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Blank says he felt 'betrayed' by Petrino

Thomas to serve as interim head coach

POSTED: December 23, 2007 5:03 a.m.
FLOWERY BRANCH — Atlanta Falcons owner and CEO Arthur Blank was clearly upset at the team’s South Hall headquarters Wednesday, as he addressed the untimely departure of former head coach Bobby Petrino.

Blank, who was flanked by Falcons President and General Manager Rich McKay, were probed during a press conference about the 24-hour whirlwind of events that saw Petrino resign as Falcons coach and then accept the coaching vacancy at Arkansas late Tuesday night.

"The way I feel right now is betrayed and let down," Blank said. "I feel abused at the moment."

The Falcons’ owner met with players earlier Wednesday morning in a meeting he described as "sobering and emotional."

Blank and Petrino met in recent days to discuss some of the coach’s concerns, about issues that the Falcons’ owner described as "third-tier issues" that could easily be resolved. On Monday, Blank forced the issue with Petrino to make sure he wasn’t having ideas of leaving knowing it would be a hot-topic for discussion during Monday Night Football with the game against the Saints.

According to Blank, Petrino shook his hand with the guarantee "you can go tell them you have a coach."

Petrino told Blank over the phone on Tuesday night of his decision to leave the Falcons. Blank said he told Petrino he was disappointed in his decision.

"My issue is the timing of his decision," Blank added. "We’re disappointed he didn’t give it a fair chance to succeed.

"The timing of his decision is wrong for our players, coaches, their families and everyone who was invested in him. He sent the wrong message to the team."

The Falcons’ owner plans on speaking with the assistant coaches at the end of the season to gauge their plans for the future.

Blank said he spoke with Dallas Cowboys owner and influential Arkansas alum Jerry Jones last Thursday about the possibility of the Razorbacks being able to speak with Petrino.

Blank made it clear that at this point in the season, that the Falcons were not going to grant such permission.

McKay said the team hasn’t started making a list of candidates for the long-term position, but said that there is plenty of interest in the position. One prominent name that has been tossed around is former Steelers head coach Bill Cowher.

He noted that there is no intention on trying to get money back from Petrino since he resigned.

"Our first meeting in earnest to talk about a new coach is going to take place tonight (Wednesday)," McKay said. "We are looking for a coach who is going to be here for a long time.

"We believe that it’s a privilege to coach in this league, and it doesn’t take long to go from 3-10 to 10-3."

Petrino’s brother, Paul Petrino, also decided to leave the Falcons as wide receivers coach, according to McKay. He was told he was welcomed to stay with the franchise, but felt it may have led to some resentment from players if he stayed, according to McKay.

In the interim, the Falcons named defensive backs coach Emmitt Thomas head coach for the final three games of the season. He has 28 years of coaching experience and is in his sixth season with the Falcons.

He also played in the NFL for 13 seasons, playing in two Super Bowls and five Pro Bowls.

According to Thomas, 65, he has no intentions to use this opportunity as a springboard to a head coaching career.

He promptly announced that Chris Redman is going to be the Falcons’ starter at quarterback on Sunday in Tampa.

"I’m honored, excited and nervous all at the same time," Thomas said. "My job now is to try and rally these guys to play well the rest of the season."

Players were notified of Petrino’s departure by a very short four sentence letter. There was no face-to-face meeting with players to explain the nature of his sudden departure.

Falcons players also found it even more impersonal that there was a stamped signature from Petrino at the bottom of the letter instead of signing it himself.

"I’m far from happy with the timing of his decision," Falcons veteran linebacker Keith Brooking said. "There’s a lot of anger inside of me right now, and I really feel betrayed."

His short tenure in the NFL started on rocky terms with stressful relationships with players, highlighted by the confrontation with corner DeAngelo Hall against the Panthers.

He also found fault with players after yanking the starting quarterback job out from under Harrington for early-season acquisition Byron Leftwich.

"He preached team and family, and then he quits on us," Harrington said. "He absolutely lied to us."

The main contention among players is that Petrino never considered the long-term ramifications for the Falcons franchise, and simply made his hasty move out of a desire to return to coaching in college.

Petrino was a successful coach at Louisville with a 41-9 record in four seasons as head coach, highlighted by a 12-1 record and Orange Bowl victory over Wake Forest in 2006.

"He’s selfish," Falcons wide receiver Roddy White said. "This was all about him, and he didn’t feel like he owed anyone an explanation for why he did what he did."

"Bobby Petrino is just a guy that thinks about himself," Falcons running back Warrick Dunn said. "Arkansas needs to be worried now.

What is he going to be able to tell the kids he tries to recruit?"

Dealing with Petrino’s abrupt resignation only serves to put a punctuation mark on what is arguably the worst week in the franchise’s history. The week started with Michael Vick’s 23-month sentence in federal prison for dog fighting, which was only made worse later that night with an embarrassing loss to the Saints on Monday Night Football.

"This has been a perfect storm of events," Blank said. "In a negative way."



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