Saying he was disappointed Bobby Petrino failed to tell school officials that he was riding with a 25-year-old woman when he crashed his motorcycle, Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long placed the football coach on paid leave pending a review.
”I don’t know what I’m going to find,” Long said at a news conference Thursday night, hours after a state police report revealed that the married, 51-year-old was riding Sunday with Jessica Dorrell, a former Arkansas volleyball player who now works for the football program.
”I am disappointed that coach Petrino did not share with me, when he had the opportunity to, the full extent of the accident and who was involved,” Long said.
Petrino broke four ribs and cracked a neck vertebra in the crash, which he blamed on the wind and having the sun in his eyes. He was forthcoming with police, but failed to tell school administrators – or reporters at a news conference on Tuesday – about his passenger.
”My concern was to protect my family and a previous inappropriate relationship from becoming public,” Petrino said in a statement released by the school. ”In hindsight, I showed a serious mistake in judgment when I chose not to be more specific about those details.”
Through his agent, Petrino declined further comment Friday.
Long set no timetable for his investigation, which could conclude with penalties including suspension or firing for the highly successful coach.
”I hope to have a resolution soon,” Long said. ”I certainly don’t have all the answers here tonight, as we meet. But again, I have an obligation and responsibility to obtain the information and then act appropriately on that information.”
The emerging scandal also could deal a severe blow to the Razorbacks on the field, who Petrino has coached to appearances in the Sugar Bowl (a loss to Ohio State) and the Cotton Bowl (a win over Kansas State) in the last two seasons.
Arkansas, which had spring practice scheduled Friday afternoon, is led by a pair of Heisman Trophy hopefuls in quarterback Tyler Wilson and running back Knile Davis.
”I will fully cooperate with the university throughout this process and my hope is to repair my relationships with my family, my athletic director, the Razorback Nation and remain the head coach of the Razorbacks,” Petrino said.
Petrino just completed his fourth season with the Razorbacks, who have developed into a national contender since he was hired away from the Atalanta Falcons during the 2007 season. He’s 34-17 at the school, 21-5 over the last two years, and the Hogs finished last season ranked No. 5 after losing only to national champion Alabama and runner-up LSU.
He’s in the midst of a seven-year contract under which his salary averages $3.53 million.
The coach has been criticized in the past for job hopping – first from Louisville to the Falcons, then for the in-season jump to Arkansas. He infamously met with Auburn officials in 2003 to talk about taking the Tigers’ head coaching job while Tommy Tuberville still had it.
But Petrino was greeted as a savior by Arkansas fans, and had given them no reason not to trust him.
Long said he didn’t hear about Dorrell being on the motorcycle until Petrino called him Thursday afternoon, minutes before a police report was released disclosing it. Dorrell, who did not return calls and messages from The Associated Press, does not appear to have been injured in the crash.
Dorrell was hired March 28 by Petrino as the student-athlete development coordinator after serving as a fundraiser with the Razorback Foundation. She is in charge of organizing the recruiting process for the football team, including initial eligibility for each incoming player.
Long said he had not decided whether to suspend Dorrell.
Petrino, who is married with four children, didn’t mention he had a passenger during a news conference two days after Sunday’s accident, and a school statement that day quoted Petrino’s family as saying ”no other individuals” were involved. Petrino said then that he had spent Sunday with his wife, Becky, at a lake and was going for an evening ride. His only mention of Dorrell was vague, and without identification.
”When I came out of the ditch, there was a lady there that had flagged down a car,” Petrino said Tuesday. ”The guy that was in the passenger’s seat said, `Get in, we’ll just take you right to the hospital instead of waiting,’ and so I got in the car and they headed toward Fayetteville.”
In Thursday’s statement, Petrino apologized and acknowledged that he had kept quiet about Dorrell.
”I have been in constant pain, medicated and the circumstances involving the wreck have come out in bits and pieces. That said, I certainly had a concern about Jessica Dorrell’s name being revealed,” he said.
”Today, I’ve acknowledged this previous inappropriate relationship with my family and those within the athletic department administration.”
The police report said Petrino was riding with Dorrell when he lost control of his motorcycle. Dorrell said in the report that she wasn’t sure what caused the accident, during which Petrino was unable to maneuver a turn and laid the motorcycle down on its left side while sliding off a rural, two-lane road about 20 miles southeast of Fayetteville.
Petrino said in the report that wind and sun caused the accident. The police report said Petrino and Dorrell were taken by a passer-by to an intersection in southeast Fayetteville, where a state police officer took Petrino to the hospital.
The police report said Dorrell wasn’t taken to a hospital, and that she was dropped off at her vehicle, which was parked at the intersection. State police spokesman Bill Sadler said Petrino didn’t try to hide Dorrell’s part in the accident when questioned.
”Coach Petrino was as cooperative as anybody that we could ever hope to encounter following the traffic crash,” Sadler said.
Petrino, who wasn’t wearing a helmet, was hospitalized but had since returned to practice.
Assistant head coach and linebackers coach Taver Johnson has been put in charge of the program in Petrino’s absence. The former Ohio State assistant coach was hired in January.