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Bobby Petrino was fired from his head coaching position at the University of Arkansas. But, was is the right decision?
First and foremost, kudos to Jeff Long. He knew what type of pressure would fall on him if he decided to ax Bobby Petrino, and he wasted relatively little time in coming to his decision. He could have made the easier choice—probably the direction the boosters and the majority of the fan base was leaning—in retaining Petrino, but he didn’t.
An 11-2 season, championship expectations for the upcoming year, and monetary success out the wazoo all weighed on Long’s shoulders after news of Petrino’s female passenger came to light. Not to mention his concerns with how the fans and students would react to a Petrino firing, which we got a taste of as ESPN interviewed several Arkansas fans in Fayetteville (did anyone else see those ESPN interviews, by the way? God, could they have done anything more to ruin the public’s perception of that state’s IQ level?).
If you watched the press conference, you could see how this entire scandal has taken a toll on Jeff Long. It was emotionally draining for him, and although the final verdict seemed to be a business decision, remember the personal relationship between Petrino and Long. Long was THE man behind Petrino’s hiring back in 2007 and their relationship had existed beyond football operations.
So, put yourself in the Arkansas AD’s shoes: You have hired this coach and invested every bit of your program in him, and in return your football program experiences a great deal of success in a very short period of time. Before you know it, your coach is the most important person in Arkansas, you have two potential Heisman candidates on your roster, you’re coming off an 11-2 record, and there is reason to believe you can go at least 1-1 against LSU and Alabama in the following year (both games are played in Fayetteville). In short, 2012 has the potential to be a season that catalyzes your program and propels it into football, monetary, and recruiting dominance for years.
All of that, wiped away. Over the course of a few days, Arkansas went from being a football program that saw the largest leap in monetary value in the NCAA since 2009 (and the 8th most valuable NCAA football program) to one that is now clambering for a head coach and a fresh start without losing too much of the momentum already built.
Petrino has put much more than his job and coaching reputation in jeopardy. He has potentially set Arkansas back two years in a competitive sense, leaving them with little time to find a replacement/interim coach that has the ability to function efficiently under dire circumstances such as these.
But let’s make sure the message is still clear here: Petrino was appropriately fired. How could you ask Jeff Long to keep him after such indicting details have come out (and there are certainly more that have yet to be disclosed)?
This was a situation with moral questions involved, yes. But these moral questions included university employees, the exchange of thousands of text messages and hundreds of phone calls between those employees, and an attempt to sweep it all under the rug. In no way should this have been considered a separate affair, and in no way should Petrino have been free of punishment by the university.
Not only did he engage in an adulterous affair, but that affair involved people and jobs within the Arkansas athletic program.
Had this been a 25-year-old woman who was not engaged to another Arkansas athletic department employee, not a former Arkansas volleyball player, not unfairly hired by Petrino and not paid $20,000 by him, we would probably be writing about how this incident is independent of Petrino’s duties as the head football coach at Arkansas. But she isn’t, and we’re not.
The situation was all in-house, and all quite disturbing. It involved an inappropriate relationship, which led to a partial hiring process, which led to the exchange of money. Of course, the subsequent cover-up came next, consisting of a boatload of lies that Petrino fed to Long.
You compile those all together, and boom! You have a family (two, rather), a football program, a friendship and a successful coaching career all subsequently suffering and a few dissolving at the witting hands of Bobby Petrino.
In the press conference announcing the decision, Jeff Long made it clear what were the deciding factors in the release of Petrino.
The head coach’s “abuse of power” and his decision to “knowingly [mislead]” his Long, after he had “multiple opportunities over a four-day period to be forthcoming” is where the athletic director drew the line (the abuse of power referring to the hiring of Jessica Dorrell, as well as providing her with $20,000 for the purchase of a car).
If the firing surprised anybody, ESPN’s Joe Schad put the scandal into a great perspective for us all as he reflected on recent coaching firings.
Following Jeff Long’s press conference the ESPN reporter remarked, “If Joe Paterno can get fired at Penn State, and Jim Tressel can get fired at Ohio State, anybody can get fired.”
The right steps were taken in this process. Now we will wait and see if karma finds its way to Jeff Long and rewards him and his program for making the morally and ethically correct decision.
It’s said that time heals all wounds. But just how long will Jeff Long and Arkansas have to wait? The steps taken by Long and his Arkansas staff within the next couple of weeks may decide that.