Petrino Hits the Road, Then Hits the Road at Arkansas
So Bobby Petrino, his neck brace and his mangled face are all out at Arkansas. I have to say I’m pretty shocked. It’s more than a little unusual for a college athletics program to fire a cash cow when the cow hasn’t run afoul of the NCAA. And just about the only thing the NCAA doesn’t care about when it comes to college athletics departments is whether or not big name coaches are fooling around.
In fact, when the story first broke, I wondered on Twitter why everybody was making such a big deal about it (other than for the typical, shameless, sensationalist reasons, of course). Petrino isn’t the first big time coach to be caught where he shouldn’t have been and he won’t be the last by a long a shot. Even when Petrino’s passenger was identified as an Arkansas athletics department staffer, I wondered what the big deal was.
Then the other shoe dropped.
When news broke that the Petrino passenger (Jessica Dorrell) had been promoted to work in the football office just a week or so before the accident that set this mess in motion, it was clear that Petrino had likely sealed his fate with the Razorbacks. Say what you want about “morality clauses” (the mere idea of which in big time sports at any level amuse me a little bit), but Human Resources rules trump all, and at that point Petrino ran afoul of every Human Resources rule put in place since the Clarence Thomas hearings.
And make no mistake, when Arkansas (and former Eastern Kentucky University) Athletics Director Jeff Long fired Petrino, it wasn’t because Petrino was a bad guy. Everybody who knew anything knew Petrino was a bad guy when Arkansas hired him. He proved that with a lot of his behavior at Louisville and with the way he left the Atlanta Falcons. One of the great lines of the past week was, “You can’t hire a snake and be surprised when he acts like a snake.” I wish I could remember where I read it. That’s essentially the Bobby Petrino experience. Although there are similarities (lying to your boss) this isn’t the Jim Tressel situation where people had the (ridiculous) idea that they were dealing with a coach with integrity.
Putting Petrino on administrative leave last Thursday was a way for Long to buy time to see if this would blow over and allow the Hogs to keep the coach that had led them to $25 million in Bowl payouts alone in the last two years — and in this business money talks.
To be clear, I honestly don’t care whether or not Petrino was fooling around. It has no effect on me and it would have no effect on me if it were happening at a team I actually cared about. A lot of people who are great at their jobs (and Petrino is great at his) do dumb things — bad things. I grew up cheering my lungs out for Pete Rose who led the major leagues in hits and probably dumb/bad things done. I learned my lessons about sports figures early on.
Personal matters don’t matter to me. Personnel matters matter to everybody in an athletics office, though. Petrino’s behavior, his promotion of Dorrell, and his resulting lies have exposed Arkansas to any number of legal issues. But there was an issue bigger even than legal issues that threatened Arkansas athletics in the aftermath of the Petrino crash – Dorrell was engaged to a staff member of one of Arkansas’ Olympic sports.
In a healthy athletics office the coaching staffs are generally supportive of each other. It’s good for the program and it’s good for the University. You see it at Kentucky all the time. Both in person and on the internet, Kentucky coaches can be seen and heard promoting, supporting and cheering for other teams throughout the athletics department.
Allowing Petrino to stay at Arkansas would not have allowed Arkansas to have been a healthy athletics department for long. As described in a GREAT post by Jim Webber at LostLettermen.com, it would have created a massive schism between revenue sports (or at least football) and the Olympic sports staffs. I once worked in a department that suffered interpersonal issues. It is a truly awful work environment and it can’t possibly work.
So before you start giving Arkansas kudos for taking the moral high ground with Bobby Petrino, remember that morality played less of a role in what happened at Arkansas tonight than your average, run-of-the-mill Human Resources issue that would bounce a manager at the local quickie mart.
You want proof? Wait to see where Petrino coaches next season.