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Petrino resigns as Falcons' head coach
First-year NFL coach headed to Arkansas

ATLANTA - Bobby Petrino thought he was getting one of the best coaching jobs in the NFL. Without Michael Vick, it wasn't worth keeping for even one full season.

Just 13 games into a miserable debut as Atlanta Falcons coach, Petrino stunningly announced his resignation Tuesday, to return to the college ranks at Arkansas, according to a person familiar with Petrino's decision.

The person was speaking on condition of anonymity because the school had not made an official announcement.

Petrino left Louisville for Atlanta in January, agreeing to a five-year, $24 million contract handed out by a team that felt he could help Vick reach his full potential.

'I was able to see the commitment that has been made here,' Petrino said at his introductory news conference. 'I believe this is truly the best football job in the NFL. It was an easy decision for me.'

Of course, he had no idea what Vick was doing in his spare time.

A few months later, the star quarterback came under investigation for a grisly dogfighting operation that led him to plead guilty to federal charges. He was sentenced Monday to 23 months in prison without ever taking a snap for Petrino, who left with a 3-10 record.

Arkansas has been looking for a coach for two weeks to replace Houston Nutt, who resigned after a tumultuous season and took the head coaching job at Mississippi.

Arkansas had no immediate comment, but called a late-night news conference for a 'major announcement.'

The Falcons declined further response 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 on who would take over for the team's final three games, though defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer and offensive coordinator Hue Jackson would be the most logical candidates.

Petrino did not answer calls placed to his cell phone and 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, Bobby Petrino tried three quarterbacks without success. The Falcons have lost four straight, all by double-digit margins, and are assured of the 32nd season of .500 or worse in their 42-year history.

'Anytime you're without one of the best athletes in the National Football League, it's going to be tough,' cornerback DeAngelo Hall said earlier in the season. 'Take Peyton Manning from the Colts, and they'll go through a little slump.'

Petrino's stint was one of the shortest for a non-interim coach since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger. Pete McCulley was fired after starting out 1-8 with San Francisco in 1978, and Sid Gillman lasted only 10 games in his second stint as San Diego coach, going 4-6 in 1971 before quitting.

In an interesting twist, Lou Holtz coached the New York Jets for 13 games in 1976. He went 3-10, then left the team with one game remaining to become the coach at Arkansas.

In four years at Louisville, Petrino produced a 41-9 record and some of the highest-scoring teams in the country.

An Atlanta team without Vick was a different story, ranking 24th in total yards and 30th in scoring.

Plagued by injuries on the offensive line, Petrino was forced to start two players who weren't even drafted and just hours after Vick's sentencing in Richmond, Va., Atlanta lost to the New Orleans Saints 34-14. They have lost four in a row by an average of 18.5 points.

'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. Before Monday's game, Blank said he felt better than ever about his decision to hire Petrino.

SideBar: Falcons at Buccaneers

When: Sunday, 1 p.m.

Where: Tampa Bay

TV/Radio: Fox/92-9.FM