Bon voyage, Bobby
When one has a well documented track record of lacking integrity and exhibiting a weak character, a public death knell to one's livelihood is almost inevitable. Sure, you'd like to think that such a person can be introspective and thus make the necessary changes which lead to behaving with a measure of decorum. Alas, such would not be the case with an embattled football coach.
Arkansas fired coach Bobby Petrino on Tuesday, saying he engaged in reckless behavior that included hiring his mistress and then intentionally misleading his bosses about everything from their relationship to her presence at the motorcycle accident that ultimately cost him his job.
"He made the decision to mislead the public, (and it) adversely affected the university and the football program," athletic director Jeff Long said at an evening news conference, choking up at one point as he discussed telling players the news. There was a "pattern of misleading and manipulative behavior to deceive me."
It was a stunning fall for Petrino, who had built Arkansas into a Southeastern Conference and national power over four seasons, including a 21-5 record the past two years. But Long made it clear that the success on the field was overshadowed by a laundry list of deceptive acts.
The 51-year-old Petrino was injured in an April 1 motorcycle accident. He was put on paid leave last week after admitting he lied about the presence of the 25-year-old employee, Jessica Dorrell, who had been riding with him.
Long said his investigation, which took less than a week, found that Petrino had even given Dorrell $20,000 at one point, though he wouldn't disclose what it was for. He also said Petrino was fired "with cause" -- meaning he will not receive a multimillion-dollar buyout -- and there were no discussions about ways to keep Petrino at Arkansas.
While the deception displayed by Petrino over the past couple of weeks certainly took on a new (and rather bizarre) twist, he's had a pattern of devious behavior over the past five-plus years.
After three seasons as head football coach with Louisville, Petrino signed a 10-year contract extension with the program just prior to the 2006 season. After winning the Orange Bowl in January 2007, Petrino bailed less than a week later to take the head coaching job with the NFL's Atlanta Falcons, where he inked a 5-year deal.
Petrino appeared to be doomed from the start in Atlanta. A mere three months after Petrino accepted the Falcons coaching job, franchise QB Michael Vick was implicated in a dog fighting ring which led to a prison sentence that summer. Just like that, Petrino's new club was without its All Pro quarterback.
After twelve games of the 2007 season, the Falcons were 3-9 when they had an upcoming Monday night game against the New Orleans Saints. However, the week leading up to that contest, there was a persistent rumor that Petrino was looking to go back to the college ranks to coach the Arkansas Razorbacks. When confronted by Falcons owner Arthur Blank, Petrino vehemently denied said rumor. The Falcons were drubbed at home by the Saints on December 10. Less than 48 hours later, Petrino was at an introductory press conference in Fayetteville, AR leading fans and cheerleaders in their famous "Woo Pig Sooie" chant. He not only flat out lied to Blank he didn't even have the intestinal fortitude to tell the Falcons players in person that he accepted the head coaching job at Arkansas. In fact, when the Atlanta players arrived in their locker room that Wednesday morning, each team member had in their respective locker stalls a four-sentence goodbye letter from Petrino.
In the end, this latest incident where Petrino lied about the particulars of his motorcycle accident appeared to be a mere perpetuation of deceptive behavior. Even had this been an isolated incident, I find it hard to fathom how University of Arkansas officials could have kept him on as coach. When one's job involves sitting across a kitchen table from an 18-year old kid and reassuring his parents that he'll be in good hands for the next four years of their son's life, one must have an almost pristine reputation to earn that trust. Petrino put a severe crimp in that rep five years ago when walking away from a 10-year commitment. He effectively destroyed it with this latest round of deceit.