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View from the 'ville
Friday, December 11, 2009

By Al Myatt

Coaches have histories with bowl foes

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

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 game.

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 ECU.

"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 linebackers clean.

"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 High School.

"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 Fayetteville."

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 C-USA championship.

"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."

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12/11/2009 07:20 AM


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