The Harley Ride to the Unemployment Line
This time of year is college football's equivalent of the "hot stove" league. The season is three months into the record books, and National Signing Day is but a memory, and the coaching carousel has stopped spinning, at least until a certain head coach decided to go for a motorcycle ride on a Sunday morning.
We refer, of course, to Bobby Petrino, the now-former coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks. Petrino, who led the Hawgs to the best season in decades last year, is now out of a job, after a Harley crash involving his 25-year-old mistress, a pack of lies, and finally, his termination in Fayetteville.
More from ESPN.com:
Arkansas fired coach Bobby Petrino on Tuesday, saying he engaged in reckless behavior that "He made the decision to mislead the public, (and it) adversely affected the university and the football program," athletic director Jeff Long said at an evening news conference, choking up at one point as he discussed telling players the news. There was a "pattern of misleading and manipulative behavior to deceive me."
It was a stunning fall for Petrino, who had built Arkansas into a Southeastern Conference and national power over four seasons, including a 21-5 record the past two years. But Long made it clear that the success on the field was overshadowed by a laundry list of deceptive acts.
The 51-year-old Petrino was injured in an April 1 motorcycle accident. He was put on paid leave last week after admitting he lied about the presence of the 25-year-old employee, Jessica Dorrell, who had been riding with him.
Long said his investigation, which took less than a week, found that Petrino had even given Dorrell $20,000 at one point, though he wouldn't disclose what it was for. He also said Petrino was fired "with cause" -- meaning he will not receive a multimillion-dollar buyout -- and there were no discussions about ways to keep Petrino at Arkansas included hiring his mistress and then intentionally misleading his bosses about everything from their relationship to her presence at the motorcycle accident that ultimately cost him his job.
It was, in some respects, a stunning decision. With today's "win-at-all-costs" mentality in college football, administrators often look for ways to retain a winning coach, even when it becomes apparent they must go. It took quite a bit of damning evidence to convice Ohio State that Jim Tressel had to go (amid the memorabilia scandal), and many at Penn State still wanted to retain Joe Paterno, even after it was revealed that the legendary coach did almost nothing to stop the serial molestation and rape of young boys by his former assistant, Jerry Sandusky.
Some would say Petrino's sins paled by comparison. In fact, some of his supporters offered a variation of the "Clinton Defense," saying what the coach did in his private life was no one's business.
But that excuse only goes so far. For starters, a portion of Petrino's salary comes from the taxpayers of Arkansas, making him the state's highest-paid employee. Additionally, the coaches' contract with the university clearly contained a "morals clause," allowing him to be fired for violating standards of personal conduct. We're guessing that having an extra-marital affair--and putting the mistress on the football staff--was more than enough for a termination under under the morals clause.
Yet, Petrino added insult to career injury by lying about the whole sordid episode. ESPN recounts the details:
"What the married father of four failed to mention, both at a news conference and to Long, was the presence of a Dorrell, a former Arkansas volleyball player and Razorback Foundation fundraiser who Petrino had hired to a football-department position just days before the accident.
That revelation was made public when the state police released the accident report. Petrino informed Long of Dorrell's presence 20 minutes before the police released the report to the public, also admitting to what he called a previous inappropriate relationship with Dorrell. Long placed Petrino on paid leave later that night, saying he was disappointed in Petrino and promising to review the coach's conduct. He said his review found that the relationship between the two had lasted a "significant" amount of time.
As the review continued, the state police released the audio of the 911 call reporting Petrino's accident. It revealed Petrino didn't want to call police following the crash, and a subsequent police report showed he asked police if he was required to give the name of the passenger during the accident.
Petrino was forthcoming about Dorrell's name and presence with police, but only after misleading both Long and the public during his news conference. That led to the school releasing a statement from Petrino's family the day after the accident that said "no other individuals" were involved.
Sadly, Petrino's behavior was utterly predictable. As sports columnist Pat Forde observed a few days ago, the former Razorback coach has made a career of lying:
In November 2003, during Petrino’s first season as a coach at Louisville, he engaged in a brazen double-cross withAuburn. Petrino met across the Ohio River from Louisville, in southern Indiana, with a number of Auburn officials to discuss the Tigers’ coaching job. Problem was, neither the Tigers nor the Cardinals had finished their seasons. This was two days before Auburn would beat Alabama in the Iron Bowl.
Petrino undercut his former boss, Tommy Tuberville, under whom he was offensive coordinator at Auburn. He also undercut his boss at the time, Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich, who gave him his first head-coaching job.
Petrino lied about having any contact with Auburn officials until two reporters for The (Louisville) Courier-Journal confronted him with documentation of the private plane that brought the university president and athletic director to Sellersburg, Ind. I was one of the two reporters. Petrino still resisted telling the truth until Auburn issued a statement owning up to the whole affair.
The next season, Petrino showed how chastened he was by that PR disaster by quietly interviewing at the same Sellersburg airport with Notre Dame officials. He also had discussions with Florida and Mississippi about their jobs.
Then, on Dec. 7, 2004, he pledged his loyalty to Louisville through a flowery statement. Two weeks later, he signed a contract extension to stay with the Cardinals. Five days after that, he surreptitiously interviewed withLSU. And another week after that, when it was apparent LSU was going to hire Les Miles, Petrino publicly pulled out of consideration for the job.
In 2005, a guy who told everyone he had no interest in coaching the pros interviewed with the Oakland Raiders. He ultimately turned down the job and expelled a bunch of hot air about his commitment to Louisville."
Eventually, Petrino took a job in the pros, as head coach of the Atlanta Falcons. But he quit after only 13 games, and took the job at Arkansas. Falcons' owner Arthur Blank, the co-founder of Home Depot, reportedly describes Petrino to be a man of "no integrity."
So, is it any wonder that when Petrino's little web of infidelity and deceit ran into the ditch, quite literally, he resorted to a familiar pattern?
Kudos to Mr. Long (and the rest of the university administration) for making the right call. Character and integrity ought to count for something in college athletics, particularly from individuals who are charged with leading major sports programs and mentoring the young men and women who play for them.
The Hawgs may lose a few more games this fall, but the football program is better off without Petrino. And don't feel too sorry for Bobby P. After Mrs. Petrino is finished with the ex-coach, he'll wind up on the sidelines again, working for someone who's a little less picky about his personal conduct, and his penchant for tellling lies.
ADDENDUM: KATV in Little Rock reported that one of Petrino's sons tweeted "sooo pissed" around the time his father was fired. At whom, we wonder? At U of A administrators, or his father? If it was the former, we'd say the apple doesn't fall very far from the tree. If it was the latter, he has every right to be.