The Falcons’ partnership that never was: Vick and Petrino

Not exactly what he had in mind: Petrino coaches Joey Harrington. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Not exactly what he had in mind: Petrino eyes Joey Harrington. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

It’s a great Atlanta sports imponderable, occupying the same shelf as, “What if the Braves had signed Barry Bonds in 1992?” and “What if the Hawks had drafted a point guard instead of a guy named Marvin?” This one is especially excruciating because the principals were actually in place. But reality, as we know, interceded.

In January 2007 the Falcons hired Bobby Petrino as coach. Chief among Petrino’s reasons for leaving Louisville, which he had just directed to an Orange Bowl victory, was his desire to coach a player who, after six NFL seasons, was still the essence of talent untapped. In a conversation his first week in Flowery Branch, Petrino recalled how he and Dom Capers would sit together on team flights when both were Jacksonville assistants and say, “What would you do with Michael Vick?”

And now Petrino would have his chance. Or so he thought.

The first time the new coach met his quarterback-to-be, the issue wasn’t how Vick might fit into Petrino’s system but the strange doings involving the trick water bottle at the Miami airport. When nothing came of that investigation, the two began the process of bonding.

Petrino got the job because he was everything Jim Mora hadn’t been. The previous coach, a defensive man by trade, had hired his pal Greg Knapp to implement the West Coast Offense, the basis of which is short passes delivered quickly. Essentially Mora/Knapp wanted  the NFL’s most dangerous man with the ball in his hands to get rid of the ball, which never made a lick of sense then and makes less now.

In 2002, his first season as a pro starter, Vick under Dan Reeves had thrown for 2,936 yards and had a passer rating of 81.6. In three seasons under Mora/Knapp he never threw for even 2,500 yards and didn’t achieve a rating higher than 78.1. At a time when Vick should have become a full-blown quarterback, his lack of coaching reduced him to being a glorified tailback.

Vick has since admitted he didn’t work as hard at his craft as he should have, but part of that might be traced to the realization that he was, at least as a passer, being misused. He had an uncommonly precise game at Miami in 2005  when the he’s-not-really-a-quarterback chorus was in full cry, and afterward he vented to me: “People forget I threw for nearly 3,000 yards in ‘02.”

Petrino should have been the man to make Vick a quarterback. Say what you will about this coach — yes, he’s a shameless job-hopper — but he’s among the best offensive minds in the business. (Note that Arkansas, in Year 3 under Bobby P.,  just finished second in the cutthroat SEC West and will grace the Sugar Bowl.)

With Petrino as his tutor, Vick was rededicating himself to football. He viewed this as his chance to shut everybody up, and Petrino, who’s famously difficult to please, liked what he saw. He told one associate: “We’re going to average 30 points a game.” (Note: Only one NFL team — New England — is averaging 30 points a game.)

Then it all turned to dust. Vick was indicted on the eve of training camp, which began with the quarterback in court in Richmond, Va., and a plane flying above the Falcons’ practice field bearing a streamer: “New Team Name — Dog Killers.” On Dec. 10, 2007, Vick would be sentenced to 23 months in a jail; hours later the Falcons would lose to New Orleans to fall to 3-10. The next night Petrino was gone to Fayetteville, Ark., where he could be seen calling the Hogs on live TV.

So: It didn’t happen here. But it’s happening in Philadelphia. If we wonder what Vick might have been under Petrino, we need only look at what he has become under Andy Reid. His quarterback rating is 104.3, trailing only Tom Brady. He averages 8.55 yards per pass, second to Philip Rivers. His completion percentage, never higher than 56.4 as a Falcon, is 63.6.

Yeah, he’s a Real Quarterback. The sad part is that he shouldn’t have had to go to Philly to become one. He finally had the right coach here. The right coach, alas, at the wrong time.

Oh, and one thing more: The 2010 Eagles are averaging 28.8 points. Almost the 30 Bobby Petrino had, back in 2007, forecast for a team led by Michael Vick.

By Mark Bradley

235 comments Add your comment

vmguru

December 15th, 2010
1:49 pm

NC Dawg

December 15th, 2010
1:49 pm

Sanford Drive

December 15th, 2010
1:50 pm

(((((42-34))))) hahahahahahaha

Joycee Banicheck

December 15th, 2010
1:50 pm

vmguru

December 15th, 2010
1:50 pm

As much of a turkey as Petrino was, it might have been an interesting matchup for sure.

Joycee Banicheck

December 15th, 2010
1:51 pm

The Eagles can kiss my a$$ right along with the Phillies.

I like our situation with Smith. Petrino and Vick? Who cares, I sure don’t…

PMC

December 15th, 2010
1:53 pm

All the story lines on this team and THIS is what you come up with.

