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If Paul Petrino was looking for an opportunity to showcase his coaching acumen -- and make his own name separate from his brother Bobby -- he found it with the Idaho football program.
Paul Petrino took over on Dec. 2 after Robb Ackey was fired on Oct. 21 after going 20-50 in five-plus seasons. Petrino became the fourth coaching hire at Idaho since 2003, and the first three accumulated a 29-76 record.
The simple fact is that Petrino does not inherit much. The team scored only 18 touchdowns last season and gave up 64. It did not have a player rush for more than 500 yards, and it rotated through three quarterbacks, none of which was successful.
The 45-year-old believes that his system and recruiting his players will be a difference maker.
"There are always guys who want to play college football, and we just need to find players who are a match for us," Petrino said. "I have been to a lot of places and recruited on a lot of different levels, and one thing that has been consistent is what we have done with the ball.
"I think that being a high-powered offense that is quarterback-reliant and running a blitzing defense is a draw for anyone. This is an exciting brand of football that we play, and people will want to be a part of that."
Petrino's resume is impressive. He spent time at Idaho in his early days and then went to Utah State, Southern Miss and Illinois with two stops at Louisville and Arkansas. He also spent a season with the Atlanta Falcons.
His teams have been offensive juggernauts, and his lone season at Illinois -- without his brother -- set numerous Illini records.
Petrino has his work cut out for him at Idaho. The class of 2013 finished the recruiting cycle ranked No. 122 among 124 FBS programs.
Relatively speaking, that was a success. Petrino walked in the door with only one player committed -- Reuben Mwehla of Bellevue (Wash.) High. The other 23 signees gave their pledges after Petrino took over less than eight weeks before signing day.
It was a breakneck pace for him -- being forced to cram a yearlong process into two months -- but one that brought excitement.
"It was a lot of fun, honestly," Petrino said. "It was a sequence of getting settled, getting our coaches, getting our class and getting to know the players.
"I feel like we put it all together quickly but we did a very good job."
There are negatives that Petrino has to deal with. The program is a member of the WAC -- which will not have enough teams to compete in football, forcing the team to play an independent schedule next season. And, although they are improving, the program has some of the lowest-ranked facilities in the country.
Adding to that, there is the distance to Moscow.
"I think that will be our biggest obstacle," Petrino said. "It is difficult to get to Moscow, and so it can be difficult to get kids onto the campus.
"Once they are here, they are blown away. It is an extremely safe community with very few locked doors. We have a great new weight room; we have a tremendous business school and engineering department. If we can get a player to bring his parents here, it is that much easier for us because this is a truly hidden gem that is easy to fall in love with."
Petrino said the facilities are steadily improving, which will make the program more competitive in recruiting.
"We have a new weight room, and we are adding to that," he said. "There will be a new practice field and team rooms. Plus we play in the Dome, and that is certainly a major draw for our skill players."
After cutting his teeth at NAIA-level Carroll College and rising to the NFL, Petrino said that being enamored of facilities is understandable but better weight sets will not make a better football player.
"It is a 'wow' factor more than anything," he said. "I understand that those things can be an attention grabber at first, but what will make a player better is the coaching."
That is his strong suit.
"We believe that our scheme on offense and on defense," Petrino said, "our knowledge of the details at each position, is what is most important.
"If we can target kids who want to be great and want to work to be great, we will be successful."
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