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Petrino: No plans to fly the coop

POSTED: December 11, 2007 7:19 a.m.

FLOWERY BRANCH — Despite openings at several major college programs, Bobby Petrino intends to return in 2008 for his second year as coach of the Atlanta Falcons.

"I haven’t given it one bit of thought," Petrino said Monday. "I certainly don’t want to get into any speculation and rumors and having to deal with that. I’m focused on our football team here and focused on playing the Rams this week."

Petrino went 41-19 in four seasons at Louisville before signing a five-year, $24 million contract with the Falcons last January.

Atlanta (3-8) was outscored 62-20 in its last two home games against Indianapolis and Tampa Bay. The Falcons play at St. Louis (2-9) on Sunday.

The lure of working with Michael Vick was one of the main reasons Petrino took his first job as an NFL head coach, but the former star quarterback is now imprisoned in Virginia.

Other than spending two years as quarterbacks coach in Jacksonville, Petrino worked in college for 21 seasons.

Jobs are currently open at Michigan, Nebraska, Arkansas, Georgia Tech, Baylor, SMU, Duke and Mississippi. Head coaching positions could also open up at LSU and UCLA.

Former Green Bay coach Mike Sherman was announced Monday to lead the program at Texas A&M.

Vick, a three-time Pro Bowl selection, never reported to training camp after the NFL suspended him for bankrolling a dogfighting ring based in Virginia. The former No. 1 overall pick awaits federal sentencing next month.

Falcons owner Arthur Blank hired Petrino after Louisville’s offense ranked second in the nation in total yards and fourth in scoring.

But Petrino has had to rely on Joey Harrington and Byron Leftwich at quarterback, and the pair has led Atlanta to just 14 touchdowns, second-worst in the NFL.

Injuries have caused the Falcons to start nine offensive linemen at 10 different
positions this season.

Leftwich returned to practice Monday, but Petrino has already decided that Harrington will start against the Rams.

Though Petrino has benched Harrington twice this season, Leftwich has been unable to stay healthy. Ankle and tailbone injuries have limited him to just three of seven games.

Leftwich, cut by the Jaguars at the end of preseason, didn’t sign with the Falcons until Sept. 18, at which point Petrino wanted him to spend a couple of weeks learning the offense.

Atlanta listed Leftwich as the No. 3 emergency backup in last week’s 31-31 loss to Indianapolis. Harrington, who led Atlanta to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter, finished 14-of-30 passing for 155 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.

"I’m going to stay with Joey," Petrino said. "I think right now he understands everything that we are working at."

Receiver Joe Horn has missed the last three games with a strained hamstring, but he returned to practice Monday. Despite signing a four-year deal in March that included $7.5 million in guarantees, Horn has just 18 catches for 165 yards and no touchdowns.

Right guard Kynan Forney practiced after missing the Colts game with the flu.



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