I’m disapointed Mark. Extrordinarily disapointed. I want to talk about the Falcons.

Hell we could even discusss what’s going on THIS season with either one of these two guys if you’re just into that.

I couldn’t care less about 2007. The 2007 Falcons are dead to me.

FALCONS SORRY

December 15th, 2010
1:54 pm

THE FALCONS WILL REGRET LOOSING MV7 THE GREATEST QB OF ALL TIME TO EVER GRACE THE FOOTBALL FEILD THE EAGLES WILL WIN THE SUPPER BOWL AND THE FALCONS WILL LOOSE THEY’RE FIRST PLAY OFF GAME IF THEY DON’T CHOKE AWAY THE NEXT THREE GAMES AND BOBBY PETRINOS SHOULD HAVE NEVER BEEN CHASED AWAY FROM ATL BY THE VICK HATERS BOBBY WILL WIN NEXT YEARS SEC CHAMPINSIP JUST WAIT AND SEA

vmguru

December 15th, 2010
1:55 pm

Maybe Mark felt the need for a history article since we have a history major on all the blogs (the one who continually posts old scores from past games) wasting space for those of us who could care less about either of the 2 teams they are obsessed with.

PMC

December 15th, 2010
1:55 pm

Two dominating college coaches tried to go into the NFL and dictate to men what they were going to do. Both were paid huge amounts of money and both fell flat on thier faces. Spurrier and Petrino.

This is not to say the offensive scheme was without merit. Neither one of those guys were grown up enough to handle treating men like men.

They had to micromanage everything and speak from a bully pulpit.

Vinny D

December 15th, 2010
1:55 pm

Vick needed jail to mature, this I do believe. I also believe that you are correct, his offensive coaches are far superior to what we had in ATL. However, I love my Falcons just the way they are and love Mike Smith as our coach. Yes, some call the Falcons boring and overrated but I see an intelligent team who is getting better, makes very few mistakes, and doesn’t kill themselves. To me, that is the definition of great coaching. Show me a team who doesn’t get penalized and doesn’t turn the ball over and I will show you a great coach at the helm.

vmguru

December 15th, 2010
1:56 pm

The “Supper” bowl? Really??? Is that for overeaters or something?

GW

December 15th, 2010
1:57 pm

Nothing new to bash Richt on today? Vick/Petrino old news.

PMC

December 15th, 2010
1:58 pm

Falcons Sorry, No one not even Michael Vick regrets losing MV7

MV7 is in a better place for his career than he ever was post 2003 here in Atlanta and he’s got more offensive talent around him than any other QB in the league. Enjoy watching him in an Eagles Uni. He never was going to be that good here. The 2 years in prison helped him and sane people in this city (and MV7 himself) have moved on to bigger and better. Let it die.

Take up a new cause.

cattledawg

December 15th, 2010
2:00 pm

Well Petrino just rode Ryan Mallet to the bank.

vmguru

December 15th, 2010
2:00 pm

In theory you would think that a football coach would be good at most any level if they had proved they were a good coach. It is actually pretty amazing how often coaches that are good in college flop in the NFL as well as vice-versa. PMC may have hit on it with the ability to handle mature men or college boys but it still is a not fully explained situation that continues to play out. I still expect Pete Carroll to also fail at the pro level and go back to college somewhere.

Hate to be a wet blanket, but...

December 15th, 2010
2:01 pm

Interesting hypothetical, Mark. But you’re forgetting the fact that under Petrino’s (lack of) leadership, the Falcons fractured as a team and would likely have become even more dysfunctional had he stayed. 30 points per game? Maybe, but it takes a whole team working well together to get that kind of production, and Petrino wasn’t leading the Birds in that direction.

Ozzy

December 15th, 2010
2:01 pm

Vick and Petrino are history. I am glad we got rid of him or else we wouldn’t have had Ryan. I’ll take Matt Ryan over vick any given day

Brian

December 15th, 2010
2:02 pm

Nice writing Mark. As much as I love this season, I watch Philly and wonder, what if?? But I think Mr. Blank had to take his knocks as an owner to understand how to build a winning team…..

PMC

December 15th, 2010
2:03 pm

Petrino never would have worked with Vick anyway (since we HAVE To discuss this drivel I guess) because Vick wasn’t interested in becoming a better NFL QB. He’s ALWAYS had the tools, he took them for granted and didn’t give a crap about being great. He thought he was great (Deangelo Hall suffers from the same delusions) Maybe it’s Tidewater Syndrome or somthing like that. Jimmy Williams thought he was God’s gift to athletics as well.

Bobby Petrino simply wasn’t cut out for the NFL. He can’t hack having to actually talk to other human beings.

