Sitting in front of rolling cameras and eager reporters tweeting away on their mobile devices, Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long held what had to be the toughest press conference of his four years in Fayetteville.
His coach… his big hire… Bobby Petrino, had flat-out lied to him.
Petrino was involved in what was reported to be a one-man motorcycle accident on Sunday evening. A statement released by the university Monday assured the incident “involved no other individuals.” As we found out yesterday, that wasn’t the case. A police report mentioned that a female passenger by the name of Jessica Dorrell was on the motorcycle with Petrino when it crashed at approximately 6:45 on that fateful Sunday.
As far as anyone can infer, Dorrell flagged down help and Petrino was eventually admitted to a hospital while she was dropped off at her car so that she could leave, unharmed.
But what Dorrell lacked in bumps and bruises, Petrino more than made up for when he failed to inform Long or the media of Dorrell’s presence at the scene of the accident. In a few days, the focus shifted from relief that Petrino was going to be okay, to interest in new details not previously known.
And, so, Long called a press conference for 9:45 on Thursday night to address what couldn’t wait until morning. He walked in the room, sat down and clearly stated what he had heard from Petrino just hours before: that there was someone else, that the coach had not been completely forthcoming earlier in the week. Long didn’t make bad jokes wishing Petrino wouldn’t fire him, nor did he make excuses. He answered questions, but didn’t jump to conclusions about Petrino’s future. Instead, Long promised a deliberate review of the situation while Petrino was placed on paid administrative leave.
In short, Long handled it like a pro. That’s certainly more than you can say for Petrino, who has placed a wall of lies between him and his superior. And Petrino’s on the wrong side. Again.
Long deserves better than that, especially for facing the music when an employee could not. “Certainly I’m disappointed,” Long said. “I brought him [Petrino] here.”
He can ask the coach to leave too. Petrino’s contract with the University of Arkansas states the coach could be fired or punished for “engaging in conduct, as solely determined by the University, which is clearly contrary to the character and responsibilities of a person occupying the position of Head Football Coach or which negatively or adversely affects the reputation of the University or UAF’s athletics programs in any way.”
But this is where the situation gets murky. Face value tells us Petrino violated some ethical conduct code by doing what many of us assume he’s doing — cheating on his wife with Dorrell. We don’t know that for sure — not yet, anyway — and Petrino has only referenced a “previous inappropriate relationship” that leaves a thing or two to the imagination, but it’s the details of “previous” and “relationship” that could get Petrino fired.
As ArkansasSports360 pointed out today, Dorrell, a former UA volleyball player, was hired as the new student-athlete development coordinator for football on March 28, four days before the April Fools’ Day motorcycle accident, and a week before Long sat at a podium realizing the prank had been played on him.
Long had been lied to by his coach and a woman with whom Petrino had a “previous inappropriate relationship” now had a job within the football program.
That’s cold. That’s “clearly contrary to the character and responsibilities of a person occupying the position of Head Football Coach.” That “negatively or adversely affects the reputation of the University.”
And, for that, Petrino probably should be fired.
Jim Tressel? Fired because he lied. Bruce Pearl? Fired because he lied. And just think: those coaches had leashes. Long hired Petrino in 2007 as the coach was evading verbal — and, perhaps in some cases, actual — Molotov cocktails on his way out of Atlanta and the Falcons organization.
Now, the other stuff? The “inappropriate” part of the relationship? It’s deplorable if true, but in no way does it affect Petrino’s ability to coach his players. Bobby Petrino was hired to do two things — three if you include staying out of NCAA trouble — win games and graduate his players. So far he’s done both.
Nowhere in Petrino’s contract does it state he has to be a good husband (and keep in mind, I’m not saying he did anything to break the sanctity of his marriage), or even be a good person. A former NFL player whose name escapes me now once said this about character:
“There are two kinds of character. Your off-the-field character, and the character you have with your teammates and coaches.”
There have been plenty of comments over the past day about what is “expected” of Petrino. First of all, if you “expected” anything from Petrino from an ethics standpoint to begin with, I’d check the magnets in your moral compass. But this isn’t about how Petrino acts in his private life, or whether he practices what he preaches. Rather, it’s about what is expected of him in a business environment.
“We have high expectations for our coaches,” Long explained.
Those are the expectations Petrino failed to meet for an athletic director who stuck his neck out and made a highly controversial hire early in his tenure.
Now, it’s Long who has to decide if success is enough to keep Petrino employed. It’s Long who has to contemplate if he can ever trust Petrino again.
It’s Long who’s getting cheated.