2 Sources Indicate Petrino’s New-Easy Going Mojo Differs Behind Closed Doors

Bobby Petrino, Arkansas football
photo credit: Craven Whitlow

FAYETTEVILLE — Much has been made about the difference in Bobby Petrino’s practice antics in his second stint at Arkansas compared to when he was the head coach more than a decade ago.

The offensive genius has not shown the same propensity to chew out players as the Razorbacks’ new offensive coordinator as he did from 2008-11, leading some in the media to believe he had mellowed out some. He is 63 years old now, after all.

However, new running backs coach Kolby Smith — who worked for Petrino at Western Kentucky and Louisville — said that isn’t the case.

“Not at all, not at all, not at all,” Smith said when he met with reporters for the first time Thursday morning. “That fire would never leave, that’s who he is. That’s how he’s been able to coach for a long time at a high level and have some of the best offenses in the country and how some of the best players really shine under him. You don’t want that passion to go away.”

That comment backs up what a source close to the athletic department previously told Best of Arkansas Sports, that Petrino is still Petrino when it comes to his fiery personality.

Whether he’s adjusted his coaching style because of the nature of today’s athletes or just decided it’s best for some other reason, the more public-facing Petrino is certainly different from his first stint in Fayetteville. Six of the seven practices have been open to reporters in their entirety and there have been numerous opportunities for him to blow up, including during a 7-on-7 period Thursday morning when the offense didn’t have enough players lined up for a rep. All he did in this instance was yell for another player — without any expletives.

It might be safe to deduce from Smith’s comment and what our source said that Petrino’s fiery outbursts are reserved for closed doors — perhaps in meetings with the other coaches or in film sessions with quarterbacks and/or the offense. That may be a good thing for an Arkansas football program looking to rebound from a 4-8 season, as a more demanding personality may help the Razorbacks avoid the technical errors that plagued them in 2023.

What hasn’t changed is Petrino’s reputation as an offensive guru. Getting his system installed this spring is of the utmost importance to the Razorbacks because of their struggles on that side of the ball for much of last year.

That made the offensive hires of Smith and wide receivers coach Ronnie Fouch so important, as both of them have worked for Petrino at multiple stops and know his offense inside and out.

“For what we need, both of them were the best fits for us and it happened to also be that Bobby’s worked with both of them,” Pittman said. “It’s very important when you hire people that if you can hire people that somebody’s worked with — that don’t mean you always hit, but we did this time.”

Rather than having to learn the offense themselves while simultaneously teaching it to the players, they can just focus on the latter part.

“It definitely helps because he’s not learning with us,” wide receiver Andrew Armstrong told Best of Arkansas Sports in an exclusive interview. “He’s helping us learn. It’s not like he’s trying to understand the plays while we’re also trying to understand the plays. He’s trying to teach the plays. He already knows all the plays, so it’s much more helpful and easier for us to understand it.”

Smith has not only worked for Petrino, but played for him at Louisville from 2003-06. Since then, Smith said the biggest difference is that the system has evolved from a “digit system” to more of a “word system” in its terminology. t It’s evolved some in other ways, but the base is still pretty recognizable to both Smith and Fouch.

“The same plays are still there, but just some new stuff’s been added over the years,” Fouch said. “So we just all keep growing with it. We always stick to the same base of the offense, but there’s always new stuff that we love to put in.”

Fouch, a former quarterback at Washington and Indiana State, worked under Petrino at Louisville and Missouri State. They were together as recently as the 2022 season with the Bears, so he has a really good grasp of the offense.

In fact, Fouch hasn’t hesitated to give his input to non-receiver offensive players at practice, which he attributes to Pittman and Petrino “empowering me to run the show.”

“We both coached together and are just feeding off each other out there, but it’s just the urgency right now,” Fouch said. “We got to get better every day and just the urgency of the install, trying to get better from there. Wanting to get guys to the right spots.”

