FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Razorback football head coach Bobby Petrino met with local media Wednesday for the first time since announcing the remainder of the Arkansas coaching staff. Offensive coordinator Paul Petrino and defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson also spoke with the media. The following is a partial transcript of the head coach’s question-and-answer session.
“I’m excited to finally get this staff together and get to work. At first I was really nervous about waiting until Jan. 1 or 2 to get everybody here, but actually I think it worked out for the best because I was able to take my time, interview more people, talk to more coaches and really put it together the way I wanted to.
“It was important for me to get experience (with) guys, particularly in the coordinators, that had experience in college football and experience competing against guys at the highest level. It was important for me to get some guys that had Arkansas ties, particularly to help us in recruiting.
“I think that any time you go to a university, it’s important to get guys that know the history and can help the transition with the other members of your staff and I felt like we did that very well. I was able to get some guys that had coached with me before who I was very familiar with, maybe who had played for me before and really understand how we want to operate when we get started.
“We are working hard at recruiting. This is a hard time because it is a dead period. It’s probably the longest dead period I can remember, so we’ve just been able to make the one phone call per week. Of course, the recruits can call us which is good because I think that’s been happening a lot. We’ve been evaluating video and making new contacts and trying to make sure we hang on to the guys that said they were going to come here.”
On recruiting needs and priorities
“I think we do have to address our skill positions. We certainly want to recruit speed. I think when you watch all the bowl games and you see the speed of the conference, particularly when Georgia played Hawaii and in the National Championship game the other night, that’s something we’re very conscious of and really need to address with our speed and our skills situation.”
On working with brother, Paul Petrino, as offensive coordinator
“It has worked real well (in the past). I am a lot older than Paul even though I don’t look it, I am a lot older than Paul, so I missed out some when he was growing up. We were able to (work together) a couple of years back with John L. Smith. I started out being the offensive coordinator and (Paul) coaching the wide receivers. Then when I got the head job at Louisville, he was the first guy I wanted to hire and he became the offensive coordinator.
“I actually gave him the choice to coach the quarterbacks or the receivers and he wanted to continue to coach receivers because it had worked so well before. There is a comfort zone of preparation during the week. When I step out of the room, I know things will get done and operated the way we want them to.
“The communication on the phone during the game—he’ll be upstairs watching the linebackers and the secondary—so the communication between series and how we operate with that is something we’ll be able to continue. We were together in 1998, our first year at Louisville, when we led the country in total offense and then did it again a few years back, so I think it works out real well.”
On defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson
“I’ve always been able to watch Ellis work and certainly saw him when he was the defensive coordinator at Alabama. Then when he was the coach at The Citadel, I actually went and hired one of his assistants away from him. Then to watch what he’s done the past few years with the defense at Mississippi State, certainly with what they did this year.
“I think what I admire the most is they played defense the way I like it with very sound fundamentals and playing the with the principles of good defense—running hard to the ball, tackling, stripping the football—and doing much more than just trying to beat everybody with scheme because I think that’s what is important. I felt very comfortable with Ellis and couldn’t be more happy to have him working for me to be honest with you.”
On Lorenzo Ward (secondary)
“I’ve always felt like when you bring in a defensive coordinator you want to try to get one guy that he feels real comfortable with. The first question I’ll ask him is if you could hire one person, who would it be? Then I was able to interview Lorenzo and felt great about that. I coached against him so I knew what we were seeing from coaching against him. His last year (with the Oakland Raiders), it was unbelievable how many interceptions the corners had and elevated that defense, so I have a tremendous amount of respect for his ability to coach and recruit. He did an excellent job in recruiting.”
On Kirk Botkin (defensive ends and special teams)
“I actually didn’t have a prior relationship with Kirk. I got a phone call from a coach I have a tremendous amount of respect for and had a relationship with that coach and he recommended Kirk. I made a few other phone calls and got very good recommendations. I was able to interview him while I was in Dallas. That’s how I spent a lot of my time while I was in Dallas during the day. I was very impressed. He’s got Arkansas blood and I couldn’t be more happy to have him. Most of the interview I had with him was pertaining to special teams and his ability to lead and coordinate our special teams.”
On Bobby Allen (defensive tackles) and Tim Horton (running backs, tight ends and recruiting)
“The job Tim has done in the state of recruiting and then being able to watch him coach on the field and the organization he has, I think I really like where he’s at being able to coach our running backs and tight ends and then be the recruiting coordinator.
“Bobby Allen is a guy I actually coached against many years ago. He was a defensive coordinator at the time and I have a tremendous amount of respect for him. When I got here, just to be able to sit down with him, he had a real burning desire to stay here. He wanted to continue to coach at the University of Arkansas. He’s done a nice job of coaching here and an excellent job of recruiting.
“That was really important to me with the staff that was here, I wanted to really see which guys really wanted to stay here. Then I interviewed them and felt great about Tim and Bobby.”
On Mike Summers (offensive line)
“Mike is, first of all, a great person. I’ve always admired the way he manages his life and the way he runs his life, I think that just carries over to all his players. He’s a guy that coaches the offensive line and is a great fundamentals coach. He’s a great technician. He’s been a coordinator. When I first ran into Mike, he was a coordinator at Oregon State running the wishbone and the option attack. With my background growing up in the option, I always spend a little more time watching them and seeing what they were doing.
“Then when I was able to hire him at Louisville, he was one of the first guys to show up to interview. I was very impressed. He did an excellent job with our offensive front there, as he did at Atlanta this year. He’s also the assistant head coach, so he’ll be able to handle any duties when I’m not around.”
On Garrick McGee (quarterbacks)
“I’ve known Garrick for a long time. I actually coached him at Arizona State and was able to bring him to Jacksonville to work with me when I was in Jacksonville and have kept an eye on him ever since. This was a great fit for Garrick. He’s from Tulsa, he played at Booker T. Washington High School, went to Northeastern Oklahoma A&M and then finished up at Oklahoma.
“He’s an excellent football coach and he’ll do a great job of coaching on the field. He understands my philosophies and what we need to get done at quarterback. Then he’ll do an excellent job recruiting for us. I think being able to get him to come from a coordinator job in (the Big Ten conference) to come and coach the quarterbacks here is a bargain.”
On Reggie Johnson (linebackers)
“Reggie coached for me at Louisville and did an excellent job with our linebackers. It seemed like we always had a first-team all-conference linebacker and a linebacker that led the team, if not the conference, in tackles. Reggie is a very emotional coach and does a great job getting his guys prepared mentally and emotionally. That’s a position where you have to provide the rest of the defense with that emotion, excitement and energy because you’re a part of that front and you’re a part of the secondary. Reggie will do a great job for us.”
On coaching in the Southeastern Conference
“I believe it’s the best conference. I think we’ve seen that the last couple of years which means it’s a great challenge. I think that also plays a big part in it is the commitment that’s here by the University, by the administration and the passion that the fans have, so we can be right in it.”