MOSCOW, Idaho – Football fans know all about the Petrino family coaching tree. Former Carroll College coach Bob Sr. is in the hall of fame. Bobby is finding success on the east coast, currently guiding Louisville. Paul is the defending Sun Belt Conference coach of the year and led the University of Idaho to a bowl win in 2016.
Fans easily recognize the Petrino name. But only one man knows the trio better than anyone: former Carroll College lineman and assistant coach Kris Cinkovich.
“I played football at Spokane Falls Community College and unfortunately, they don’t have football anymore, which is a sad deal because guys like me would have never gone to college to be frank,” said Cinkovich. “One day, Coach Petrino Sr. and his buddy Bob Benson were there and told me, ‘This is what we do. This is what we’ll give you. You’re tough and we think you might fit what we do.’ I took a trip out there and told my parents, ‘This is cool. I think I would like to do this because it’s a no BS operation.’ I loved playing there.”
Nearly 40 years have passed since Cinkovich first arrived in Helena. An offensive lineman for the Fighting Saints, the man known to friend and colleagues as ‘Cink’ grew an early connection to the eldest Petrino.
After graduating from Carroll, Cinkovich eventually joined Bob Petrino Sr. on the coaching staff, continuing to learn about the game through the eyes of a future hall of famer.
“We all wanted to coach, but we didn’t know how to coach. I remember one of my buddies going out one day, we were young and still in shape, and he rolled his sleeves up. The old man said, ‘If you ever come out here like that again, you’ll be fired.’ He would have never fired him, but nobody came out with cut-off sleeves or short sleeves again,” Cinkovich recalled. “He taught us how to coach and would teach us how to coach, not just Xs and Os, but how to be a coach, how to communicate, how to confront and demand, how to be intense, how to get players that want to play for you. That’s what I vividly remember and for those of us that worked for him and then went out in the business, that was really good.”
Like many in the Petrino coaching tree, Cinkovich quickly climbed the ranks in the coaching world. He eventually landed the head coaching job at Las Vegas High School. He compiled a record of 79-24 with the Wildcats and led the program to the 2001 Nevada state championship, the program’s first since 1959.
During those nine seasons, Las Vegas High was considered one of the top program’s in the state. Though he was paving his own path in the coaching world, his ties to Carroll College and Montana were never far away.
“There wasn’t a day that went by where something would happen and I would think, ‘How would coach (Petrino Sr.) handle this?’” said Cinkovich. “I needed to be my own guy, but early on I was trying to be a lot like him, to be honest with you. I had a lot of admiration for him. As you get older, you get the confidence to be you. He had that much effect on me and I was really trying to be him when I was younger. That’s great, but I’m not him. He’s a unique man and when we find our way that he taught us, yeah, being part of his legacy is pretty cool.”
Despite the distance, Cinkovich kept in touch with his former head coach and boss. But his ties to the Petrino family didn’t end with Bob Sr.
“I’m the only guy on the face of the earth that has coached for all three Petrinos. I’m pretty proud of it, and I think it’s made me know what I know because of Coach Petrino Sr. at Carroll, I worked with Bobby at Arkansas and now Paul here,” Cinkovich said of his current position at the University of Idaho. “(Paul) is a great guy to work for, because there’s not a lot of gray area. Personally, I like life where there’s no gray area. I coach the offensive line and we don’t operate in a gray area, because we’re a rules-driven organization. He’s done a great job here, because it wasn’t necessarily running good when we got here. There was an APR problem when we got here that he attacked. He had a plan: It took us a little longer to kick than we wanted, but that’s the way it goes. When it doesn’t go your way, you either quit and pout or you roll your stuff up and get to work again. We chose to work and we’re going to keep working.”
Call it the Bob Petrino Sr. effect. Paul Petrino also played and coached for his father at Carroll College, and was the star quarterback when Cinkovich was guiding the Saints’ offensive line. Those days have bonded the duo. Petrino calls Cinkovich his “right-hand man” at the University of Idaho and gives his assistant head coach more responsibility than anyone.
A great amount of respect and trust can be seen between Petrino and Cinkovich during the Vandals’ practices. It’s a confidence that Cinkovich says stems back to the early days in Helena at Carroll College.
“The Fighting Saints days were incredible. I met my wife there and I’m happy about it. I don’t know if she is, but I’m happy,” he joked. “Carroll is such a cool place and Coach (Mike) Van Diest and those guys have done a great job. Guys come and have a good experience and they may have that passion, so guys end up coaching.”
“A cool memory for me is, when we were playing in the Cotton Bowl in Jerry Jones’ stadium in 2012 — Coach Petrino Sr. is around a lot, but he doesn’t like to come around and distract — but he came in the locker room and there were, like, six guys in there that played for him and were now coaching the fifth-ranked team in the country,” Cinkovich added. “Kevin Peoples was there, he’s a Butte rat, he’s a coach. Jason Veltkamp was the strength coach, Bobby Petrino was the head coach, Paul had come back and was a coordinator, I coached the receivers, Chris Klenakis coached the offensive line. All those guys were in there with Coach Petrino. It just happened to be us, I don’t know where the other coaches had gone. That was pretty cool for Carroll College. We went out and beat Kansas State the next day and finished fifth in the nation. It was a neat deal to be part of that Carroll tie.”