ATLANTA - Bobby Petrino resigned as Atlanta Falcons coach on Tuesday, having lasted only 13 games with the NFL team. A person within the league told The Associated Press that Petrino quit to return to the college ranks at Arkansas.
He left Louisville in January to become Atlanta's coach for a five-year, $24 million contract, largely because the Falcons felt he could help star quarterback Michael Vick reach his full potential.
A few months later, Vick came under investigation for a grisly dogfighting operation that eventually led him to plead guilty to federal charges. He was sentenced Monday to 23 months in prison without ever taking a snap for Petrino.
A source familiar with Petrino's decision, speaking on condition of anonymity because the school had not made an official announcement, said he was going to Arkansas. The Razorbacks have been looking for a coach for two weeks to replace Houston Nutt, who resigned after a tumultuous season and took the Mississippi job.
The school had no immediate comment on its coaching search, but called an 11:30 p.m. news conference Tuesday for a 'major announcement.'
The Falcons declined further comment beyond a terse, two-paragraph statement released Tuesday night. Owner Arthur Blank and general manager Rich McKay were scheduled to hold a news conference today.
There was no immediate word who would take over as head coach for the final three games, though defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer and offensive coordinator Hue Jackson would be the most logical candidates.
Petrino did not answer his cell phone or a call placed to his Atlanta-area home. His brother, Falcons receivers coach Paul Petrino, declined comment when reached on his cell phone.
'I don't think I can say anything about it right now,' he said. 'I'm sorry.'
After losing Vick, Petrino tried three starting quarterbacks without success. The Falcons are 3-10 and assured of the 32nd nonwinning season in their 42-year history.
The resignation of Petrino was another jarring blow to the Falcons, who dealt with Vick's legal troubles since the first day of training camp, when a plane flew overhead pulling a sign that said: 'New team name? Dog Killers?'
Petrino assembled one of college football's highest-scoring offenses at Louisville, but the Falcons were anemic without Vick. They also were plagued by injuries on the offensive line, which forced them to start two players who weren't even drafted out of college.
Just hours after Vick's sentencing in Richmond, Va., Atlanta took its fourth straight double-digit loss, 34-14 to the New Orleans Saints.
'Not a good day,' Petrino said afterward.
The resignation had to be a major surprise to Blank, who fired Jim Mora just two seasons after he led the Falcons to the NFC championship game, and lured Petrino with a lucrative contract.
Before Monday's game, Blank said he felt better than ever about his decision to hire Petrino given all the adversity the team faced this season.
'I feel real fortunate we have a terrific guy leading our team, our CEO, in Bobby Petrino,' Blank said. 'I think he's proven to me he's a better head coach than we thought he was going to be, dealing with a set of cards we didn't see unfold this year, which probably never in the history of the NFL has anything like this happened. Bobby has done a wonderful job dealing with all of these issues. He's kept the players focused.'
After the latest loss, Petrino sounded as though he was still committed to getting the Falcons turned around.
'We'll come back (today) to take a look at it, and then we'll get back to work,' he said. 'We have to find something to rally around.'