Bobby Petrino – getting what he deserved (bad things happen to bad people)
The last six months has been a tremendous period of upheaval for the coaching fraternity. Jerry Sandusky and Bernie Fine stand accused of the sexual abuse of minors. New Orleans Saints Coach Sean Payton and former Saints Assistant Coach Gregg Williams are at the center of “Bounty Gate.” Miami Marlins Manager Ozzie Guillen is in the middle of a five-game suspension for extolling the virtues of Fidel Castro.
Arkansas University was forced to fire their Football Coach Bobby Petrino with cause, after he lied at an April 3 press conference.
"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."
Petrino was in the middle of a seven-year contract under which his salary averaged $3.53 million. His contract included an $18 million buyout clause if he was fired without cause (losing would have been considered fired without cause). He leaves Arkansas with nothing.
"Our expectations of character and integrity in our employees can be no less than what we expect of our students," Long said. "No single individual is bigger than the team, the Razorback football program of the University of Arkansas."
How and why did Bobby Petrino lose $18 million? In the simplest of terms – he believed he was bigger than everyone around him.
On April 1, Petrino was involved in a motorcycle crash sliding off Highway 16 near Crosses in rural Madison County, Arkansas. He was riding with former Arkansas All-SEC volleyball player, 25-year-old Jessica Dorrell, who he had hired on March 28, 2012 as the student-athlete development coordinator for the football program, after serving as a fundraiser in the Razorback Foundation.
Petrino held a press conference on April 3. At that media gathering, Petrino said he was alone during the crash. On April 6, just minutes before a police report was to be released showing Dorrell was also aboard, Petrino revealed that Dorrell was not only a passenger, but that he had an inappropriate relationship with her. Athletic Director Jeff Long placed Petrino on an indefinite paid leave-of-absence while he reviewed the situation.
Petrino admitted that he gave Dorrell $20,000. She was hired two weeks ago from a group of 150 applicants and reported directly to Petrino.
This wasn’t the first time Petrino embarrassed his employer. According to ESPN: “Petrino left the Atlanta Falcons with three games to play during the 2007 season, informing his players of his departure with a typed, 78-word statement taped to their lockers. Only the day before, Petrino told Falcons Owner Arthur Blank that he wasn't going anywhere.
In 2003, during his first season as a head coach at Louisville, Petrino secretly met with Auburn officials about replacing his old boss, Tommy Tuberville, as the Tigers' coach. Petrino and Auburn officials initially denied that their meeting ever took place at a southern Indiana airport. But when confronted with flight records that proved the clandestine meeting happened, Petrino eventually admitted it and said, "I'm a young coach. I made a mistake."
On December 29, 2004, three days before the GMAC Bowl, Petrino admitted he interviewed with LSU after Nick Saban left for the Miami Dolphins. LSU ultimately hired Les Miles, and the Cardinals went on to defeat Boise State 44-40.
Why Petrino believed he would “get away” with not telling the truth about the accident remains a mystery. On the field, under Petrino, the Razorbacks enjoyed tremendous success. Arkansas went 11-2 last season, winning 11 games in a season for the first time since 1977 and defeating No. 8 Kansas State 29-16 in the Cotton Bowl. In 2010, the Razorbacks went 10-3 and played in their first BCS bowl game since 1986, losing to Ohio State 31-26 in the Allstate Sugar Bowl (the victory was later vacated by the Buckeyes because of NCAA violations). Overall the football team went 34-17 in the four years Petrino was the team’s head coach.
That on-field success resulted in the football program generating more revenue than it ever had before.
“Under Petrino, the team averaged 94 percent capacity for home games. It was only 91 percent under [Houston] Nutt,” said Scott Prather, one of the founders of Coaches by the Numbers, a website dedicated to gathering statistical data on football coaches. “If you figure each ticket at an average of $50 per ticket, that’s nearly $600,000 per year.”
According to ESPN, “Football revenue overall rose by 54 percent during Petrino’s first three years, to $61.1 million. Auburn, which won a national title during that time period, saw a 30 percent increase. LSU’s revenue growth came in at 13 percent to $69.1 million.”
None of that mattered to Jeff Long, Arkansas’s athletic director, who stood up for more than the money when he fired Petrino.
“He engaged in reckless and unacceptable behavior that put his relationship in the national spotlight. Coach Petrino’s conduct was contrary to the character and responsibilities we demand from our head football coach.
“In fact, that is the very language that is included in his contract that he signed at the University of Arkansas,” Long said.
Petrino said he received word of his firing at 5:45 p.m. on Tuesday.
“I’m sure you’ve heard Jeff Long’s reasons for termination,” Petrino said in his statement. “There was a lot of information shared. Given the decision that has been made, this is not the place to debate Jeff’s view of what happened. In the end, I put him in the position of having to sort through my mistakes and that is my fault.”
When Penn State fired Joe Paterno, their Hall of Fame Coach on November 9, students rioted on the Penn State campus. Paterno coached Penn State for 46 years, won two national championships, and the football program was generating a profit of $50 million annually. The fall of Joe Paterno was directly linked to the school’s cover-up of a 2002 alleged rape of a 10-year-old by former Penn State Assistant Football Coach Jerry Sandusky, in the team’s locker room.
Reaction at Arkansas was muted Tuesday night. There weren’t any protests. Nationally media pundits believe Long had to fire Petrino. Doing what’s right can come at a price. Alumni donations increased in the last few years, directly related to the success Petrino created, coaching the football team.
“While talent reigns supreme within athletics, the personality of the leaders has a stronger tie than most people realize to donors, alumni, and especially, former student-athletes,” said Heather Collart (in an ESPN report,) a former athletics administrator, who now works for the Detroit Pistons.
The message from the university will be key in the next weeks several weeks, Collart believes.
“Boosters will always question difficult decisions, especially when it results in the loss of a figurehead who had an enduring personality or winning record -- however if you can point to a long-standing process that holds a mission statement as gospel, boosters will come to accept the decision much more quickly and in most cases will remain loyal to a program,” Collart said.
On the field, Bobby Petrino has been successful. Off the field, his behavior towards his employers was inappropriate twice in Louisville, and his departure from the Atlanta Falcons was anything but professional.
He lied at an April 3 press conference. Bobby Petrino’s life is in complete disarray. Anyone interested in hiring Bobby Petrino has to wonder if he can be trusted. It takes a lifetime to earn a reputation. A reputation can be lost in seconds. Time and time again, Bobby Petrino has made mistakes that can no longer be ignored. Losing $18 million and leaving his family in shambles might finally send Bobby Petrino a message – it’s time to grow up and take responsibility for your actions.
For Sports Business News, this is Howard Bloom