Petrino says he plans to stay with Falcons

FLOWERY BRANCH - Bobby Petrino wishes the questions would go away.

Will he interview with Michigan? Is he a candidate at Nebraska?

Unfortunately, the first-year Atlanta coach is more likely to watch the Falcons win their last five games in 2007 than get his name removed from the annual coaching carousel.

Petrino indicated earlier this week that he intends to return with the Falcons next year, but he was more emphatic when asked Thursday to clarify his future.

'All my plans are to be here,' he said. 'There's no question about that. I get asked the same question every day. I think I have answered it.'

This job, however, hasn't exactly become a haven for Petrino, whose Falcons (3-8) play at St. Louis (2-9) on Sunday.

As he discussed right tackle Todd Weiner's season-ending knee surgery, Petrino could only shake his head. Atlanta now has 12 players, including left tackle Wayne Gandy and defensive tackle Rod Coleman, on injured reserve.

Inconsistency from his quarterbacks has been no surprise. Petrino lost Michael Vick to an NFL suspension and an impending federal prison sentence before the three-time Pro Bowl player could report to training camp.

His replacements, Joey Harrington and Byron Leftwich, have sputtered with ineffectiveness and injuries.

Pro Bowl veterans DeAngelo Hall and tight end Alge Crumpler spoke of locker room dissension by publicly criticizing the coaching staff.

And a quick glance at some of the Falcons' statistics is revealing. They've been outscored 124-51 in the second half. They are 0-7 when entering the fourth quarter with a deficit, 1-33 since the start of 2003.

Petrino, however, remains steadfast.

He regularly praises veterans like running back Warrick Dunn, safety Lawyer Milloy, defensive end John Abraham, center Todd McClure, receiver Joe Horn and linebacker Keith Brooking for helping the rookies stay focused.

Petrino also takes an approach, to borrow a line from Monty Python's Broadway smash 'Spamalot,' that the Falcons should essentially 'look on the bright side of life.'

'I think you get up every day and you determine your own attitude, and we've been able to keep a good attitude around here,' Petrino said. 'Any time you get out here in the sun with the wind blowing a little bit, it's something you love. You love the game of football.'

Horn, one of Petrino's most vocal supporters, hopes Atlanta fans will give the coach some reassurance.

'Look at what this man inherited,' Horn said. 'This hasn't been an easy task by any means, but he has a plan, he has experience in this business, so let's just give him some room and let him breathe.'

For strictly financial reasons, Petrino might have no reason to leave. The Falcons are paying him $24 million over five years. Alabama's Nick Saban is the highest-paid coach in college with a $4 million salary.

But Petrino also acknowledges that dealing with so many distractions as a first-time NFL head coach has been a difficult adjustment.

'We started out with the controversy on the first day of training camp and had a couple of deals along the way,' Petrino said. 'We probably underestimated, maybe, how much tension, you know, the deal with Michael caused everybody. But it's been a great learning experience, and the good thing is I think our guys keep playing hard.'