BOWLING GREEN, Ky. —
Bobby Petrino hasn't had a week like this in almost 20 months.
He last prepared to coach a game in January 2012 at Arkansas and the Razorbacks defeated Kansas State 29-16 in the Cotton Bowl. Four months later, the school dismissed Petrino for misleading officials about a motorcycle accident involving his mistress.
Petrino has found a reprieve at Western Kentucky and is back game-planning with a team coming off its first bowl game. In first games back he'll square off against two former Southeastern Conference foes, Kentucky and Tennessee.
The Hilltoppers open the season Saturday night against the Wildcats in Nashville before heading to Knoxville the following week to face the Volunteers.
Petrino says he lives for such challenges and is just thankful to be back in the game.
"That's always a fun time for me,'' Petrino said of preparing for a game. "I love going through the process and how we introduce what our schemes are, how we go out and practice it, how we have our players understand what our plan is and what we expect from our opponent.
"I'm excited about our football team. I think we've done a lot of good things. We have a lot of good things. We have a lot of improvement that we need ahead of us. We'll line up Saturday night and see where we're at.''
This next chapter in Petrino's coaching career begins against Kentucky's Mark Stoops, in his first head coaching position after successful stints as defensive coordinator at Florida State and Arizona. Petrino comes in with a 4-1 record against the Wildcats as a coach at Louisville and Arkansas, but he said that statistic doesn't matter at this stop.
"It's our team, it's our players that we have right now,'' Petrino said. "We have to get ready to go win a game and we're going to work extremely hard on our plan.''
One number that stands out is Petrino's 8-0 record in season openers, which WKU aims to keep perfect by following up on last season's 32-31 overtime victory over Kentucky in Lexington. The win was key in helping the Hilltoppers (7-6) earn a berth in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl.
The Hilltoppers have a new starting quarterback in redshirt junior Brandon Doughty, who will be leading the Hilltoppers' spread offense that has helped make Petrino successful.
Doughty, who tore his anterior cruciate ligament against Indiana State early in 2011 and was third string last season, is also happy to be back in action after watching from the sidelines.
"It's awesome,'' Doughty said. "God has blessed me so much and going through that injury I was away from game planning not as much as I wanted to do. This year I'm really studying that film and meeting with Petrino and meeting with coach (Jeff) Brohm and really getting after it.''
Petrino was getting after it even before WKU hired him in December. He studied video of NFL and college games during his hiatus and had earmarked the people that now comprise his coaching staff.
Since his introductory news conference, Petrino hasn't specifically discussed his firing by Arkansas in April 2012 for a "pattern of misleading behavior'' following the accident that injured him and eventually revealed his mistress was a passenger. But he said the embarrassing episode has changed him into someone now focused on his family and players.
Petrino's grateful for the opportunity at WKU believes the Hilltoppers have the ability to be successful.
"I think we understand what our game plan is and our players have worked hard at it,'' Petrino said. "We're going to continue to teach and continue to test them and see where we're at and refine the game plan. We're moving in the right direction.''