FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Coward. Quitter. Hypocrite. And those were some of the nicer things the Atlanta Falcons had to say about their former coach on 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.
"Atlanta Falcons Players," it began.
"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."
While the aloof Petrino had few friends in the locker room, and there was actually a sense of relief that he was gone, the Falcons (3-10) felt totally abandoned in a season where so much already has gone wrong.
First, Michael Vick.
"We kept hearing rumors and stuff like that," running back Warrick Dunn said. "It got to the point where guys really didn't care if he left or not. But the way he decided to leave, to me, was just not right."
Falcons owner Arthur Blank sounded as though he had just been stabbed in the back. He got a call late last week from Dallas owner Jerry Jones, an Arkansas alumnus, to say the school was interested in talking to Petrino about its coaching vacancy.
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, and the Falcons thought they had addressed them all. In fact, Blank said he met again with the coach on Monday, just hours before Atlanta's 34-14 loss to the New Orleans Saints, 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.
All he left behind for the players was that letter.
Safety Lawyer Milloy had a copy of it taped above his locker, with a red "X" through Petrino's words and the player's own assessment written in: "Coward."
"I feel like I've been sleeping with the enemy the past eight months," Milloy said.
The Falcons were particularly upset about Petrino's jovial demeanor at his first news conference in Arkansas, where he even participated in the school's "calling the hogs" cheer. It was the first time any of the players could remember him smiling.
"That's what I think brought up the anger, to have him talk about family, about team and about commitment, and then to come in here and have a form letter at your locker," quarterback Joey Harrington said. "That's not how a man acts. That's how a coward acts."
Defensive end Jamal Anderson, the Falcons' first-round pick from Arkansas, was asked what he would tell his alma mater about their new coach.
"One word: Disloyal," Anderson replied.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press