Bobby Petrino was fired last spring for lying to university officials about his relationship with a university employee. Petrino has spent this past season at his house pondering his career and looking for an opportunity to return to coaching. Should that return be at Arkansas?
Let’s ponder a possible worst-case scenario.
There are currently openings at three other SEC schools besides Arkansas: Auburn, Tennessee and Kentucky. Arkansas has some competition in the search for a head coach.
Let’s say that of the potential candidates to replace John L. Smith at Arkansas, including Gary Patterson of TCU, Charlie Strong of Louisville, Tommy Tuberville of Texas Tech, ESPN analyst Jon Gruden and former UNC head coach Butch Davis, all decide to stay where they are or turn down the Arkansas job to coach somewhere else for whatever reason.
That leaves Arkansas with an interesting choice. Is it willing to let Bobby Petrino coach at another SEC program?
According to Adam Himmelsbach of the Courier-Journal, Bobby Petrino Sr. thinks that his son would be a good fit at Kentucky and says that his son has conveyed an interest in a move to Lexington to coach football. Petrino also wants to return to the SEC, which would make Auburn and Tennessee both attractive destinations.
Imagine an SEC that features a Kentucky team that becomes a powerhouse in a few years with Petrino on the sidelines.
Should Arkansas have fired Petrino? Absolutely. A program cannot have its head football coach having affairs and giving his mistress money and a job and lying about it.
But punishment is one thing, a grudge is another.
The purpose of punishment is to correct behavior. Perhaps in the fallout from his motorcycle accident, Petrino has learned his lesson and is a changed man. Being fired and the prospect of not being able to coach football anymore could have been powerful motivators for Petrino to alter his actions.
If Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long were to hire Bobby Petrino, it would not condone Petrino’s past actions or say that Long made a mistake by firing him.
It would just say that Bobby Petrino is a competent football coach who did a lot of work to turn the Razorbacks into a potential national contender, and Petrino has served his penance. It would say, morality aside, that Petrino’s skills and past coaching successes make him worthy of another shot at the head coaching job at Arkansas.
Petrino has support in the state. The decision to fire him was somewhat controversial throughout the Razorbacks fanbase, and his support among Arkansas fans only grew throughout the Hogs’ tumultuous season.
Even former Dallas Cowboys head coach and Arkansas alum Jimmy Johnson stated publicly that Arkansas should consider bringing Bobby Petrino back (h/t Arkansas News).
Petrino should not be given the job outright, but he should at least be a part of the conversation. To not at least consider Petrino for the job would make Jeff Long appear to be holding a grudge, possibly to the detriment of his program.
And holding a grudge for past wrongdoings does not benefit anyone, especially if holding a grudge leads to top-caliber football talent like Petrino coaching at a rival SEC school.