Day 7 Spring Practice Observations

Here are a few other observations and tidbits from the Razorbacks’ seventh day of spring ball, which started indoors before moving outside to the practice fields…

  • Tuesday was a good day for the offense, but the defense got its revenge with a strong showing Thursday morning. It “won” virtually every segment of practice by generating pressure up front and defending well on the back end.
  • One offensive player who had a really good day was wide receiver Isaac TeSlaa, who got open a few times and made some tough catches. It was good to see because he got more work with the first-team offense than usual, as he filled in for Andrew Armstrong, who tweaked his hamstring early in practice.
  • Armstrong’s injury isn’t anything to worry about. It happened during a one-on-one period. He had a step on his man and looked like he was streaking down the sideline for a big catch when he pulled up and reached for his hamstring. Pittman said he thinks he’ll be good to go for Saturday’s scrimmage, even though he didn’t return to Thursday’s practice.
  • Tight end Andreas Paaske is dealing with a thumb injury and didn’t participate in anything after individual drills. That opened the door for walk-on Maddox Lassiter to get some reps in team that he normally wouldn’t, as he’s probably the Hogs’ No. 2 blocking tight end – although Pittman went out of his way to praise Var’keyes Gumms for his blocking after practice.
  • Isaiah Sategna also had a nice day, especially in the one-on-one period. He showcased his speed in blowing by TJ Metcalf and getting open down the sideline, where Taylen Green hit him in stride, and then showed off his footwork and route running ability when he used a double-move to get wide open against Metcalf on another rep. Sategna also had a step on freshman Jaden Allen on a third rep, but the throw was behind him a little bit and Allen was able to swat it away.
  • One of the best plays during that one-on-one period was made by safety Jayden Johnson. He gave up a contested catch to Jaedon Wilson, but stayed with it and managed to rip the ball free and even jumped on it for a fumble recovery. Very impressive individual effort.
  • Davion Dozier, another wide receiver, has had an impressive spring catching the ball, but he made a big play on special teams Thursday when he burst through the line and blocked a punt.
  • Defensive end Anton Juncaj, the transfer from Albany, is still a work-in-progress when it comes to stopping the run, but he looks like he can help the Razorbacks as a pass rusher. He notched a sack in one of the early team periods and got into the backfield a few times.
  • Arkansas quarterbacks were just 23 of 38 (60.5%) combined in the 7-on-7, which is a lower completion percentage for that drill than usual. About half of those incompletions were broken up by defensive backs, including Hudson Clark picking off a pass by Malachi Singleton that was first tipped by Xavian Sorey Jr. Not included in that total were two reps on which the quarterback – once with Taylen Green and once with Jacolby Criswell – had to run with the ball because no one was open.
  • That interception was the only one by the first or second units, but there were several others dropped. When Jaylon Braxton failed to secure one by Criswell, defensive backs coach Marcus Woodson told him he needed to spend some more time on the football passing JUGS machine after practice. Kee’yon Stewart dropped two pretty close together and got a similar comment from defensive backs coach Deron Wilson.
  • Although the depth chart listed below looks the same on defense, it’s worth noting that the secondary did shuffle things up slightly in a later team period. Tennessee transfer Doneiko Slaughter, who had been running as the second-team nickel, got some reps as a first-team safety alongside Jayden Johnson. That bumped Hudson Clark to the second team, where he played nickel. Slaughter was singled out by Pittman as a defensive back who has impressed him this spring.
  • Taylen Green made a couple of fantastic throws that were among the best he’s made all spring and Tyrone Broden was on the receiving end of both. First, Broden caught a pass for which he had to stretch out and fell to the ground in the process. Later, Green dropped a dime right in the bread basket on a corner route along the sideline. He couldn’t have thrown it any better.
  • After taking a sack on the first play of a two-minute drill, Green made another tremendous throw while on the run to Isaac TeSlaa to gain 26 yards and move the chains on second-and-20. It was such a good throw that defensive backs coach Marcus Woodson wasn’t even mad at his secondary. He just said “great throw” under his breath.
  • In Thursday’s two-minute drill scenario, the offense had the ball at its own 28 with 1:32 remaining and two timeouts, needing a touchdown. The first- and second-team defense won both series, keeping the offense out of the end zone. Here are the highlights from that:
    • 1s: In addition to the aforementioned great throw to TeSlaa, Green also had to make a clutch throw to running back Ja’Quinden Jackson on a fourth-down play to move the chains. That came after another sack pushed them back and forced them to burn their second timeout. Sategna made another great catch for a 21-yard gain later in the series, getting the offense down to the 20, but Green’s throw into double coverage on fourth down with 10 seconds left fell incomplete.
    • 2s: Malachi Singleton used his legs to gain 25 yards early in his possession, but his legs ended up also getting him into trouble. The offense had to burn its first timeout when he got sacked despite having ample time to throw the ball away. The second timeout was used on a short completion to Isaiah Augustave, who was tagged down in bounds. With 16 seconds left, Singleton scrambled and inexplicably tried to run it. He gained about 4 yards, but was well short of the sticks and time expired before the offense could get another snap off.
  • On special teams, Vito Calvaruso looked the best he’s ever looked while kicking field goals at the end of Thursday’s practice. After drilling a 29-yarder, he booted kicks from 45 and 52 yards out. He had plenty of leg and split the uprights, with the latter likely good from at least 60. 
  • Matthew Shipley is still the favorite to win that job, but he didn’t have as good of a day. He easily made a 37-yarder, but his 45-yard kick grazed the upright before going through and then he missed his 52-yard attempt well short. It’s worth noting, though, that the timing of that last kick looked off, whether because of the snap or the hold.

