The morality of the situation aside, unless there’s some other aspect to the story that’s about to blow up, really, what did Bobby Petrino actually do that could cost him his job?
To be totally honest, after all the horrors of last year, as long as a college football controversy doesn’t involve the alleged sexual assault of children, I’m good. But beyond that, as long as the University of Arkansas and athletic director Jeff Long conduct a thorough investigation and aren’t kowtowing to the element that cares only about a winning football team, this should be a matter between Petrino, his family, Jessica Dorrell and her friends and family.
Compared to recent college sports scandals, what Petrino did is a Petrino problem. While he represents the University of Arkansas, most of the parts of the story don’t and shouldn’t affect the school and are of a more personal nature than on a football coach level.
• The police haven’t charged him with any sort of a crime, and he’s currently not in any legal trouble. That matters.
As the Penn State scandal has taught us all too painfully, anything that comes from law enforcement agencies in college towns has to be taken with 10 grains of salt. However, according to the report and the police spokesman, Petrino was cooperative and won’t be cited for any wrongdoing. No one died, and Petrino seems to be the only one who suffered any major injuries.
• He crashed his motorcycle while riding with Dorrell, a woman who’s not his wife. A coach shouldn’t get fired for that.
I don’t agree with what he did, and I’ll quickly change my tune if and when more things start to unravel — and more facts always seem to come out in cases like this — but I have a really, really difficult time being too hard on anyone with a family for not wanting to tell the world about what happened.
Morality aside, this might make him a bad guy, but it doesn’t mean that what happened “adversely affects the reputation of the (university’s) athletics programs.”
Arkansas shouldn’t be embarrassed; Petrino should, and that’s the big difference.
• Dorrell is a paid employee by the university and was hired by Petrino. This is the one part of the story that has the potential to lead to Petrino’s downfall. Though we don’t know the exact nature of the head football coach’s relationship with this subordinate, it certainly could leave the university vulnerable to a lawsuit.
“My concern was to protect my family and a previous inappropriate relationship from becoming public,” Petrino said, without explaining the "previous inappropriate relationship."
“In hindsight, I showed a serious mistake in judgment when I chose not to be more specific about those details. . . . I’ve acknowledged this previous inappropriate relationship with my family and those within the athletic department administration.”
That being said, coaches hiring friends, relatives and, ahem, acquaintances, as paid employees of a school is part of the deal, and it happens everywhere. Whether it’s hiring a brother as a defensive coordinator, or bringing in an assistant who has a pipeline to a fertile recruiting area, or bringing over a secretary from a past job, coaches give gigs to people they know for a variety of reasons.
Even so, this is going to be a major sticking point for Petrino and it’ll end up being the part of the story that has the most legs.
• Dorrell is reportedly engaged to an Arkansas swimming and diving coach. That doesn’t matter. It might be a sad and unfortunate aspect to the story, but her relationships are immaterial to Petrino’s job status.
• Petrino lied to Long about Dorrell, or anyone, being on the bike. The administration will cool off and will eventually get over this. Long had to show that the university is running the football program, and not vice versa, as it seemed during the Ohio State scandal last summer. So far he’s doing just that.
Long acted swiftly and decisively to put Petrino on a paid administrative leave, but that’s just a cover-the-bases move in the heat of the moment. Long is rightfully acknowledging this is bad, and he’s taking the first step in case he must make a bigger move upon further investigation. He’s buying himself time, and in the post-Penn State world, athletic administrators are going to do everything by the book, as they should.
Not telling Long about Dorrell right away wasn’t exactly bright, and after Penn State and Ohio State there can’t be any more secrets hidden from the higher-ups. But Petrino isn’t in trouble — for the moment — because of anything other than having a woman who wasn’t his wife on his bike. So Petrino didn’t tell Long everything and wasn’t exactly truthful with the media. Welcome to the world of football coaches and college athletics.
Part of the job of a head coach at a major college football or basketball program is to keep the skeletons all tucked away. Some have to do that more than others, but not telling superiors everything is par for the course. No, the ADs don’t want to know how things get done. Once they do, they have to act and then they look like the bad guy.
Petrino is the head man of an SEC football program that’s good enough to be in the hunt for the national title — you don’t get to that level without knowing how to sidestep a few hundred landmines — but outside of poor judgment and making the boss mad, has he embarrassed the university enough to get fired?
• There’s a clause in Petrino’s contract that says he can be canned for ”engaging in conduct, as solely determined by the university, which is clearly contrary to the character and responsibilities of a person occupying the position of head football coach or which negatively or adversely affects the reputation of the (university’s) athletics programs in any way.”
Above all else, this is the only part that truly matters.
Beyond your own sense of right and wrong, if you want to argue that Petrino should be fired because these actions shouldn’t be acceptable at an institution of higher learning, you’re probably in the right.
Top football and basketball coaches are the main representatives of their schools, and for good and bad, they are who the outside world sees. No one knows who the top history professor at the University of Arkansas is, but sports fans know Petrino. After this incident, your mom will, too, and it’s just that sort of negative publicity that’s the issue for Petrino’s job status.
With the facts as presented at the moment, and with the football season still five months away, the best guess is that Petrino gets suspended and loses a significant chunk of his salary for this season. He might be suspended for two games — you could coach this Hog team to wins over Jacksonville State and Louisiana Monroe — but there’s no way, no how, no chance that he isn’t on the sideline when Alabama comes to town Sept. 15.
However, that’ll be it. There won’t be any second chances from here on out, and it’ll be a part of his legacy for a some time. Buf if he leads Arkansas to another huge season, this will all be forgotten very, very quickly.