Hankie Aron

December 15th, 2010
2:09 pm

Let’s be happy a supposed changed man is succeeding. Why do fans have a hard time enjoying someone turning their life around? Yeah we would have liked him to play this way when he was here, but so be it. Let’s just be happy our team is very good and poised to possible make a Super not Supper Bowl run.

Shug

December 15th, 2010
2:12 pm

Who says Petrino wouldn’t have quit even if he had Vick? A quitter’s a quitter regardless of the line-up.

layinlow

December 15th, 2010
2:14 pm

Slow news day? Talk about beating a dead horse. You dug the darn horse up from the grave and beat it!!

Hankie Aron

December 15th, 2010
2:14 pm

Brian- you hit the nail on the head. Blank had to hire a personnel expert like Dimitroff and solid coach like Mike Smith to learn his lesson to stay out of the way. We will see Blank on the sidelines many times in the future but we won’t see him pushing an injured player in a wheelchair ever again.

Birthday party

December 15th, 2010
2:21 pm

I’m not sold on Vick being this new upstanding citizen. Didn’t his old pal in crime get shot at his birthday party a few months ago? The same guy the feds told him he had to stay away from. How soon people forget when a guy starts playing well. Lets see if he keeps his nose clean for a few years then we can give him the benefit of the doubt.

Besides, I seriously doubt he will be able to continue to take the pounding. A few ESPN analyst reported after the Cowboys game that Vick was limping badly on his way to the team bus. He won’t last to much longer.

Say What???????????

December 15th, 2010
2:23 pm

Mike Vick states: “I would love to get another dog in the future,”

Thats RUFF

gcs

December 15th, 2010
2:23 pm

I am perfectly happy how the Falcons turned out. Vick will eventually get hurt and/or let the Eagles fans down.

As for Petrino, winning in college football does NOT usually translate to winning in the NFL (Holtz, Saban, Spurrier, Pete Carroll…).

.

PMC

December 15th, 2010
2:24 pm

Hankie, don’t get me wrong. I’m happy we are seeing it. If anything, it makes me feel better for having defended Mike’s abilities for so many years. He’s as exciting as anyone we’ve ever had here and I loved him when he was our QB…. it’s just ashamed he couldn’t do this here…. but I hope the best for him as long as it doesn’t hurt the Falcons.

Nauti-boy

December 15th, 2010
2:26 pm

IF a frog had wings he wouldn’t bump his ass every time he hopped.

Vick and Petrino – both had talent, but no character – two unsavory peas in the pod add to no good.

Good riddance.

PMC

December 15th, 2010
2:26 pm

Petrino is still at Arkansas because

1) Michigan made a bad hire and thus lost Ryan Mallet.

2) Ryan Mallet went to Arkansas

3) BUYOUT!

Petrino is a douchebag, I don’t really care if he donates his entire salary to kids with cancer either. Nothing can make that guy a good human. Hell of a college coach, horrible human. He’ll be on to the next job once the buyout is low enough to jump.

C

December 15th, 2010
2:31 pm

This is what you come up with Bradley? We have an 11-2 team on the verge of locking up home field through the playoffs, with a dominant, record setting offense and THIS is what you write about? You are catering to the lowest common denominator and that’s incredibly sad.
Andy Ried and the Eagles are going to regret rolling with the Vick show here soon enough. The next month will show that.
You and John Kincade and go and spoon each other in Philly.

Insane Braves Fan

December 15th, 2010
2:32 pm

The NFL is adjusting from Vick the runner to Vick the passer. His rating will go down, but my question is why are we talking about two people who took a dump on the Falcons franchise?

C

December 15th, 2010
2:34 pm

Oh…and Petrino is douchebag.

wxwax

December 15th, 2010
2:35 pm

The untold part of your story is how wrong Arthur Blank was when he fired Dan Reeves.

Reeves knew how to use Vick and had famous victories with him. Remember the monumental win over Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau in the 2002-03 wild card playoff game? 27-7. At Lambeau.

The next year Vick gets hurt, the Falcons predictably stumble and Blank’s knee jerks into Reeves’ groin.

I always thought it was the wrong decision. Reeves deserved better.

observation

December 15th, 2010
2:35 pm

Yawn….

Talk about a lazy, pack it in column.

Seriously?????????

December 15th, 2010
2:38 pm

Mark, generally I love your columns and insights (even when i dont agree) but WHY must this continue over…and…over….and…over…an…over…and….over be drudged up again?? The Falcons are 11-2, finally got that back-2-back winning thing off their back, have a wonderful GM, coach, coaching staff and QB, and a great chemistry team and this is the best you could do? This is relevant, HOW???????
For the love of all that is good in the world, please do not write another article about either of them where it concerns us. GO 2010 FALCONS!!!!!!!!!!

Leroy

December 15th, 2010
2:38 pm

First of all…stupid article Bradley.

