It turns out I underestimated Bobby Petrino. Or, I should say more accurately, Bobby Petrino’s ego. Though I’m not the only one. Of all the things Jeff Long had to say at last night’s emotionally charged presser, this was the most revealing:
“He made the decision, a conscious decision, to mislead the public on Tuesday, and in doing so negatively and adversely affected the reputation of the University of Arkansas and our football program,” Long said, choking up at one point as he discussed telling players that their coach was gone. “In short, coach Petrino engaged in a pattern of misleading and manipulative behavior designed to deceive me and members of the athletic staff, both before and after the motorcycle accident.”
In other words, Petrino believed he was untouchable. And he maintained that belief as sordid detail after sordid detail emerged during Long’s investigation. No doubt what really got to Long – and it was a clearly angry Long we heard at the beginning of the night – was that he gave his head coach repeated opportunities to explain himself to create an exit strategy only to have Petrino reject them out of hand.
… Coach Petrino “had a lot of opportunities to share with me the nature of his relationship, and I’ll leave it at that,” Long said.
Long said only two other candidates were interviewed for the football program’s student-athlete development coordinator job that Dorrell was awarded.
Long said Petrino had engaged in a “pattern of misleading and manipulative behavior to deceive me” and that the coach had “multiple opportunities over a four-day period to be forthcoming, and he chose not to.”
I suspect Long, despite his protestations to the contrary, went into his investigation with the hope that he could salvage Petrino’s career at Arkansas. Petrino’s unwillingness even to feign contriteness left Long with no room to manuever. It’s one thing to spin a decision to keep a winning coach who stepped out on his wife; it’s another to stand before the press and mouth the equivalent of “nothing to see here, move on” after you know the guy paid his mistress $20,000 and short-circuited the process to hire her on the school’s dime. Petrino clearly felt he was unaccountable to Long. A decision to retain Petrino would have cemented him in Edwin Edwards territory. That was a bridge too far for Long to cross.
That being said, it’s hard to feel too sorry for Long. Though he tried to deny it last night in response to a question, he knew what kind of man he was hiring when he offered Petrino the position in the first place. The irony here is that the pressure to succeed Petrino would have been under had he survived the mess fully transfers to Long. He’ll get one crack at hiring a permanent replacement and if the program slides back into mediocrity, it’s likely he’ll be shown the door along with his coach.
As for Petrino, I’m reluctant to say that a man who can issue a statement like this (“Given the decision that has been made, this is not the place to debate Jeff’s view of what happened”) has learned any real lessons from his dismissal. And, really, why should he? Jeff Long was just another on a long list of enablers. The only difference is that Petrino pushed his luck a little too far this time.
Expect him to sit for an interview in the next few months to express the phony remorse that might have saved his ass this week so that he can rehabilitate his reputation enough for some desperate athletic director to take a chance on a top-flight offensive mind at a bargain basement price. (Petrino’s agent’s biggest regret this morning has to be that Mike Hamilton is out of the profession.)
Five years from now, it’s even money that the Arkansas fan base has bigger regrets over Long’s decision than Petrino will. Just ask this dude.
“Obviously, he was stupid, but I’m more concerned about winning,” said Mark Thompsen , a 33-year-old former Army sergeant who served in Iraq and is pursuing a criminal justice major at Arkansas. “All I care about is beating Alabama and LSU. If we beat them I’m okay with it, short of him stringing someone up.”