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Should Arkansas Fire Bobby Petrino?

In a word, no.

Arkansas didn’t hire Bobby Petrino for his integrity; in fact, Petrino was hired in spite of his character. As Yahoo’s Pat Forde chronicled extensively, there were plenty of red flags surrounding Bobby Petrino The Person that Arkansas eschewed to woo Bobby Petrino The Football Coach. Let’s recap, shall we?

  • In the MIDDLE of his FIRST SEASON as Louisville head coach, Petrino met with Auburn officials to campaign for its head coaching job. The job was held at the time by Tommy Tuberville, who was Petrino’s boss when Petrino was offensive coordinator at Auburn.
  • Bobby Petrino lied repeatedly about said flirtation until confronted with documented evidence of said flirtation. (Sound familiar?)
  • In 2004, Petrino signed a contract extension with Louisville. Five days later, he interviewed for the LSU job, publicly taking his name out of the ring only after it was clear that Les Miles would get the job.
  • Seemingly to Petrino’s credit, he interviewed for but ultimately turned down the Oakland Raiders job in 2005. Advantageously, he was able to use this status bump to secure a 10-year, $25 million extension from Louisville.”We did want to make a statement,” Petrino said. ” … I also wanted to make sure that everyone understood — and I know I’ve said it — that this is where my family wants to be and where I want to be. But I want everyone to really believe it when it is said.”
  • NOT SO FAST. Petrino left for the Atlanta Falcons five months later. SHOCKING AND APPALLING. The Falcons would live happily ever after with their decision.
  • Just kidding. In the offseason where Petrino signed as coach, Falcons quarterback Michael Vick would be federally investigated and charged for dog fighting. Bobby Petrino coached 13 games and quit, leaving a stamped letter on players’ lockers in lieu of addressing or even calling them. He told his assistants briefly but offered no explanation. Then-Falcons assistant and current Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer called Petrino “gutless” and a “coward.”
  • The explanation: the next day Bobby Petrino signed with Arkansas.

In possibly the least surprising case of adultery in American History not involving Charlie Sheen, Arkansas now finds themselves in the curious position of what exactly to do with a man who was having an affair with a 25-year old woman on his staff and lied to the police about the motorcycle accident involving the two. What’s most surprising about this incident is that Petrino and Arkansas State Police Captain Lance King, who transported Petrino to the hospital, were not able to complete their cover-up.

But when you hire an amoral, remorseless sociopath whose college football teams score a lot of points and win games, can you really fire him for being an amoral, remorseless sociopath whose team scores a lot of points and wins games? As Forde writes, “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.”

The likelihood that Arkansas can replace Petrino with someone who can perform as well in the extremely competitive SEC–going up against teams like Alabama, LSU, and Florida week in and week out–is slim to none. As the excellent Clay Travis points out, Arkansas wants to keep Petrino but must first make sure this story isn’t going to get any worse:

But right now Arkansas is doing its due diligence to ensure that if they stand behind their man there aren’t other stories ready to pop that can make the university look even worse than it already does, stories that could serve to further humiliate the school. Already Arkansas will be treated with derision by much of the country. Choosing to keep a liar and a cheat employed at a public institution charged with grooming the next generation of Arkansas leaders will not play well across the nation.

There are lots of other important moving parts at play here, which Travis, a practicing lawyer, does an excellent job of outlining (as well as adding humor to).

My hypothesis, which is the basis for a future column as soon as I can complete the research, is that donations to public universities–particularly those in the SEC and Big 12–are highly correlative to success on the football field. The adverse monetary effect for Arkansas would likely be greater if it fired a winning adulterer/liar/objectively bad person and replaced him with an honest, less successful coach than if it kept said adulterer/liar/objectively bad person at the helm, the caveat of course being that this isn’t the case of a snowball on the cusp of turning into an avalanche.

More often than not, professional greatness comes with emotional imbalance. The same qualities that drive Bobby Petrino to relentlessly pursue success on the football field–vanity and the thrill of the chase to name two–make him unfit to be a role model for those who aspire to improve society. When Arkansas hired Bobby Petrino The Football Coach, Bobby Petrino The Person was part of the package and their deal with devil has come due.

The best way for Arkansas to have their cake and eat it too would be to suspend Bobby Petrino for five games–he’d miss games against Jacksonville State, Louisiana-Monroe, Alabama, Rutgers, and Texas A&M (all at home). Considering that the Razorbacks would likely lose to Alabama even with Petrino on the sidelines and win the other four games without him, this appears to be the ideal punishment for a man who is who we thought he was. Petrino would return in time for an October 6th game at Auburn, 4-1 or 3-2 with an unexpected loss to Texas A&M, and a chance to salvage the season. If he’s fired by Arkansas, Petrino will almost certainly re-surface somewhere else where he will win football games and embody questionable character.

As for Petrino, a broken neck, some broken ribs, untold amounts of public humiliation, whatever charges unfold from state police, the wrath he’ll face from his wife and kids, a five-game suspension, and a hefty fine should properly suffice as punishment, no? With all this added up, it’d be hard to argue that he’s getting off lightly.


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