellent job in recruiting. They do a
very good job in coaching and how sound (they are). They don't lose any
games in coaching. They win a lot of games by how well they coach.
"I'm really looking forward to the
matchup. I think it will be a great matchup."
Petrino offered some high praise for
"They're very similar to a lot of teams
in the Southeastern Conference as far as how good their defensive front
is," said the Razorbacks coach. "I think that's the biggest challenge
that we have in our conference is when you have defensive ends that can
rush the passer, big physical tackles that can stop the run and keep the
"It makes it a big challenge. Their
defensive front fits right in with about every team we play in the SEC."
The Pirates are making their second
straight trip to the Liberty Bowl as Conference USA champions, having
taken a disappointing
25-19 loss to Kentucky last
season after leading 16-3 at the half.
"We're really excited about having the
opportunity to be back here," Holtz said.
For Holtz, an Arkansas helmet on
display at the news conference rekindled recollections of an adolescence
spent in Fayetteville, AR, when his dad, Lou, was coaching the
Razorbacks. Skip Holtz's biography in the ECU football media guide notes
that he was a four-year letterwinner and quarterback at Fayetteville
"I'm looking across the table here at
the Arkansas helmet," Holtz said. "It brings back a lot of memories. I
can remember sitting in these press conferences admiring my father as he
sat in that chair and kind of talked in front of that Arkansas helmet.
" ... This is when it hit me -- I mean
really just looking at that helmet when I walked in here and sat down it
was like 'I feel like I should be sitting on that side,' because growing
up from seventh grade all the way through high school I grew up in
Located in the northwest section of
Arkansas, Fayetteville is about 320 miles from Memphis. The state of
Arkansas borders the other side of the Mississippi River from Memphis.
Some of Holtz's old friends and
neighbors may be coming to Memphis but the Pirates coach isn't under any
delusions about where their loyalties will lie.
"I've talked to about everybody I knew
in Fayetteville over the last week since we knew that we were going to
have the opportunity to play Arkansas," Holtz said. "I have no doubt in
my mind about it they'll be wearing red and white but a lot of
memories from growing up.
"I can remember going back to the
Orange Bowl when they had the big win over Oklahoma, 31-6 (1977), and
playing Alabama in the Sugar Bowl (24-9 Crimson Tide win, 1979) some
great childhood memories from growing up in Fayetteville around that
program and being a huge fan of it."
Lou Holtz compiled a 60-21-2 record at
Arkansas from 1977 to 1983.
Skip Holtz said Thursday that he didn't
think his dad would be involved with the television coverage of this
year's Liberty Bowl.
"But you don't know," Skip said. "It
seems like he's been to about every other game we played on television."
Holtz was asked about the potential for
a letdown after the excitement of a 38-32 home win over Houston for the
"You don't have to sit down and watch
much film to understand that if we don't play well against this football
team we can get run out of this stadium," Holtz said. "We're not going
to be able to afford an emotional letdown."