Maurice Smith still remembers Bobby Petrino. As a four-star cornerback out of Sugar Land, Texas, Smith was a coveted talent with interest from a who's who among Power Five programs: Alabama, Florida, LSU, Nebraska, Ohio State, Texas and Texas A&M.
Oh, and Arkansas. Smith isn't quite sure, but the Razorbacks might have been his first official visit. They were certainly his first taste of the SEC.
"It was crazy, the atmosphere," Smith recalled in a conversation with CBS Sports. "... Seeing the fanbase and also going into Coach [Bobby] Petrino's office and talking football, Xs and Os, and picking his brain. Me not knowing a lot, I learned a lot."
That was 12 years ago. That was also before Smith signed with Alabama prior to finishing at Georgia. That was also before Petrino's . That followed Petrino's comeback tour at Western Kentucky, Louisville and Missouri State prior to him emerging this year as Texas A&M's offensive coordinator.
Now, Smith's brother, Ainias, actually gets to play for Petrino this season as the senior returns from a broken leg.
"The only thing I remember: [Petrino] was at Arkansas," said 22-year-old Ainias, who was 10 when Maurice was being pursued. "He was recruiting my brother, and I ended up seeing Coach Petrino in a neck brace."
Of course, the-- made infamous as Petrino was fired at Arkansas in 2012 for lying to school officials about his relationship with a football staffer.
But wounds and reputations heal, particularly fast when a 62-year-old coach who once viewed the game from a mountaintop is attempting to revive a career as a play calling savior ... if his boss lets him.
"I'm looking and [saying] like, 'Wow, he's highly credible in the football world,' said Maurice Smith as Petrino prepares to coach his first game as a member of a Power Five program in five years. "It's a blessing to know I had some type of relationship with him."
Any Aggie will tell you what Petrino left behind off the field is far less important than what he can contribute on it. Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher made news in January when he hired his old friend to replace Darrell Dickey as offensive coordinator.
Petrino's arrival became a national discussion as Fisher never seemed to actually commit to having one of the best play callers around actually call plays.
"Hopefully, he'll call the game," Fisher said cryptically during 2023 SEC Media Days.
"We're going to call plays," Fisher told CBS Sports at the same event. "As a staff, we collectively put together what we do. You trust a guy [to do] what you hired him to do."
Clear as mud?
Petrino did shed some light on that subject when he met with the media earlier this month.
"It is a collective effort. I've been calling the plays out at practice, and I'll continue to do that," he said.
All of it might add up to the most significant issue of the season for the Aggies heading into Saturday's opener against New Mexico. Texas A&M cratered last season. The 5-7 record was the program's worst in 14 years. The offense was a significant reason for that downturn. TAMU was 101st nationally averaging 22.8 points per game.
This is a magnified issue as, at various times during his career, Fisher has given up play calling during the season only to snatch it back. That can cause conflict and confusion. It certainly draws the interest of concerned fans and interested media.
The overarching issue? In Year 6 under Fisher, the Aggies have yet to become a consistent factor in the SEC West. As such, there has been enough speculation about Fisher's job security to fill the Library of Congress.
Enter Petrino, who is at once a lightning rod, a dimmed star and somehow a coach on the rise. Face it: If everything hits right in College Station, Texas, this season, someone will eventually hire Petrino as a Power Five head coach again. About the only place that would hire him after the Arkansas debacle, Louisville, rehired him in 2014 only to fire him after a 2-8 record in 2018.
Petrino has a history -- both sordid at soaring -- with the Cardinals. In the process of coaching Louisville into a national power (40-9 from 2003-06), he secretly interviewed for the Auburn job. Upon his return to Louisville, Petrino coached Lamar Jackson to a Heisman Trophy in 2016.
Just don't try to find a straight line through the career. The Atlanta Falcons job held his interest for 13 games in 2007. He screwed up at Arkansas in 2012 just as he was getting things going.
All along the way, Petrino left his calling card. The man can coach. Inside of that, he can. Arkansas' 11 wins in 2011 remain tied for the most in program history. The 21 wins over a two-year period (2010-11) tied the school record set by Frank Broyles. The Hogs have never been the same. Neither has Petrino.
Texas A&M is the latest willing partner in his latest reboot.
"I wish I could have seen -- and the world could have seen -- what he had the next season [at Arkansas]," said Maurice Smith, who now plays for the XFL's Vegas Vipers. "I remember that 11-win season. I was really looking forward to seeing what they were going to do. … I'm praying he gets to call the plays. He knows what to do with a lot of explosive talent."
Ainias Smith is a key part of that reboot. At the time of his injury last season, he had accounted for a quarter of all of the Aggies' offensive yards as a wide receiver. Armed with an all-purpose weapon who also can rush as well as return kicks and punts, you can almost see the gears turning in Petrino's brain.
"Bobby is definitely a great guy, a great coach," Ainias said. "I definitely like his tenacity, the knowledge he brings. I definitely just like his energy. He doesn't let a lot of things get to him."
That's key considering, as a head coach, Petrino was known to be a bit, um, intense.
"When you're on the sideline and the guys in the striped shirts make bad calls, it's hard to keep your poise," Petrino told reporters. "There was one time I yelled at them. I know that. Just once. But I'm not in that role anymore."
No, he's not. His job is merely to be one of the most creative play callers of the last 30 years.
In his first year as a coordinator (1994), Nevada was second nationally in total offense. Under John L. Smith at Louisville in 1998, Petrino coordinated the highest-scoring offense in the country. Jackson became one of the most electric players in the sport's history at Louisville.
Amid this next chapter, a fourth-chance comeback, Petrino would settle for some play calling autonomy. In that sense, he is a proven commodity. That's all that matters to Texas A&M at the moment.
"I'm hoping he does [succeed]," Maurice said. "I know what he is capable of. If he is given the chance he's going to flourish. I'm definitely interested to see how he uses my brother."