Without the dog fighting madness–Petrino wouldn’t have lasted the 2 years it has taken Vick to be successful in a new offense. The clock is ticking for him at Arkansas…those clowns will have to give him raises every month now to keep him from interviewing. He has been there 2 years, which is 14 years in dog and Petrino years.

Plus, Vick did not have any respect for authority at the time. Meanwhile, Petrino is a perfectionist that demands you do it his way or not at all. This was a personality clash waiting to happen. (Think T.O. with…well…everybody.)

Next there is Vick’s preperation. He would not have prepared the way he does today without having his whole life taken from him for a time. Now he sees how good he had it and what it is like when it is gone. That perspective drives him to keep the great life he has all but earned back.

Bradley next I want to see an article about whether or not one of Hershel Walker’s personalities could have been a good fit for NASCAR. Personally, I think the right one could have beaten Dale Earnhardt in a race to the moon in special NASCAR rocketships emblazoned with the numbers 3 and 34. Let me know your thoughts…

GSU Eagle

December 15th, 2010
2:41 pm

Still a dog killer. We’re going to the Super Bowl without him.

I’ll take our class quarterback, coach, and GM over these two.

jarvis

December 15th, 2010
2:45 pm

F’ Petrino. I hope he dies.

Dan Henning

December 15th, 2010
2:47 pm

I can’t wait to Vick comes here with the Eagles and absolutely crushes the falcons. But win, lose or draw this city will continue to show him love. You guys keep hating the guy but you just don’t understand that he can’t fail. People are literally praying for the guy to succeed & that’s why he’s doing so well.

jarvis

December 15th, 2010
2:49 pm

P.S. This article about two people that are no longer in Atlanta (and haven’t been for about half a decade) not being in Atlanta at the same time is about as relevant as:

What if Jeff Francour had played for Chuck Tanner?

Neither is here anymore, who cares that they weren’t here at the same time.

jarvis

December 15th, 2010
2:50 pm

He can’t fail?
I’ve seen him fail several times (his defense attorney too).

JoeFann

December 15th, 2010
2:52 pm

Who cares? Nothing to see here. Move on. Move on.

FalconUGAFan

December 15th, 2010
2:54 pm

I totally agree with Seriously?????????…I know you guys need the Vick page hits but come on….Our Falcons are 11 and 2! Vick and Petrino are gone.

long-time dawg

December 15th, 2010
2:56 pm

THE FALCONS WILL REGRET LOOSING MV7 THE GREATEST QB OF ALL TIME TO EVER GRACE THE FOOTBALL FEILD THE EAGLES WILL WIN THE SUPPER BOWL AND THE FALCONS WILL LOOSE THEY’RE FIRST PLAY OFF GAME IF THEY DON’T CHOKE AWAY THE NEXT THREE GAMES AND BOBBY PETRINOS SHOULD HAVE NEVER BEEN CHASED AWAY FROM ATL BY THE VICK HATERS BOBBY WILL WIN NEXT YEARS SEC CHAMPINSIP JUST WAIT AND SEA

The Egils will win the Supper Bowl and all they can eat at Denny’s.

PMC

December 15th, 2010
2:57 pm

The question to that Dan is why do people want him to succede at the expense of the Falcons?

How can you possibly treat a guy better than that team and this city treated him?

Labo

December 15th, 2010
2:58 pm

Mark,

While I like the premise of your article, and it is often fun to think about ‘what might have been,” the part you’ve neglected to mention is the type of offense Andy Reid is noted for running… the same west-coast offense that Vick floundered in under Mora/Knapp.

So while Vick might have been suddenly great under Petrino, let’s give some credit where its due and acknowledge that perhaps Vick’s indiscretions, and not some coach, are what finally got him to focus, work hard, and play up to his abilities. His year this year is proof that he had the potential to be great in any offensive system.

PMC

December 15th, 2010
3:01 pm

Dan, He sold you out, and you love him for it? Doesn’t make sense.

Post-it

December 15th, 2010
3:03 pm

It kills me to see this subject come up again and again in these blogs only to see it brought front and center by you, Mark. I was a huge fan of Vick when he was a Falcon. But I also know that the team had no choice but to cut ties after he went to prison. This whole fiasco has caused a racial divide in Falcons fans that I’m afraid won’t subside for decades. Thankfully we have a fresh start with a great (if somewhat less exciting) quarterback. Vick has a fresh start in Philly and we all know what he’s doing with that. True fans for both teams should move on and stop dredging up the painful past. Wishful thinking, I know.

observer

December 15th, 2010
3:04 pm

What Vick has in Philly that he didn’t have in Atlanta is an outstanding receiver corps. Watch the films and you will see Vick throwing(for the most part) to wide-open receivers.