On Tuesday, the University of Arkansas fired head coach Bobby Petrino, with athletic director Jeff Long explaining that the coach was fired with cause, in part because he engaged in "a pattern of misleading and manipulative behavior."
That behavior included giving his apparent mistress a $20,000 “gift” and hiring her to the Razorback staff outside of normal university hiring procedures. Long held back tears in his evening press conference, saying that “No single individual is bigger than the team, the Razorback football program, or the University of Arkansas."
Long also said Petrino had "multiple opportunities over a four-day period to be forthcoming, and he chose not to."
Give Long a little credit here—Petrino’s run of success had brought tens of millions into the program and made his job as an AD a lot easier. But at the end of the day, Long weighed the deceitfulness against the success and found the former outweighed the latter.
He had to know that this day was coming. No one plays with fire and escapes being burned. When you dance with the devil—and Long certainly did—the price you eventually pay is always steep. Petrino leaves Arkansas much the same way he arrived. He came in under a cloud of controversy and he leaves under one.
Petrino’s actions left Long little room but he does bear some of the blame for creating the environment that let the coach do whatever the hell he wanted. How do you hire a thief and not put controls in place to keep the thief from stealing you blind? How do you not know what he’s doing?
While a lot of people will point to the philandering and lying as the firing pins for the explosion, the real reason why Petrino was canned was the fact that Arkansas had no legal basis for keeping him. Not after the revelation that he hired his mistress over hundreds of other presumably well-qualified candidates for the position of Student Athlete Development Coordinator. Not after the revelation that this wasn’t a one-night stand but a ongoing “inappropriate relationship.” Not after the discovery of a $20,000 gift also made outside of university protocol. The entire web of deceit created such a conflict of interest environment that it put the university at risk.
Petrino’s actions opened the university up to so many different avenues of litigation that there was simply no way to close all of them,protect the institution from financially, politically and publicly damaging litigation and keep the sociopathic offensive genius as the coach.
Petrino thought—like many powerful men do—that he was above reproach. He threw away all of that power, all of that money and all of that opportunity for greatness. He threw it all away for one pretty piece of ass, and he threw it all away long before he laid that Harley down on a lonely, Arkansas country road.
Arkansas and Bobby Petrino are both spinning through the air this week. My bet is that the Razorbacks land on their feet first. Petrino will get another coaching job. He’s a coin-flip’s chance of having really learned from this experience, but somebody desperate for that shot of adrenaline will hire him and take the risk.
The Razorbacks are a well stocked football team. The assistant coaches are top notch and there’s a lot of potential for success going forward, even for the 2012 squad. Whoever steps in—be it an interim named from existing staff or an outsider—walks into a program that’s set to win.
Arkansas football really is a better program than the one Petrino found. Whether it can maintain that success is in serious doubt. They face the same dilemma Alabama found itself in in Spring 2003, when Mike Price was fired for his own set of thinking dominated by the little head. At the time, Alabama was in the depth of NCAA sanctions and there weren’t really many good coaching candidates willing to take on that project after signing day and spring training.
Razorback fans can only hope that the program doesn’t dance with another devil.