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December 2, 2012
Dallas Jackson is the National Columnist for Rivals.com. Email him your comments or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.The images are indelible. A road-rashed face. The neck brace. The mistress.
The results are undeniable. Two BCS bowl victories. Three Top 10 finishes. A 75-26 overall record.
Bobby Petrino can coach and recruit, that much is certain. He can also burn a bridge or two.
There are 10 FBS-level coaching vacancies and Petrino -- because of the reputation that precedes him -- might have a realistic chance at only two of them.
Jay G. Tate covers Auburn football for AuburnSports.com and said that Petrino will be interviewed for the job after the administration has turned over every other stone.
"They have got to go through the process first," Tate said. "The search firm is working right now to make sure there are not any names that they may have missed. Most of the time there is so much focus on the SEC that names from the West Coast or the Big East may be missed.
"Right now it sounds as though there will be four to five interviews, and Petrino is certainly going to be one of them."
Tate said that Petrino has always been the leader for the position despite a rumbling for current Arkansas State coach and former Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn and TCU coach Gary Patterson. There was also early buzz for Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher and Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, but neither rumor gained much steam.
"I think the committee is doing everything that it can to not be painted into a corner and forced to hire Petrino," Tate said. "They have floated out some names but it became obvious early in the process that Petrino was going to be a leader for the job. He has the support from sidewalk fans on up the ladder and if they do not hire him, they will be forced to deal with some major fallout.
"On the other side of that, if they do hire him they will have to deal with the fallout that goes along with explaining his baggage."
Petrino first made controversial headlines in 2003 when he surreptitiously interviewed with Auburn -- before the school had announced a decision on then-coach Tommy Tuberville.
Petrino then left Louisville in 2006 for the Atlanta Falcons following the first year of a 10-year contract extension. He infamously resigned from the Falcons after just 13 games -- and in the first year of a $24 million, five-year contract -- to take the head coaching job at Arkansas, sparking more questions about his conduct and professionalism.
His latest transgression involved an inappropriate relationship with Jessica Dorrell, hiring her to the football staff and paying her an additional $20,000. That relationship was discovered only after the pair wrecked on his motorcycle in March of 2012.
"It is divisive," Tate said. "Some people feel like he should be treated like a pariah and that it is the elephant in the room.
"It is a tough spot to be in for sure, but it also seems like (hiring Petrino will be) the most likely outcome."
If Auburn does hire Petrino, the recruiting impact could be positive.
Justin Hokanson covers Auburn recruiting and said that there would be a strong likelihood that the program's Top 10 class would remain intact.
"I think the most obvious benefit is that he would probably keep Trooper Taylor on board," Hokanson said. "I think most everyone knows that Trooper is the linchpin for this class and Petrino is probably the most likely candidate to keep him."
Taylor's name, along with fellow assistant coach Curtis Luper, has surfaced in an NCAA investigation. Both are on the recruiting trail trying to hold on to Dee Liner, Reuben Foster, Carl Lawson, Jeremy Johnson and Earnest Robinson.
Hokanson said that the history with quarterbacks may be the most direct recruiting impact Petrino could have on the program.
"From just a coaching perspective I think Petrino would really help calm any hesitation with Jeremy Johnson," Hokanson said. "Being able to sit down with Jeremy and explain what he has done with Jake Plummer (at Arizona State), Brian Brohm (at Louisville), and Ryan Mallet (at Arkansas) would be impactful."
The search committee at Auburn is headed by athletic director Jay Jacobs and contains Pat Sullivan, Bo Jackson and Mac Crawford. When the committee comes to a decision, it will submit a recommendation to university president Jay Gogue.
Former head coach Pat Dye has been among those vocally opposed to the hiring of Petrino, telling local radio personality Bo Mattingly that Petrino would never get hired at Auburn.
If Dye is correct, it would be another school that elected to pass on Petrino, following Kentucky, which recently hired Mark Stoops. N.C. State and Tennessee were initially linked to Petrino, but have both distanced from him. On Saturday, the Wolfpack hired Dave Doeren as coach.
Volquest.com editor Brent Hubbs, who is also a part of the Vols radio network, said that UT athletic director Dave Hart made it clear to those listening he would not entertain the idea of hiring Petrino.
"When Hart said he was looking to hire a man of integrity, to me, that was the not-so-subtle hint that Petrino was not part of the plan," Hubbs said. "So at this point I don't think he has a chance to land the job at Tennessee."
As other programs pull away from Petrino, Southern Miss may be stepping forward.
Southern Mississippi has a history of taking chances on high-profile coaches with image problems.
In 2004, Southern Miss hired Larry Eustachy to coach its basketball program after he was out of coaching for a year.
Lanny Mixon, who covers Southern Miss for BigGoldNation.com, said that the search committee first met on Friday to discuss a replacement for Ellis Johnson, and Petrino has become a top candidate among a dozen realistic choices.
"There may be hesitancy to make the move, but I think that could be overcome," Mixon said. "If the committee felt like he was the right man to put Southern Miss back in its rightful place."
This season, Southern Miss became the first school to go from 12 wins to 12 losses the next season. It broke a streak of 18 straight winning seasons and 10 straight bowl berths.
Fans, according to Mixon, would overlook Petrino's personal issues.
"They have never had to go through this situation before, the utter failure," Mixon said. "In historical context, it has already happened with the basketball program, and so I don't think it will be a perception that will be hard to overcome."
Mixon believes that the hire would jump-start recruiting as well.
"(Bobby's brother) Paul has been at Southern Miss (as QB coach) before, and there are a lot of people in Hattiesburg that like the Petrinos," Mixon said. "There would be a real buzz to make this hire and boost a lot of things."