BILLINGS – It appears Jason Petrino is heading back to the Missouri Valley Conference.
After leading the Rocky Mountain College football program to the Frontier Conference championship and a berth in the NAIA postseason in just three seasons as head coach, Petrino announced his resignation on Monday.
He informed school officials of his decision in the morning and told the team later in the afternoon.
The school issued a press release late Monday afternoon but it did not say where Petrino was going to coach next.
According to www.footballscoop.com, Petrino is going to become the defensive coordinator at Southern Illinois University, an FCS program in Carbondale, Illinois. The Salukis were 2-9 this past season.
Petrino did not return phone calls or texts from 406mtsports.com.
“Our goal is to have a new head football coach hired and in place in seven to 10 days,” said Rocky executive vice president Brad Nason in a press release. “We want to thank Coach Petrino for all of his hard work and for what he and his staff have done to make our football program top in the Frontier Conference.”
Prior to his time with the Battlin’ Bears, Petrino was the defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach at the University of South Dakota, also a member of the MVC. Ironically, Petrino will be replacing a Montana native at SIU. Kraig Paulson did not have his contract renewed after this season.
Rocky finished 8-4 overall this season and 7-3 in the Frontier Conference. The Battlin’ Bears had to forfeit their season-opening victory against Carroll College.
It was Rocky’s first Frontier Conference title since 1999 and first playoff berth since 2013.
Petrino was 18-16 overall in his three seasons. He was 4-7 in 2016 and 6-5 last year.
They lost to top-ranked Morningside of Iowa 49-20 in the first round of the NAIA playoffs. Morningside will play Benedictine of Kansas on Dec. 15 for the NAIA championship.
“He really cares about his players,” said senior running back Mason Melby. “Coach Petrino turned Rocky’s program around because of the intensity he brought and his preparation and perfection not only from himself but that he demands from his staff and players.
“Wherever coach ends up, he will make a huge difference and they are lucky to have him.”
A native of Kalispell, Petrino was hired on Jan. 21, 2016 as the 17th head coach in Rocky football history.
Building a family atmosphere, Petrino’s team improved each season.
He could be tough on players in both practice and games, “He got on us good sometimes I’d say,’’ said senior linebacker Chase Bertelsen with a chuckle. “But at the end of the day, he still loved us.
“He really brought us together, making it a brotherhood,” Bertelsen continued. “He made us confidence in our assignments, putting us in the right place to succeed. He wanted to bring out the best in you. He made you work toward our goals. We had little goals and we had big picture goals.”
Bertelsen said when Petrino was hired, the new head coach met individually with every player on the roster.
“He wanted to know everything about each and every one of us,” said Bertelsen. “He met with all of us … where we were from, he wanted to know about our families.
“You would watch him meet with the families after the games and the tail gate sessions.”
Petrino and his staff not only rewarded players for their play on the field, but also for achievements in the classroom. He would put players in groups and whoever reached certain goals would receive a steak dinner from their head coach.
This past spring, Petrino made the transition to offensive coordinator. The Battlin’ Bears led the Frontier Conference in several categories, including points per game (35.0), total offense, total passing yards and passing yards per game.
“Coach Petrino was a guy that you wanted to give your all and play your hardest for,” said Melby. “I always tell people that if you walk by him in a hallway, he’s not a guy who is just going to only say, ‘Hi,’ he’s going to stop you and ask how your day is going.”
Petrino was an all-conference defensive back for Carroll College, playing for both his uncle Bob Petrino and Mike Van Diest. Petrino got his coaching start with Van Diest with the Saints and also has had stops at Wyoming and the University of Mary.