Veteran running back Warrick Dunn didn’t mince words about the departure of head coach Bobby Petrino on Wednesday.
Especially after he found a form letter, complete with a signature stamp, from Petrino in his locker that morning detailing why he left.
“To me, that shows no sign of respect,” Dunn said.
Dunn, the 2005 NFL Man of the Year and former Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back, conducted a classy 12-minute conference call with the Tampa Bay media, but his words simmered with anger and frustration over Petrino’s sudden departure for the University of Arkansas.
Petrino told Falcons owner Arthur Blank on Monday afternoon that he would stay next season. Less than 24 hours later, Petrino resigned to take the Arkansas job.
Petrino didn’t even tell his players personally about his departure. The team’s staff had to call as many players as possible on Tuesday night to give them the news before it broke in the media.
Dunn said each player received a letter from Petrino in their locker — complete with that signature stamp.
Dunn wouldn’t have minded as much if Petrino had at least faced his team before he left.
“You would kind of respect the guy a little bit more,” Dunn said.
As the news of Petrino’s resignation evolved on Wednesday, it became apparent that Petrino was not an honest broker of his intentions, at least from the Falcons’ perspective.
Blank told the media that he first found out about Arkansas' interest in the Arkansas job through Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones last week. Jones, a former player and Arkansas alum, called to see if the Falcons would grant Petrino permission to talk to the Razorbacks, according to Blank.
Former Razorbacks Athletic Director Frank Broyles confirmed the phone calls took place on Wednesday.
Falcons general manager Rich McKay told the media that the franchise did not grant Jones or Arkansas permission to talk to Petrino.
Blank also said that Petrino shook his hand on Monday and told him, “I’m your coach.”
Less than a day later, Petrino left.
Dunn, like many players, saw the footage of Petrino and his family doing the Hog call during a press conference in Fayetteville, Ark., trumpeting his hiring.
“Classless,” Dunn said. “Classless.”
“I guess Arkansas should be worried,” Dunn continued “Any family or any kid he recruits should worry. Do you really buy into what a guy says when he did the same thing to Louisville to come to Atlanta? He did the same thing to Atlanta to go to Arkansas. I think his history and rep speaks for itself.”
While never raising his voice, Dunn made it clear the Falcons, as a team, were hurt.
“It’s been a whirlwind 24 hours because you play a football game, you get embarrassed on national television and come to find out this guy before the game has been talking to another school,” Dunn said. “You could just see that he had his exit strategy and he went for it, and it’s a slap in our face as players and as an organization.
“He sold us a dream and the way (he went) out before a season’s end is a coward’s way to go.”
Dunn said the team spent Wednesday in meetings with the coaching staff before learning that secondary coach Emmitt Thomas — a former player and a well-heeled assistant coach — would take over the team as interim head coach.
Dunn also said the team, admittedly, was having difficulty focusing on their upcoming game against Tampa Bay on Sunday, saying the Buccaneers “don’t care what we’re going through.”
There’s frustration and anger in the Falcons locker room, but Dunn hopes by Sunday the team can set that aside.
“Right now this is just emotional for everyone,” Dunn said. “After what we just went through, it’s hard to say how we’re going to respond (on Sunday). We have good character guys on this team and hopefully we can rally around each other.”
Petrino piloted the Falcons to a 3-10 record amid an admittedly tumultuous season, revolving mostly around Michael Vick’s off-the-field legal troubles.
Petrino, Dunn said, came to the franchise saying he would help turn it around. But he said the coach’s growing reputation of aloofness with the players was accurate, as well as his rumored clashes with veteran players.
Also, while answering a general question about college coaches and their transition to the pro ranks, he may have indirectly answered any questions about Petrino’s adjustment to the pro game.
“The coach has to make adjustments,” Dunn said. “The coach can’t come in and expect professionals to act like college kids. I just feel like if a coach tries to come here (next year) he has to have strong ties to the NFL because they know the game is different.”
Dunn also had a problem with Petrino’s departure from the standpoint of the freedom Petrino had to do so. Dunn said a player’s contract doesn’t allow them such freedom. If a player attempted what Petrino did, Dunn said, he would be faced with fines, suspensions and a label as a team malcontent.
“It is a double standard,” Dunn said. “Coaches are not a pat of the salary cap. They can get up and move when they want to. As players, we are strapped down by our contracts.”
Dunn agreed that Petrino’s departure made an already difficult season even more so, saying that he couldn’t adequately explain what the team has been through this season.
But he did admit there are few tears being shed at the team’s practice facility in Flowery Branch, Ga.
“I’m sure every one in the building is upset, but at the same time they’re probably cheering because we’re not walking on egg shells,” Dunn said.
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Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for Bucsblitz.com and the Charlotte (Fla.) Sun-Herald. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association, and his coverage of the Buccaneers has won numerous state and national awards.