Will Arkansas Fire Bobby Petrino?

Will Arkansas Fire Bobby Petrino?

Published Apr. 6, 2012 1:00 a.m. ET

 Let's be clear, Arkansas AD Jeff Long has a tough call to make on whether or not to fire Bobby Petrino.

And let's go ahead and dismiss with the affair arguments.

The affair isn't the issue. That isn't a fireable offense. 

It's hiring his mistress as a subordinate last week and then lying about her involvement in the motorcycle accident up until this afternoon when the accident report became public that is clearly fireable.


How many people in any job in America would stay employed if this happened at public or private places of work?

Five percent?

Is that too high?

Maybe one percent

Maybe nobody. 

The only reason Petrino still has his job at all is because he's a really damn good football coach, the second best coach in the highly competitive SEC. 

The vast majority of SEC coaches would be fired for this. 

But what will happen with Petrino, let's dive in with seven pertinent questions:

1. Has Petrino admitted that Jessica Dorrell was his mistress?


How do we know this? Because Petrino is already playing Clintonian legal games with his language. 

Let's parse this language from tonight's statement:

"That said I certainly had a concern about Jessica Dorrell's name being revealed. In my press conference, I referred to her simply as "a lady." My concern was to protect my family and a previous inappropriate relationship from becoming public."

Okay, the only "previous inappropriate relationship" that can become public is the one with Dorrell. So Petrino is acknowledging an affair without actually acknowledging an affair. What's more he's trying to make that affair " a previous inappropriate relationship."

But this is just wordplay. 

If you break up with your significant other ten minutes ago you can also refer to it as a "previous relationship."

Petrino might well have ended the affair after his motorcycle accident, but that "previous inappropriate relationship" was still taking place Sunday when the duo wrecked. 

Why does this matter?

Because Petrino just promoted his mistress and made her his subordinate on March 28th. 

Yeah, that's last week. 

So Petrino hired and promoted his mistress to make her his subordinate. 

Good Lord. 

2. Does hiring your mistress violate Arkansas state law?

Keep in mind that Petrino is a state employee because Arkansas is a public university. 

I'm far from an expert in Arkansas employment law, but thirty minutes of statute reading suggets that because Dorrell is not related to Petrino, this might not violate nepotism laws in the state. 

But that's a quick reading based on nepotism search terms. 

Are there specific state laws that aren't nepotism related that make it criminal for state employees to reward subordinates promotions based on sexual relationships?

That seems pretty damn likely and I'll wait for others to review those statues and analyze them. 

Now, is an Arkansas prosecutor going to levy those charges on a popular football coach?

That's a hell of a question too. 

3. Here's an even more interesting question, does promoting your mistress violate the University of Arkansas employment handbook?

My guess is this is even more likely than a state statute violation which I think is also likely.

Universities are terrified of inappropriate sexual relationships between superior and junior employees or students. The University of Arkansas employment handbook is likely to be much more stringent on these matters than state law.

Why does this matter?

Because Petrino is an employee of the University of Arkansas too.

If the chemistry professor or university president would be fired for promoting his mistress, how can Petrino dodge the ax too? 

4. Can Arkansas fire Petrino for cause regardless of whether his actions violate state statute or university policy?


Petrino's letter of employment is public. It's not the official contract but it acts as a rough template of what the contractual language will reveal. 

On page 7 of the letter, Arkansas lays out the termination for cause element of the contract. The language is broad. In particular Arkansas may terminate for cause when Petrino "engag(es) 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 or UAF's athletics program in any way."

Clearly, Petrino's actions meet this standard given the broad latitude which the university is given. 

Why does for cause matter?

Because it means that Arkansas wouldn't owe Petrino another penny if it fired him tomorrow. (The reality is the school would probably pay him a couple of million dollars to forestall any future law suit, but the school could cut him loose owing nothing).

5. Isn't this like Rick Pitino? Won't Petrino survive just like Pitino did?

Plese stop with these analogies. 

These situations aren't the same at all. 

Pitino didn't hire his mistress or lie about her to his superiors. 

Other than being successful coaches who had messy affairs these aren't similar cases at all. 

One, Petrino's, goes to the very heart of his job status, the other, Pitino's, doesn't at all. 

6. Could SEC Commissioner Mike Slive act to punish Petrino?


I've asked the SEC for comment and so far they are silent, but Slive has previously stated that he won't act until the "established facts" are in order. 

Here, Petrino is admitting to the facts so there is no dispute of facts. 

Keep in mind that Slive suspended Bruce Pearl long before the NCAA acted because there was no dispute of facts either. 

Here the same is true. 

Given that Petrino is admitting he promoted his mistress and that he lied to his boss, I believe it's likely Slive will suspend Petrino for at least part of the SEC season even if Arkansas doesn't act. 

Could I be wrong about this?


But I believe Slive will send the message that lying to your boss is a lie to the SEC as well.

Don't get hung up on the NCAA issue, Petrino violated an ethical obligation to the SEC to be honest and truthful.  

7. Will Petrino survive as Arkansas coach?

I think AD Jeff Long wants Petrino to survive so my tentative guess is yes, he will, but with a substantial suspension from the league which Arkansas will agree to as way to pay penance and satisfy the substantial public outrage.

The strongest stance here would be to fire him.

Arkansas had the opportunity to do that already.

Despite what AD Long says there really aren't any facts to research.  Petrino has admitted to wrongdoing. Unless Long's investigation will seek to uncover whether Petrino has other ongoing affairs that have led to promotions or occurred inside the athletic department, there is nothing else to uncover. 

Plus, do you really think this affair was a secret?

Petrino is riding around on a motorcycle without a helmet with a blonde who isn't his wife holding on to his chest in the middle of the afternoon. 

It's not like this relationship was discreet. 

What Long may well end up doing is trying to cover his own ass when people start to ask questions about how he allowed her to be promoted underneath Petrino.

So I think Petrino will survive because he wins and because his AD wants him to survive. But I think the SEC will suspend him for at least half the season, potentially more. 

Whether Petrino deserves to keep his job is another question entirely.

And that answer is simple.

No, he doesn't.  



All of this is pretty serious. 

If you just want to laugh about the absurdity of the Petrino situation, please read this. It's much more fun.