Paul Petrino: 'Tough as an old work boot'

Paul Petrino: 'Tough as an old work boot'

To read Bob's latest blog, click here.

Tough. Persistent. Loyal.

That is the Petrino way.

Oh, and the family loves a challenge. Paul Petrino's found a doozy at Illinois.

All the new offensive coordinator is being asked to do is help turn around a team that went 3-9 last season. He's being asked to regain the faith of a fading fandom. He's being asked to repair an offense that was dysfunctional at times during 2009, despite the presence of the school's career total offense leader. He's being asked to do it with a redshirt freshman quarterback, who will take his first college snap Sept. 4 against Missouri.

No problem. Not for a guy who gets up about as quickly as he gets knocked down. Not for a guy who was trained by a Montana coaching legend, his dad Bob Petrino Sr. Not for a guy who worked with his brother Bobby, a success at Louisville and Arkansas.

"Growing up behind my brother and with my dad, with both of their names in our town (Helena), I've always put that pressure on myself," Petrino said. "It was always on me to be a great player when I was growing up. When I first started coaching, because my dad was so successful and my brother was, I've always put that pressure on wherever I'm coaching I expect those guys to be the best.

"It drives me. I think everyone has some kind of fear. My whole life growing up, I had a fear of not being the best. A fear of disappointing our name."

As a player, Paul Petrino outperformed his older brother Bobby, breaking all of his Carroll College records as a four-year starting quarterback.

"He was a great player," Bob Petrino Sr. said. "He did a great job for us. He was a great leader. They still talk about him here.

"He was super quick, and he was super tough. He saw daylight, he scored. I would not look at my son Paul as an overachiever. I would look at him as an outstanding athlete. That might be Dad talking."

Bobby Petrino is 6 years older than 43-year-old Paul. They worked together at Louisville and Arkansas and with the Atlanta Falcons.

The chance to establish his own identity led Paul Petrino to Illinois. He could have happily stayed at Arkansas, working as his brother's offensive coordinator.

When Paul Petrino went for head coaching jobs, the schools wondered if he could win on his own.

"It's going to take success," Paul Petrino said. "Right now, I'm very happy what I'm doing. I really like the chemistry of the staff. I like the chemistry between the staff and the players, and I think we're in a real good spot right now."


Paul Petrino never missed a chance to hang out with his dad, the longtime coach at Carroll.

"I lived up at my dad's football office," Petrino said. "I could walk to his work from our house. My grade school was two blocks away. Winter conditioning, I'd ride to work with my dad, watch the workout and go over to school."

One time, at age 6, Petrino became a casualty of practice. He was watching the Carroll team work out, following his dad from position to position.

"One of the defensive backs ran over him," Bob Petrino Sr. said. "I had to take him to the hospital after practice."

The story gets better. Dad didn't initially go over to check on Paul. After a few minutes, blood coming out of Paul's nose, Bob Petrino sent Bobby to make sure the youngster was OK.

Years later, when the Petrino brothers were working at Arkansas, Dad got run over by a tight end on a drag route.

They didn't come to his aid. Just like at Carroll.

"One of my granddaughters was mad at them because they didn't," Bob Petrino said. "They said, 'He's always told us he'll jump right up.' And I did jump right up."

The Petrino brothers never said, "Are you OK?" or "Sorry, Dad." Toughness is expected among all members of the family. No matter what the age.


The best example of Paul Petrino's recruiting skills: his wife Maya.

She was a student at Montana when they met. Paul Petrino was coaching at Idaho.

"He called and called and did all this stuff that kind of bugged me into liking him right at first," Maya Petrino said.

"He would definitely break every NCAA rule (with her). He would call me all the time, send me flowers. It drove my parents crazy. He was very persistent. They were like, 'Who is this guy?' They have come to really love him."

Maya is 6 years younger than Paul. They didn't live in the same city until they were married.

"I really didn't know what I was getting into," Maya Petrino said.

Sixteen years and three children later (13-year-old twins Mason and Anne Mari and 3-year-old Ava), the Petrinos are on the eighth stop of their coaching odyssey.

"When we were young and we didn't have kids, it was fine," Maya Petrino said. "It was a new adventure. You learn a lot about every place you live. We've lived in some neat places. I really enjoyed that. As you have children and they get older, the harder it becomes. Really, as long as my kids are happy and as long as they're adjusting, that's all that matters to me."

When Ron Zook called to ask Paul Petrino about coming to Illinois, it wasn't a solo decision for the offensive coordinator. He consulted with his family. A lot. And made sure everybody was OK with the move.