(READ NEXT: Check out our report from Day 6 of spring ball for Arkansas football.)

Arkansas Football Injury Report

  • WR Andrew Armstrong (hamstring): Tweaked his hamstring early in practice and never returned, but Pittman indicated it wasn’t serious and he could return as early as Saturday’s scrimmage
  • TE Andreas Paaske (thumb): Dealing with a jammed thumb and limited to individual drills
  • DB Dylan Hasz (hand): Out with a broken hand
  • WR Bryce Stephens (ankle): Did not participate in practice Thursday.
  • LB Justin Logan (undisclosed): Still in a green non-contact jersey
  • TE Ty Washington (shoulder): Still in a green non-contact jersey, limited to individual drills
  • OL Zuri Madison (ACL): Tore his ACL in a scooter accident a few days before spring ball. It’s likely to be a season-ending injury, but he could potentially get ready for a bowl game. However, as a true freshman on the offensive line, he was probably a redshirt candidate anyways.

Arkansas Football Unofficial Depth Chart

This is how the Razorbacks lined up during their first team period in practice. Players may have rotated and lined up differently in later periods, with the offensive skill positions rotating quite a bit.

Offense

POSFirstSecondThird
QBTaylen GreenJacolby CriswellMalachi Singleton
RBJa’Quinden JacksonRashod DubinionBraylen Russell
TELuke HaszVar’keyes GummsShamar Easter
WRTyrone BrodenIsaac TeSlaaDazmin James
WRJaedon WilsonMaddox Lassiter (TE)Walker Catsavis
WRAndrew ArmstrongCJ BrownKamron Bibby
LTFernando CarmonaE’Marion HarrisTommy Varhall
LGPatrick KutasJosh StreetParis Patterson
CAddison NicholsAmaury WigginsBrooks Edmonson
RGJoshua BraunKobe BranhamLuke Brown
RTKeyshawn BlackstockTy’Kieast CrawfordAaron Smith

Defense

POSFirstSecondThird
DELandon JacksonAnton JuncajCharlie Collins
DTCameron BallKeivie RoseKyle Thompson
DTEric GregoryIan GeffrardKaleb James
DENico DavillierBrad Spence (LB)Quincy Rhodes Jr.
LBCarson DeanAlex SanfordBrooks Both
LBXavian Sorey Jr.Kaden HenleyJuJu Pope
NBLorando JohnsonDoneiko SlaughterTevis Metcalf
CBKee’yon StewartJaheim SingletarySelman Bridges
SJayden JohnsonTJ MetcalfRJ Johnson
SHudson ClarkMiguel MitchellAhkhari Johnson
CBJaylon BraxtonMarquise RobinsonJaden Allen

Post-Practice Interviews

The media got to talk to Arkansas football coach Sam Pittman, as well as new assistants Kolby Smith and Ronnie Fouch, following Thursday’s practice.

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