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Petrino stays mum as Vick faces criminal charges
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    ATLANTA — Bobby Petrino had no doubts when he left Louisville to coach the Atlanta Falcons.
    ‘‘I believe this is truly the best football job in the NFL,’’ Petrino said in January when the Falcons introduced him as their third coach in six years. ‘‘It was an easy decision for me.’’
    Now, with franchise quarterback Michael Vick under federal indictment for running a dogfighting operation in Virginia, Petrino might wish he still worked for Louisville.
    Petrino didn’t return a phone call from The Associated Press on Saturday, and Falcons spokesman Reggie Roberts said the coach and general manager Rich McKay will not speak to reporters until next week.
    Both team owner Arthur Blank and the NFL have declined interview requests since Vick’s criminal charges were announced last week.
    It’s clear, however, that Petrino believed the offense he ran at Louisville would fit Vick, one of the most exciting and productive rushing quarterbacks in league history, but a three-time Pro Bowl selection who consistently struggles as a passer.
    The 45-year-old Petrino became one of the top offensive coaches in college, leading Louisville to a 41-9 overall record and a No. 5 national ranking last year. The Cardinals ranked fourth in the nation in scoring and second in total yards.
    ‘‘We definitely need to work on being balanced, there’s no question,’’ Petrino has said. ‘‘I’m looking forward to the challenge in developing the passing game here.’’
    The uncertainty facing Petrino and the Falcons now is that nobody knows if Vick will even take a snap in 2007.
    He and three alleged accomplices will enter pleas in a U.S. District Court in Richmond, Va., on Thursday — the same day training camp opens.
    Vick hasn’t spoken to reporters since mini-camp in May, and neither his lawyer nor his agent are returning phone calls from The AP.
    If Petrino eventually does get Vick in camp, he will begin a task that ultimately eluded his predecessor, Jim Mora, and former offensive coordinator Greg Knapp.
    The Falcons ran a hybrid version of the West Coast offense under Mora, but Vick never mastered the scheme. Despite last year becoming the first quarterback in history to rush for 1,000 yards in a single season, Vick had a poor completion percentage of 52.7 and a quarterback rating of just 75.7.
    Even worse, as Atlanta missed the playoffs the last two years and Vick expressed more frustration with Knapp’s offense, he seemed to lose the magic he once had to take over games.
    Under Mora, Atlanta had a 0-17 record when entering the fourth quarter with a deficit, and Vick spared the coaching staff no criticism after the Falcons lost their season home finale to Carolina.
    ‘‘We’ve got first-round guys, we’ve got guys that have been in the Pro Bowl offensively and defensively, guys who’ve been in the scheme for two to three years,’’ Vick said. ‘‘You know, the talent level is there, and I just think it’s a question that needs to be answered. I don’t know what it is, but we’re too good to be losing these games, and we should be ranked among the elite in this league this year and we’re not.’’
    Vick seemed to wonder if the team wasn’t preparing properly in practice.
    ‘‘You just can’t come out there and just try to wing it,’’ Vick said. ‘‘I’m not saying that we did that, but either we’ve got to come out and throw the football or come out and try to establish the run.’’
    With Vick’s career on hold, Petrino will give quarterback Joey Harrington the reins of the offense. Atlanta signed Harrington, who has a career record of 23-43, after Miami released the former No. 3 overall draft pick last winter.
    The Falcons have questions throughout their roster. They’ve lost Pro Bowl defensive tackle Rod Coleman to a leg injury, and starting linebacker Demorrio Williams might not return for a few months after tearing a pectoral muscle.
    ‘‘Bobby knows how to motivate,’’ Blank said recently of Petrino. ‘‘He knows how to teach. He knows how to get the best out of his athletes.’’