Hasty exit draws ire of Falcons

Associated Press
Assistant coach Emmitt Thomas takes the reins as Atlanta's interim head coach.

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. --- Coward. Quitter. Hypocrite. And those were some of the nicer things the Atlanta Falcons had to say about their former coach Wednesday.

Bobby Petrino left behind a bitter team and a boss who felt betrayed, skipping town to return to the college ranks with not so much as a face-to-face meeting with his players.

The Falcons watched him on television the previous night, yukking it up at a giddy, late-night news conference in Arkansas, then showed up at their lockers to find a 78-word letter from their ex-coach, whose tenure in the NFL lasted all of 13 games.

On Wednesday, assistant Emmitt Thomas was promoted to interim head coach for the final three games of the regular season.

While the aloof Petrino had few friends in the locker room, the Falcons (3-10) felt totally abandoned in a season where so much already has gone wrong.

First, Michael Vick.

Now, this.

Falcons owner Arthur Blank got a call late last week from Dallas owner Jerry Jones, an Arkansas alumnus, to say the school was interested in talking to Petrino.

Blank said he told Jones the Falcons had no intention of letting the Razorbacks speak with their coach, and general manager Rich McKay confirmed that position in a follow-up call with Jones.

That was followed by a series of meetings over the weekend in which Petrino laid out some of his concerns. Blank said he met again with the coach Monday, just hours before Atlanta's 34-14 loss to New Orleans, to make sure he wasn't planning to leave.

"He stood up, we shook hands and he said, 'You have a head coach,' " Blank said.

Twenty-four hours later, Petrino submitted his resignation, hopped on a plane to Arkansas and signed a deal as Razorbacks coach.

PARTING WORDS

Atlanta Falcons Players,

Out of my respect for you, I am letting you know that, with a heavy heart, I resigned today as the Head Coach of the Atlanta Falcons. This decision was not easy, but it was made in the best interest of me and my family. While my desire would have been to finish out what has been a difficult season for us all, circumstances did not allow me to do that. I appreciate your hard work and wish you the best.

Sincerely, Bobby Petrino

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