Bobby Petrino has been placed on administrative leave. Ordinarily this is a prelude to getting fired, but Bobby Petrino coaches football in the SEC. And we’re about to see if Arkansas places a higher premium on winning football games — which Petrino has — than on cornball stuff like family values.
Speaking of which: Bobby Petrino first said he’d spent Sunday with his family at a lake before hopping on his motorcycle. If he had, he wouldn’t be on administrative leave.
Turns out Petrino hadn’t been riding alone. Turns out, via the police report, that Petrino had been accompanied by a 25-year-old woman whom he’d just hired as the football team’s “student-athlete development coordinator.” (Memo to would-be cover-uppers: Police reports are pesky things.) Turns out Petrino lied in his first public statements, same as he’d lied to Arthur Blank when he told the Falcons’ owner, “You’ve got yourself a coach” — 27 hours before surfacing in Fayetteville, Ark.
Petrino has since acknowledged an “inappropriate relationship.” Though he, oddly, described it as “previous.” Does that mean it has ended? That true romance took a hike the instant he lost control of the bike? Ah, the vagaries of the human heart.
Of greater concern to athletic director Jeff Long is surely this: Did the coach hire the 25-year-old Jessica Dorrell — a press release was issued just last week — only because of her expertise in “student-athlete development”? (She’d previously been an Arkansas volleyball player and a fundraiser for the Razorback Foundation.) In announcing her appointment, Petrino is quoted as saying: “[Dorrell] is familiar with what the University of Arkansas can offer.”
(In other news, Dorrell reportedly is engaged to the director of operations for the Arkansas swimming and diving team. The wedding date is set for June 9.)
Long moved to put Petrino on leave Thursday night, only hours after the police report was made public and the coach finally came clean to his boss. But there is, in athletic departments housing a major football program, a sort of reverse pecking order: The AD is technically in charge, but the football coach is the bigger deal.
Of all people, Long shouldn’t have been blindsided by such duplicity. He handled the search that resulted in Petrino standing in Fayetteville calling the Hogs on a Tuesday night after coaching the Falcons on a Monday. Rumors of Petrino’s departure had been swirling before the game, prompting Blank to confront Petrino, who offered his handshake assurance he’d be staying. This prompted Blank to tell newsmen he looked forward to the Falcons moving boldly forward under “CEO Bobby Petrino.”
The next day: See ya later, CEO.
The same Petrino infamously interviewed for an Auburn job that wasn’t open in November 2003. He denied any contact with Auburn officials until reporters from the Courier-Journal offered documentation of a private plane registered to the Montgomery bank controlled by the toxic Tigers booster Bobby Lowder landing in Sellersburg, Ind., which sits across the Ohio River from Louisville, where Petrino was then coaching. The backlash was such that Auburn’s president and AD wound up resigning.
But Petrino? He kept coaching the Cardinals, leading them to an 11-1 season in 2004 and an Orange Bowl victory in 2006. He’d signed a 10-year contract to remain at Louisville despite many more flirtations with other schools/teams. Then, in January 2007, he left to coach the Falcons. That lasted 13 games, 10 of them losses. (The Falcons were without Michael Vick.) Then he split for the Ozarks.
In sum: Petrino has long been a selfish jerk, but people keep hiring him because he wins. When it comes to coaches, administrators tend to develop cognitive dissonance: “He’s a jerk, but he’s a winning jerk.”
Long has pledged to conduct a review, but let’s note again: This AD hired Petrino, baggage and all, and has seen him win 21 games over the past two seasons. We’re about to see if Petrino, his belatedly admitted indiscretion aside, can deploy his won-lost record as the ultimate defense. We’re about to see if a bad guy gets to keep his job just because he’s a good coach.
By Mark Bradley