Petrino's ego his ultimate downfall
My colleague Jason Whitlock would say Pussy Galore nabbed another victim Tuesday when Bobby Petrino was fired as Arkansas’ head football coach after trying to cover up a relationship with a 25-year-old employee.
I’d add onto the list, right there along with Ms. Galore, another key factor that often lingers in the background of big-time athletics and the big-time men who make big-time money because of them: unrestrained hubris.
Petrino is by all accounts a very formidable football coach. In four years at Arkansas, he led the Razorbacks to a 34-17 record, including an 11-2 mark last season in which they finished as the No. 5 team in the country. Petrino and his program were speeding toward a very rosy future.
Then, southeast of Fayetteville on April 1, a motorcycle carrying the coach, a young woman and his mammoth ego crashed.
It sure sounds like Ms. Galore made sure Petrino, a husband and father of four, climbed onto that bike with Jessica Dorrell, a former Arkansas volleyball player and current Arkansas football employee. But it was hubris that led to the subsequent cover-up when the bike crashed and Petrino’s carefully constructed world began to come crashing down.
This is a guy who thought he could get away with a helluva lot. He had in Dorrell what he later admitted was someone with whom he’d had an inappropriate relationship.
Still, this is sports, where men cheat rampantly. The cheating didn’t get him fired. Lying repeatedly to his athletic director — and the gall and disrespect it took to do so — did.
Petrino didn’t study his history closely enough. It’s always the cover-up that gets you, not the infidelity or the initial crime. It’s the ego in the man that says, “I’m above the consequences,” that unearths so many more you can no longer hide from them.
After the crash, Petrino tried to call a state trooper buddy. He hid the fact he’d been riding with Dorrell not just from his wife but from his boss and his school, and as the lies piled up, it became a matter of time before it would not just topple around him but bring with it more things best left in the dark. Turned out Petrino had also hired Dorrell for a job without disclosing his relationship with her, and he’d given her $20,000 cash. Oops.
A guy who’d lied before and been rewarded — a guy whose ego had told him he could get away with anything — thought he could get away with this, too. Turns out he couldn’t. What a shock it must have been to carry yourself one way for so long and finally get called on it.
“He made a conscious decision to speak and mislead the public on Tuesday,” Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long said Tuesday night in announcing he’d fired Petrino for cause. “In doing so, he negatively and adversely affected the reputation of the University of Arkansas and our football program.”
Long found himself at the news conference having to pause as he fought back tears. He looked every bit the scorned spouse — shocked by the betrayal, livid he’d been forced into this decision and ultimately ending the relationship he himself had initiated.
“People’s lives are affected,” Long said. “Coaches, the players, the staff. Student-athletes. Those are the things we sometimes miss.”
Someone asked another question, and Long again sounded like a betrayed partner.
“Do I regret hiring him?” he asked. “That’s a difficult question. If he hadn’t been involved in this inappropriate behavior I wouldn’t regret hiring him.”
I felt bad for Long and for Arkansas fans everywhere, but the fact is if you hire an egomaniac with a history of bad behavior this is what you’re likely to get, just as surely if you marry a cheater you’re likely to wake up one day and find your marriage in shambles.
Petrino once looked another athletic director in the eye and straight-out lied about whether he’d been talking with another school. Petrino was the head coach of the NFL's Atlanta Falcons who arrived at Arkansas after quitting that job at midseason with a note. This was a man guided by his own sense of entitlement and the whims of his wants, not loyalty or a sense of commitment.
Pussy Galore put him on that bike with Dorrell. Ego made him think he could get away with it once the joy ride turned into a painful crash.
There is a plague of this hubris-fueled worldview in big-time sports. In college football, celebrated college coaches often work in small towns that add to the sense they’re the most important men in the world — guys like Jim Tressel who thought he was above the rules at Ohio State.
The list of those in sports whose egos often get in the way of their God-given talent is long and diverse: Ozzie Guillen, Sean Payton, Dwight Howard, Terrell Owens, on and on it goes. These men need confidence to be great, but no one — including themselves — does any favors shielding them from reality.
Hubris runs rampant in sports, and it ran strong and true enough in Petrino that it finally helped oust him from a job. The inappropriate relationship, the lie, hiring her, how he left his last previous job and how he conducted himself in the one at Arkansas — at every step the arrogance was outpacing the talent. It cost him.
Petrino wasn’t fired because he had an inappropriate relationship with a young woman. He was fired because he had an inappropriate understanding of just how important he actually is compared to things that really matter.
You can follow Bill Reiter on Twitter or email him at email@example.com.