Nutting Up: Arkansas Does the Right Thing by Firing Petrino

At the stage, it is difficult to pontificate on the Bobby Petrino situation at Arkansas without stepping on what someone else has already stated.  But, we love a challenge.

~~Don't lose your job in a roadside ditch!~~

To recap, the former head football coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks was involved in a motorcycle accident on 1 April 2012.  Riding on his Harley on the backroads of Arkansas, Petrino lost control of his bike and was thrown into some shrubbery.  He was  taken to a hospital and treated for broken ribs and various cuts and scratches.  Petrino soon faced the media, something that along with his return to practice local papers hailed as a reflection of how tough a man Petrino must be…Montana-hardened!  [NOTE: that article has since been “archived”…hmm…….well, thank God for LexisNexis].

But this “tough man” was evidently lying to everyone about the incident.  Oh sure, there was a crash.  But he was not alone.  AND, not only was he not alone, but he was riding with a female companion…one that was not his wife.  AND, one with whom he was apparently having an “inappropriate relationship”…AND this young woman was a former student and volleyball player for Arkansas…AND she was recently hired by Petrino.

Oh, the tangled webs we weave!  And this sinister web led to discussions about what type of punishment would be handed down to Petrino.  Placed on administrative leave (with pay) while university administrators investigated the incident, people wondered if he would get suspended.  Some hinted that maybe he would be fired………but only if he had a losing record.  Given that Petrino was a winner — 34-17 with back-to-back double-digit win seasons and a BCS bowl game appearance (2011 Sugar Bowl) — many did not think the Razorbacks would dismiss Bobby.  Not in the SEC — God’s football country!

And then came THE DECISION!  A real decision…not one floated by narcicissm but one that was brought about by necessity; one driven by doing what was right.

I have informed Coach Petrino that his employment with the university was being terminated immediately. I have spoken with Assistant Head Coach Taver Johnson and have asked him to continue the responsibility for the football program’s administrative operation through the completion of spring practice April 21.  –Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long

In the words of Brett Myers, “Boom! Outta here!”

Wow!  How refreshing it is to see someone make a very difficult — but very necessary — decision.  To be sure, this will hurt Arkansas’s football program…at least in the short term.  Some recruits may leave.  But, long term this is what is best not just for the football team, but for the university.

With regards to the football team, if Arkansas opted to retain Petrino, how could he as the leadership of that time preach responsibility to his young men?  How could they ever take him seriously when he attempts to discipline players for poor decisions?  How could they ever be expect to sacrifice “for the team” when he committed such a selfish act?  Because of his actions, he was destined to lose the team…this team.  Furthermore, you know other SEC schools would use this incident against him in recruiting.  He was doomed from the get go.

But the football team will get through regardless.  But it was more about the university’s integrity than that of the team and players.  Players are going to go to Arkansas regardless of whether or not Petrino is there.  Maybe Petrino would have been able to overcome the reputation hit, keep his players on task, and recruit well…again, had Arkansas retained him.  Hell, no one seemed to care about him walking out on the Atlanta Falcons!

BUT, regardless of how the team would have performed under a tainted Petrino, the university would have suffered.  And, college football would have suffered.  In both cases, the suffering would have come down because a decision to retain Petrino would have meant that football (and winning) mean more than integrity.  Retaining Petrino in light of what happened would have undermined university regulations and authority, thereby insinuating that it was okay to do whatever one wanted…so long as they win.  Hell, Petrino could have been raping hogs while pouring sugar in the governor’s gas tank as long as he was winning.

So, the university had no choice.  They had to fire Petrino.  And while we may pretend that this was a tough decision, in reality it was an easy decision because Arkansas had no choice!  Petrino brought this on himself not because of anything on the football field.  And really not because of his infidelity.  Again, I will use Long’s words (and i will piece parts of it together):

By itself, Coach Petrino’s consensual relationship with Ms. Dorrell prior to her joining the football staff was not against university policy. By itself, it’s a matter between individuals and their families. However, in this case, Coach Petrino abused his authority when, over the past few weeks, he made a staff decision, and personal choices that benefited himself and jeopardized the integrity of the football program. In short, Coach Petrino engaged in a pattern of misleading and manipulative behavior designed to deceive me, and members of the athletics staff, both before and after the motorcycle accident. He used the athletic department funds to hire, for his staff, a person with whom he had had an inappropriate relationship.  . . . Coach Petrino knowingly misled the athletics department and the university about the circumstances related to his accident. He had multiple opportunities over a four-day period to be forthcoming with me. He chose not to. He treated the news media and the general public in a similar manner (emphasis added).

It was not his coaching nor his actual relationship, but that he abused his authority and circumvented university policies, leading to the need for Petrino to misled Long.  It was a “conscious decision” to manipulate the facts not just of the accident — again, not the reason for his firing — but of the relationship with Jessica Dorrell and her hiring that led to Petrino’s dismissal.  After all, he hired Dorrell knowing that he had a relationship with her that apparently no one else knew was occurring.  Their relationship gave her “an unfair, and undisclosed, advantage” over the 159 applicants applying for that position.  And, apparently Petrino had given Dorrell $20,000…for what, I do not know.

[Side note: Some have tried to shelter Jessica Dorrell and make her out as a victim.  No, she is just as guilty with regards to the relationship as Petrino.  She maintained a relationship with him despite being engaged and allowed for that relationship to help her gain employment on his staff.  She is not absolved of anything here and is just as much of the problem as Petrino.]

It is not as though this is the first time that a university or a sports organization has made such a tough decision.  Remember that Mike Price was fired from the University of Alabama before he even coached a single football game because of a boozing and strip club incident in Pensacola, Florida.  Apparently, Price had already been warned about excessive drinking in Tuscaloosa, so that incident led to the quick release.

And, let’s not forget Larry Eustachy, who “resigned” (i.e. forced out) as men’s basketball coach at Iowa State after pictures surfaced of the Cyclones’ coach getting down at a party on the campus of Missouri!!!  This was following a game between Iowa State and Missouri, and it later came to light that he partied at a fraternity gathering at Kansas State following a game in Manhattan.  He was suspended with the recommendation of termination before Eustachy “resigned.”

So, the decision is not new ground.  But, it was the correct decision.  And, Petrino and Arkansas will be better off for it.  Price eventually landed at UTEP, while Eustachy restored the Southern Miss program before accepting the head coaching job at Colorado State.  So, it is likely that Petrino will land on his feet once again; he will be fine.

And the University of Arkansas will be fine.  It is sad that we have to applaud Arkansas for doing the right thing; it should be a non-issue.  But in this era of win-at-all-cost, the decision to cut ties with Petrino is held as an anomaly rather than what should be the norm.  Nevertheless, the football program will be fine, the university maintains its integrity and authority, and college football does not suffer another black eye for embracing the winning-trumps-all attitude.  So, big ups to Arkansas and athletic director Jeff Long.

Oh, and if Petrino is interested, I hear that the New Orleans Saints are looking for a temporary head coach.  After all, Petrino does have experience with short-term NFL gigs.

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