Will Arkansas fans back a sinning winner, or roast Bobby Petrino like they did Houston Nutt?
With the help of a crashed Harley-Davidson, we have arrived at a moment of truth for Arkansas football fans.
Will the Pig People treat one power-abusing coach the same way they treated another one five years ago? Will they mount another vigilante campaign to obtain his phone records to see how many times he called a woman who was not his wife? Will they not stop until the man is ready to flee his job leading the Razorbacks?
In other words, will Bobby Petrino in 2012 be a slow-roasted Hog the same way Houston Nutt was in 2007?
One would think so. But one must also consider this: Petrino is 21-5 in the past two seasons, authored the first 11-win campaign at the school since 1977 and has a team that should be ranked in the preseason top 10 – maybe top five. Nutt was 14-11 in the two seasons before the Arkansas faithful went after him like Billy Ray Smith chasing a quarterback.
Will Petrino’s winning record and program momentum be enough to earn him preferential treatment from the public? Or has the disingenuous drifter finally fibbed his way into a mess he can’t get out of?
Petrino capped a very bad week with an admission late Thursday night to an “inappropriate relationship” with a woman he hired to his staff way back on March 28. The woman, Jessica Dorrell, was with Petrino when he wrecked his Harley on Sunday – a fact the coach avoided acknowledging during a news conference Tuesday to discuss the accident.
More important, Petrino did not acknowledge that fact to his boss, athletic director Jeff Long, until 3:12 p.m. CDT Thursday, Long said.
[ Related: Check out Petrino photos ]
Petrino likely never would have acknowledged it unless it hadn’t been in the police report, which was released Thursday. Which makes this yet another time Petrino lied until he ran out of real estate. Fans at Louisville know that Bobby well.
Petrino’s marital failings are nobody’s business. That’s between him and his family. Let them sort it out in private.
But Petrino’s professional failings are between him and the entire state that follows the Razorbacks with monomaniacal fervor, paying his $3.6 million salary in the process. It is a professional failure to put your mistress on the payroll. It is a professional failure to mislead your bosses and make them look foolish by feeding them a dishonest line, then having them parrot it in public.
That’s where the skidding rubber meets the road in this fiasco.
In the process of sorting this out, Long placed Petrino on paid administrative leave. In the meantime, we’ll see how Hogs fans react.
When Nutt was locked in a battle of egos with the mother of star quarterback recruit Mitch Mustain in 2006, fans ripped him for allegedly orchestrating personal attacks on the quarterback from one of his friends. One particularly industrious (or obsessed) fan accessed Nutt’s cell-phone records through an open-records request and found that he had a number of calls to a female TV reporter in Fort Smith, Ark. That was publicized in an effort to smear Nutt, who denied any improper relationship with the woman.
For most fans, the real problem was that Nutt didn’t win enough with a trio of NFL running backs (Darren McFadden, Felix Jones and Peyton Hillis), a five-star offensive coordinator (Gus Malzahn) and a golden-boy, local-hero QB (Mustain). But they used the rest of the stuff to help leverage Nutt out of his job and off to Mississippi after the 2007 season.
[ Related: Petrino placed on leave in aftermath of crash ]
I wonder whether Petrino will be subjected to the same attack mentality. Arkansas fans have been so dazzled by Petrino’s success that you probably will hear a lot of people defending him. Winning can excuse a lot of personal flaws.
In fact, the promise of winning big is what spurred Arkansas to land Petrino in the first place, despite a litany of low-life dealings with his employers during his head-coaching career. On the night he was hired in December 2007, I wrote a less-than-glowing – OK, hateful – column for ESPN.com detailing exactly who the Hogs had embraced as their program savior.
To recite the highlights:
In November 2003, during Petrino’s first season as a coach at Louisville, he engaged in a brazen double-cross with Auburn. Petrino met across the Ohio River from Louisville, in southern Indiana, with a number of Auburn officials to discuss the Tigers’ coaching job. Problem was, neither the Tigers nor the Cardinals had finished their seasons. This was two days before Auburn would beat Alabama in the Iron Bowl.
Petrino undercut his former boss, Tommy Tuberville, under whom he was offensive coordinator at Auburn. He also undercut his boss at the time, Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich, who gave him his first head-coaching job.
Petrino lied about having any contact with Auburn officials until two reporters for The (Louisville) Courier-Journal confronted him with documentation of the private plane that brought the university president and athletic director to Sellersburg, Ind. I was one of the two reporters. Petrino still resisted telling the truth until Auburn issued a statement owning up to the whole affair.
The next season, Petrino showed how chastened he was by that PR disaster by quietly interviewing at the same Sellersburg airport with Notre Dame officials. He also had discussions with Florida and Mississippi about their jobs.
Then, on Dec. 7, 2004, he pledged his loyalty to Louisville through a flowery statement. Two weeks later, he signed a contract extension to stay with the Cardinals. Five days after that, he surreptitiously interviewed with LSU. And another week after that, when it was apparent LSU was going to hire Les Miles, Petrino publicly pulled out of consideration for the job.
In 2005, a guy who told everyone he had no interest in coaching the pros interviewed with the Oakland Raiders. He ultimately turned down the job and expelled a bunch of hot air about his commitment to Louisville.
In July 2006, Petrino signed a 10-year contract worth up to $25 million – a major outlay for a school such as Louisville. Upon signing it, Petrino again vowed that Louisville was where he wanted to coach and raise his family. He made a point of insisting that a $1 million buyout provision be put into the contract.
“We did want to make a statement,” he said. “… I wanted to make sure everyone understood – I know I’ve said it – that this is where I want to be, where my family wants to be. But I want everyone to really believe it.”
How believable was it? Five months later, he was the new coach of the Atlanta Falcons.
That lasted all of 13 games, before Petrino quit during the season and without telling his players. Well-respected Falcons owner Arthur Blank let it be known how little he thought of Petrino.
Next stop, Arkansas, where everything was going so well until that Sunday motorcycle ride. Suddenly, it’s a moment of truth for the Razorbacks’ fan base.
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