Will Petrino Be Sacked?

— Let’s say you have a friend - a diehard Razorbacks fan, especially of the football team - who left last weekend on a hiking and camping expedition in the wilderness. He spent the past week completely out of touch with the outside world.

He returns today from his trip.

“Bet I didn’t miss much while I was gone, eh?”he says.

Oh boy. How to break the news? First, make sure he’s sitting down.

“You didn’t miss too much. Well, except for the fact that Coach Petrino was in amotorcycle accident on Sunday. He broke some ribs and got scratched up pretty badly. He wasn’t wearing a helmet, so he’s lucky to be alive. He held a news conference two days later and told the world that the sun had blinded him, causing him to go off the road. He also said that he was by himself at the time. Two days later, we learned that in fact he had a woman on the bike with him, a pretty young lady half his age whom he had just hired as the team’s student-athlete development coordinator. He then admitted to having had an ‘inappropriate relationship.’ The athletic director placed Petrino on paid administrative leave and now there’s no telling for certain who will be coaching the team this fall.”

Allow this news to settle in for about 15 minutes before expecting a reply from your friend.

The Razorbacks football team has taken giant strides over the last few years under Bobby Petrino’s leadership. Now we have to wonder whether we’ve seen the last of Petrino in Arkansas red and white.

Athletic Director Jeff Long found out the truth of Petrino’s bike ride shortly before the rest of us did. He was right to place Petrino on administrative leave immediately in order to do what he called a comprehensive review of the situation. We’re confident that he grasps the seriousness of Petrino’s actions.

The implications of Petrino carrying on with 25-year-old Jessica Dorrell go far beyond the gossip mill. There are practical considerations here, such as a liability issue for the university.

Petrino has created at the very least a perception that a romantic relationship led to him giving Dorrell a cushy $55,000-per-year job. Surely this is not how the university wants hiring decisions made.

There’s also the matter of the coach’s credibility. Petrino initially lied about the details of his accident - to the public and to his bosses.

That’s very disappointing. He allowed the false version of events to live for two days before the Arkansas State Police released its accident report. Inconveniently for Petrino, that report didn’t lie. Kudos to the State Police for not participating in any kind of cover-up.

We said in this space Thursday, before the truth of the accident came out, that Petrino was fortunate to have survived the accident. We now must add that Dorrell was equally fortunate.

Incredibly, she was listed in the report as having no injuries. This would be an even bigger mess if Dorrell had been hurt.

Petrino is not just a football coach; he’s the state’s highest-paid employee at almost $3 million per year. He’s also one of the most recognizable names and faces representing our state.

His conduct, for better or worse, aff ects the way outsiders view Arkansas. It must be taken seriously. So far, Long seems to be doing that.

Opinion, Pages 5 on 04/07/2012

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