So long as your talent exceeds your problems, you’ll always be fine in America.
The latest example of this truism is Bobby Petrino, who, you might recall, 21 months ago was involved in a motorcycle accident with his mistress, a mid-20s blonde employee of the Arkansas football program. Petrino, who lost his job at Arkansas for employing his mistress and lying about the accident and the affair to his boss, spent the fall of 2012 out of coaching before he was hired by Western Kentucky in December of 2012.
This past season Petrino’s Hilltoppers went 8-4.
Thursday, Louisville officially announced that they rehired Petrino.
Petrino’s career arc — failure ending in firing, apologizing for said failure, period of isolation during which he had time to contemplate his own life’s errors (also known as rehab if you’re an entertainer), and subsequent rehabilitation at a lesser job before ascending to the same level he’d previously occupied — was swift.
It took 21 months for Petrino to go from social pariah to again becoming head coach at a major program.
Because Petrino’s a damn good football coach.
In other words, his talent exceeds his problems.
If you can consistently win football games today, you have a skill set that few can match. While it’s great to graduate players, be a nice guy on and off the field and keep your players out of jail, college football is really a zero-sum business — someone wins and someone else loses.
The more you win, the more you can get away with. The less you win? Well, you better update your resume in a hurry.
Name me the last big-time coach who kept his job for longer than four years for graduating all his players and keeping everyone from being arrested while simultaneously losing over half of his football games.
News flash: There isn’t one.
While we pay lip service to all these noble educational goals, the simple fact is winning is all that matters.
I love college football because it’s the most quintessentially American of all our major sports. There are lies and bravery, destructive capitalism — where else in America today can the people who earn all the money be injured forever while laboring to make others rich and receive nothing for it? — false morality, commitment, cheating, "student" athletes, not-for-profit colleges banking billions in profits. I mean, college football is like a 19th century Charles Dickens novel rolled onto a leafy college campus down the street from your home.
America, a nation founded on delicious and absurd hypocrisies, is most alive in college football today. Because, after all, there is no more hypocritical sport in America today than college football.
And the fans are the best of all, kings of moral equivalency and half-truths when it benefits their own team, but dogmatic critics when it comes to analyzing the actions of a hated rival. Most fans are so busy equivocating about their own teams that they will forgive any transgression from their school so long as it makes it more likely their team wins, all the while claiming an accusation about the team they dislike the most to be true.
Just win, baby. That’s the bottom line.
The first college coach whose slogan is, "Just read, baby," as he mentors his functionally illiterate players will be fired inside of a year.
Ain’t America grand!
Petrino’s return also reinforces a modern verity about our current society: If you’re talented, we forget (or forgive, if you want to be generous) pretty much any transgression.
You don’t have to be perfect in America today, you just need someone else to be dumber than you are when you’ve done something stupid.
And you need to be pretty good at what you do, too.
Because if you suck at what you do, you’re expendable. That’s pretty much been the case for most of human history. Evolution, and all.
Which brings us back to Bobby Petrino, who is now the head coach of a major football program again, and is really good at that profession.
Now will come the slings and arrows of derision, the acid opinions will rain forth, and, ultimately, subside, no more lasting or impactful than a slight breeze on a spring day.
Petrino — guilty of having relations with the wrong person, and of being too obvious in his attempts to climb as high as he could in our winner-take-all society (naked ambition, even while practiced by the vast majority of the most successful people in America, is a bad look) — will win lots of games at Louisville. In response, the moralists will fume, the relativists will shrug shoulders, and a program like Kentucky, the school that hired the only man to be stripped of two Final Four banners, will puff its metaphorical chest indignantly and mutter a banal aphorism that involves the use of the word "class." (College football fans are obsessed with the word. Do a Twitter search some time with whatever the news of the day is and the word class included. It’s like a new episode of "Downton Abbey" each time).
"How dare they try to win football games in this fashion!" fans will shriek. "It’s so classless!"
Until, you guessed it, somebody else does something "less classy."
And the college football morality police will snag the newest transgressor.
"How dare he!"
Rinse and repeat.
Such is life in the most hypocritical sport in America.
Thank God that humor exists in college football. If it didn’t, we’d all go insane.