Friday, April 6, 2012

Arkansas can keep Bobby Petrino

image Welcome to the United States of America, the land of opportunity and second chances.

As we all are well aware, Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino made a series of horrible choices in the weeks (or months) leading up to his fateful motorcycle crash last Sunday evening. He compounded his mistakes by making another set of poor decisions in the aftermath.

Petrino created a job for a knockout 25-year old former Arkansas volleyball player, with whom he was engaged in an “inappropriate relationship.” That young lady was on the back of the motorcycle that Petrino crashed on a lonely country road in Arkansas. In the fog of war and confusion immediately afterwards, Petrino sought to conceal the fact that his honey pot was involved in the accident, even allowing his boss to issue a public statement to the effect that no one else was involved in the crash.

Yesterday’s publication of the official accident report threw everything into the light of day and the folly of Petrino’s choices was laid bare. Petrino was not only dipping his tater tot in the wrong bucket of sauce, he was trying to cover it up.

Looking at things from all sides here: Could the effects of injuries—including pain, shock, fear and even medication—have clouded Petrino’s judgment in the hours after the crash Sunday night? Who can say exactly how they would react in that situation? This is not excuse-making. It’s allowing for mitigating factors that could have led to the man making poor decisions. The crisis was of his own making, but fairness dictates we evaluate mitigating and aggravating factors in weighing the severity of infractions.

Such infractions deserve punishment. In 2003, Alabama President Robert Witt fired new coach Mike Price for somewhat similar indiscretions involving strippers during a golf weekend in northwest Florida. Just a few years before, then Alabama head coach Mike Dubose admitted to an “inappropriate relationship” with a member of the administrative staff. Dubose kept his job and went on to win the 1999 SEC Championship before being dumped in 2000. Alabama docked Dubose two years’ pay and shortened his contract as punishment.

These two incidents provide Arkansas athletic director with all the precedent he needs to either keep Petrino on board, or fire him for what is clearly a terminal offense.

However, this is the land of second chances and despite Petrino’s well-documented character as an  untrustworthy coach, no one ever saw something like this coming. The short-leash attitude towards Petrino always involved him jumping ship to another program. It never envisioned him jumping the bones of a 25-year old hottie.

Petrino may be a coach with a questionable moral center, but he’s a heckuva football coach. He’s a winner, and people tend to give winners second chances. This is especially true when the first offense truly is a first offense. Lots of men in their 50’s start feeling their mortality and succumb to temptations they’ve avoided for most of their adult lives. It happens everywhere, even in a Bible Belt that buckles itself in Fayetteville.

Petrino can be punished—severely—but still be allowed to return. Long can fine the coach hundreds of thousands of dollars. He can issue a reprimand and place him on probation. He can shorten Petrino’s contract and eliminate bonuses. He can make Petrino responsible for the woman’s legal bills (and those won’t be small) and require him to undergo counseling. Those would be harsh, humiliating penalties but they would allow Petrino to remain as the coach while he does his penance.

Arkansas certainly can keep Petrino and my gut feeling is that if there’s anyway Jeff Long can justify keeping the coach he risked so much to hire, he’ll do so. Neither of the dispositions in the cases of the two Alabama coaches’ indiscretions ultimately ended well for the Crimson Tide. But neither of the two coaches had the chops Petrino does. We love second chances, but second chances are for winners.

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