These days it seems NCAA coaches are losing their jobs faster than most Americans did in 2008. Arkansas’s Bobby Petrino just added his name to this ignominious list after being dismissed as head football coach of the Razorbacks on Tuesday.
He was not fired because his teams lost too many games (like Mike Stoops). He did not commit an NCAA violation (like Butch Davis). He did not oversee the payment of his players (like Steve Fisher) or make improper phone calls to recruits (like Kelvin Sampson). He did not turn a blind eye to infractions being committed by his own “student athletes” (like Jim Tressel).
Instead, Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long renewed my faith in humanity by firing Petrino for another reason: lack of integrity.
By now you know that Petrino crashed his motorcycle on April Fool’s Day. I guess the joke is on Bobby. Coach Petrino originally told his boss, Mr. Long, that he was riding solo on his Harley until the police report revealed, you know, the truth. Police reports tend to do that.
The 51-year-old Petrino crashed while joy-riding with a 25-year-old woman, Jessica Dorrell. Also, Dorrell works for the Arkansas Football Program. Also, Petrino gave her $20,000. Also, Petrino and Dorrell were having a secret affair. Also, Dorrell was engaged to someone else. Also, Petrino is married with four children. Who wouldn’t want their kid playing ball for this guy!
So instead of taking accountability for his actions, Petrino tried to cover it up. While I doubt he was naïve enough to think he could get away with it, he was clearly arrogant enough to. I will also never buy the “trying to protect my family” excuse. If you wanted to protect your family, I’m thinking not having an affair is a good first step.
But to me, here is where the story gets interesting. The only people who were hurt by Petrino’s actions were Petrino (physically at least, because it doesn’t seem like he has a soul), Petrino’s family, and Dorrell’s newly single, ex-fiancé. That’s it.
I don’t believe the NCAA was breathing down Arkansas’s neck to dismiss their coach. Petrino is not in any real trouble with the law, and I did not read any outcry from fans or alumni calling for his head. Unlike the Joe Paterno situation, in which the collateral damage to the young men and their families allegedly caused by Jerry Sandusky and the scandal is as extensive as any we have ever seen, Petrino only ruined his life with his decision making.
Not to mention that Petrino has a history of questionable decision-making and probably would have handled the “Business Ethics” question as horribly as Eric did in Billy Madison. In 2007, while coaching the Atlanta Falcons, Petrino quit with three games to go in the season. He left his players with nothing but a note taped to their lockers. What a gem.
Now, I would not have been surprised at all if Arkansas suspended Petrino for the first three or four games of SEC conference play next season, swept everything else under the rug and eventually this scandal faded away with each Razorback victory. That would likely have sufficed as proper punishment to those dismayed with Petrino’s actions, while not completely destroying all the momentum the football program has built since 2008.
The disruption to that momentum is what makes Petrino’s firing so surprising to me. Arkansas was winning. In Petrino’s four years in Fayetteville, the Razorbacks jumped from five wins in 2008 to 11 this past year. They played in a BCS bowl game two years ago and beat Kansas State in the Cotton Bowl this past season. The Hogs play in the best division in the best conference in college football (the SEC West), and yet the Hogs were breathing down the necks of both LSU and Alabama last year. This coming season Arkansas returns stud QB prospect Tyler Wilson, and with LSU losing their starting quarterbacks and Alabama sending Trent Richardson and their entire defense to the NFL, Arkansas looked poised to make a run at not only an SEC Championship but a National Championship as well.
Winning championships in college football means one thing: money. That is what put Jeff Long in such an unenviable position this week. In the 24-hour media cycle that is news coverage in America, Long knew that this Petrino circus would leave town just as quickly as it arrived (seriously, when’s the last time you even heard anyone mention Jim Tressell or Bernie Fine). He knew that Petrino’s ego was matched only by his coaching prowess, and he knew Arkansas Football was on the brink of excellence.
Make it through this and Long would likely see Petrino make the Arkansas program one of the nation’s elite for years to come.
And he fired Bobby Petrino anyway.
I wish my alma mater, the University of Arizona, would hire Long away from Arkansas today.
Four years from now when the Razorbacks are back to being a middling six-win football team playing in the Papajohns.com Bowl and the school fires Jeff Long as Athletic Director, maybe I’ll get my wish.