In a 20-minute news conference Friday, Idaho athletic director Terry Gawlik addressed the firing of head football coach Paul Petrino and the direction the program hopes to go moving forward.
Gawlik will face her biggest decision yet in picking UI’s new football boss in what’s already been a whirlwind first two years for the school’s top athletic administrator. Since taking the position in August 2019, Gawlik has handled NCAA penalties levied against the men’s basketball team and the hiring of a new coach for that program, COVID-19’s impact on the department and, now, the firing and ensuing hiring of a new football coach.
Petrino, who will coach his final game at noon today against Idaho State in Pocatello, is out after nine years as the coach, the school announced Thursday. Petrino is 33-66 since taking over in 2012. His only winning season came in 2016, when Idaho went 9-4 and won the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl against Colorado State in Boise.
“It goes back to even before I arrived,” Gawlik said of how she arrived at the decision. “You’re doing your homework … I’m not a big believer ‘in come in and clean house right away,’ if you will, ’cause I want to see what’s working and what’s not.”
Gawlik in an impromptu news conference Thursday pointed to Idaho’s 50-point loss Oct. 16 to Eastern Washington as being “hard on everyone” but said there was “no real time frame” in coming to the decision.
“It’s always tough to make a change,” she said. “Clearly, we want to have more wins within our program.”
Idaho was coming off a one-win season when Petrino came in, going 1-11 again in 2013 as a Football Bowl Subdivision independent. The Vandals spent the next four years in the Sun Belt Conference before becoming the first team to drop down to the Football Championship Subdivision in 2018. UI’s best record in its return to the Big Sky Conference was a 5-7 showing in 2019, before COVID-19 ravaged the country — all factors that were considered when evaluating the program, Gawlik said.
Gawlik praised the team culture Petrino built at UI and the way he helped raise the team’s academic standing. In the end, however, wins are what matter most.
“I believe coach Petrino is one of the best gentleman, family man that I’ve ever been around,” Gawlik said. “And as a football coach, he’s very team-oriented. Not just with his team, but all our teams here on campus … so that was tough.”
Gawlik on Thursday refused to acknowledge a report in a Tubs at the Club article that said, citing anonymous sources, Vandal boosters had agreed to buy out the remainder of Petrino’s contract, which is set to expire June 30, 2022 and lists a base salary of $446,214.40.
On Friday, Gawlik said, “Certainly, we will follow the contract we have with coach Petrino and go with that as it is written.”
Gawlik will lead the search for a new coach and also will have help from College Sports Solutions, a consulting firm based in Atlanta. She said they had their first meeting with the search firm earlier on this day, and several candidates already have reached out.
Gawlik listed several factors she’s looking for in a new coach, the top one being integrity. Among the other things she’s looking for are someone who is a good fit for the community, prioritizes academics, can connect well with the current athletics staff, understands the workings of the transfer portal and retaining athletes, can develop young men, and, of course, build a winning program.
“Of course, we want to be competitive in the Big Sky,” Gawlik said. “I tell all our coaches, we want to be at least in the top third and we want to play for championships. That’s what we’re all playing for. And every coach and every student athlete, that’s what we’re playing for.”
Gawlik said there’s no timeline for hiring a new coach because they want to conduct a thorough process before settling on a new hire.
“The answer is you’d like to move as fast as possible, but we want to make sure we hire the best candidate out there that’s a fit not only for themselves, but ourselves,” she said.
As for the future, Gawlik hinted at a possible fundraising project for a new performance center. She said she visited the new $18 million Bobcat Athletic Complex at Montana State University, which opened in October.
“Looking at possibly designing and finding fundraising for a performance center,” Gawlik said. “Visited the Montana State center they just built, so those types of things. You’re always looking for ways to improve and enhance the student athletic experience.”
In meeting with Idaho’s current players, she said she’s hopeful they’ll continue wearing silver and gold.
“It doesn’t just start next year, it (started) last night, it’s tomorrow — we want to take this thing forward,” she said. “When you’re involved in a coaching change, you don’t know what’s coming, so my advice to them was yeah, you’re going home for Thanksgiving but you better start working out ’cause we’re going to start moving forward and it’s going to take everything you’ve got to help us do that.”
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