Arkansas assistant Paul Petrino in difficult situation
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) -- Arkansas offensive coordinator Paul Petrino knew the questions were coming. Still, the brother of former Razorbacks coach Bobby Petrino couldn't hide the passion behind his words.
Paul Petrino looked straight at his questioner, his voice clearly shaking, and spoke for the first time Friday since his brother's firing after revelations of an affair, withholding information and a $20,000 gift to his mistress for a car.
"I had no idea. I did not know anything about it," Petrino said. "Bobby's my brother. I love him. I will always love him. He made a mistake. He's paying deeply for it, and I'm putting all my focus right now into doing the very best I can in coaching (quarterback) Tyler Wilson, and coaching this whole football team and helping my family get through it, too."
Petrino seemed almost relieved while answering football-related questions following the Arkansas scrimmage. Coaching, he said, is the easy part.
It's life away from the field that's been difficult for Petrino since the April 5 revelation that his brother had an inappropriate relationship with 25-year-old football staffer Jessica Dorrell. Since then, more and more details of the lengthy affair have been made public via Bobby Petrino's text message history and athletic director Jeff Long's investigation.
Paul Petrino said the continuing revelations surrounding his brother have put himself and his family in difficult positions. Petrino came back to Arkansas from Illinois after last season, saying when he was hired in December that he wanted his children to go to the same high school all four years.
Now that goal is in jeopardy as Long searches for a new coach. He has asked the current staff to remain through at least of the end of spring practice.
Assistant head coach Taver Johnson, who has been in charge of the program since Bobby Petrino was first put on leave April 5, made it clear he and the rest of the coaching staff wants to remain intact moving forward.
"We all do," Johnson said. "I think our guys know that we're ready to get together like a fist and we're ready to get going."
Paul Petrino, meanwhile, is doing his best to balance his concern for his family's well-being with his concern for his brother, whom he talks with every day and said is "not doing great."
"It's hard. You know, it's hard," Petrino said. "And I'm proud of (his children). They went to school every day and they never missed a day of school. They had their heads up high. They carried their chest high and I'm proud of them. They've been really good."
Several Arkansas players also spoke Friday, and none of them professed any idea of Bobby Petrino's actions away from the field. They expressed their admiration, along with disappointment, for the only coach they've had for the last four seasons.
"Obviously it's been tough on everybody," Wilson said. "It's a unique situation. It's tough for everybody, but I think it's unique that our team has been very coherent through all of it."
Wilson has played his entire collegiate career under Petrino's offensive system, earning first-team All-Southeastern Conference honors last season in his first year as the starter. The Razorbacks have led the SEC in passing in each of the last three seasons and are 21-5 the last two seasons, finishing last season ranked No. 5.
That familiarity is the primary reason Wilson had a meeting with Long and expressed his preference to keep the current coaching staff intact through next season. He wouldn't, however, go as far as to endorse any assistant coach over another for the role of head coach.
Wilson also said he never considered trying to leave Arkansas for the NFL's supplemental draft, after bypassing the draft after last season for a chance to win both SEC and national championships.
"That's never been an option," Wilson said. "I think I decided to become a Razorback, again, and I want to continue to concrete my legacy here as a quarterback. So I'm a Razorback."
All of Arkansas' hopes for next season were put on hold following the April 1 motorcycle accident that put Petrino in the hospital. Four days later, a state police report revealed Dorrell was riding with Petrino during the accident -- a fact the coach had omitted while discussing the crash with the media and Long.
Arkansas running back Knile Davis admitted shock and hurt following the revelations about Petrino and his firing. He said he'd like to see running backs coach Tim Horton elevated to head coach, but his primary concern is keeping the same offensive system that's helped the Razorbacks become a national contender.
Davis said he's stayed off Twitter, Facebook and other social networking sites this week while the Petrino news has swirled. He even turned his cellphone off at one point to avoid any more questions.
"We've put a lot of hard work over these last four years to get where we're at," Davis said. "Just to see it go down the drain in 24 hours is just, you know, it hurts. But we can't do anything but move forward."