"There is no dictatorship," Maya Petrino said.

One of Petrino's first questions to Zook was "can my kids hang out at the office?" He got a convincing "yes," which made the deal easier.

When Petrino has a spare hour or two, you'll likely find him at home with the kids. Or in the football office with the kids.

"If I have a day off, I'm not going to go golfing," Petrino said.

The Petrinos moved to Illinois as soon as they could after Signing Day. They are living in southwest Champaign, and the kids have jumped into sports and other activities.

Ava Petrino jumped into sports at a very young age: 5 days old.

Paul Petrino was the offensive coordinator at Louisville in 2006. The Cardinals won the Big East, earning a spot in the Orange Bowl.

"It was one of those great seasons that in coaching you rarely have," Maya Petrino said.

Ava was due around bowl time. The family scheduled a C-section on Dec. 21. On Dec. 26, Ava got on the Louisville team plane bound for Miami.

"We took her in to the pediatrician's office the day we were leaving," Maya Petrino said.

She asked the doctor if it was OK for Ava to get on a plane. The doctor gave his approval. He wasn't as sure about Maya making the trip.

"I was OK," Maya Petrino said. "It wasn't easy, but we did it. We wanted to be together."

Ava didn't go to the game. She stayed at the team hotel with Maya's sister.


Paul Petrino didn't have to go to Carroll College. After a standout prep career, he could have played at Montana, Montana State or other bigger schools. Same for his brother Bobby.

"They came here to try to make the old man a winner, and they sure did that," Bob Petrino Sr. said. "I was probably harder on them than anybody else."

Paul Petrino didn't consider it a sacrifice. Family came first.

"Growing up in Montana, most dads would take their kids hunting and fishing," Paul Petrino said. "We were up learning football. Whether we were learning how to play it or we learning defense, learning fronts, learning coverages, learning how to attack people. That's just what we did."

Patsy Petrino, Bob's wife of 53 years, kept it all together away from the field. Just like Maya does with Paul Petrino's family.

"In this profession, you better have a real good wife that's real strong," Paul Petrino said. "She's awesome. She's really what holds our whole family together."

Paul Petrino has friendships he has maintained since childhood. Shannon Blixt is a part-time rodeo cowboy. Jon Hoovestal, the son of Bob Petrino's defensive coordinator at Carroll, works for his dad's construction company in Montana. Troy Purcell is the head football coach at Bozeman High School.

"I'll always be close with those guys," Paul Petrino said.

His close friends have been able to visit Paul Petrino at his various coaching stops. It was easier when he was working at Idaho or Utah State.

They are going to try to come to Champaign-Urbana this season. For Blixt, it might come down to how much money he wins on the rodeo circuit this summer.

His pals have stories. Some that Bob Petrino Sr. might not have heard.

"We had a rule here in the house, if I ever got a call, they were going to suffer," Bob Petrino said. "I never got called. He was a good citizen."

Well, mostly a good citizen. The friends found their share of trouble.

"Mixing it up in the alley with the wrong people," Blixt said. "It was guys being guys, good Old West style."

"We got in trouble, as high school kids do," Hoovestal said. "Just a fistfight here and there."

Hoovestal, who played outside linebacker at Carroll, got on the wrong side of Bob Petrino during one practice for not hitting Paul hard enough.

"He said, 'I don't care if he's your roommate or not, you tackle him,' " Hoovestal said.

Blixt saw his friend's competitiveness at Carroll. In one game, Petrino got knocked out and was taken off the field for a play. His brother Bobby, the Carroll offensive coordinator, asked him, "Do you know the score of the game?" Woozy Paul Petrino didn't know where he was but was smart enough to look at the scoreboard and gave his brother the right answer. Then, he ran back on the field.

"That's Paul Petrino. He's as tough as an old work boot," Blixt said.

Football hero

Long before he coached, Paul Petrino was a standout quarterback for Carroll College. Here are some of his accomplishments, courtesy of Carroll SID Brock Veltri:
- Inducted into the Carroll College Hall of Fame
- First-team all-conference four consecutive years
- Kodak All-American in 1988
- Led NAIA in scoring (16.89 points per game) as a senior
- Ran and threw for 110 touchdowns during his career
- Ran and threw for 9,648 yards during his career
- Led Carroll to a 36-6 record and four conference titles
- Option quarterback ran for 245 yards in one game and 263 in another

Categories (3):Illini Sports, Football, Sports