Arkansas does best to keep focus without Petrino
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) -- With Bobby Petrino not on the field and his conduct under review by his boss, Arkansas is doing its best to concentrate on spring practice.
The Razorbacks returned to the field Friday, less than 24 hours after the coach was placed on paid leave following the revelation he had lied about being alone during a motorcycle accident last weekend.
This may have appeared to be a normal practice at Razorback Stadium. Of course, it was anything but without the coach who has turned Arkansas into a national contender over the past four seasons. Several hundred fans watched from the stands, their cheers noticeably reserved.
Arkansas athletic director Jeff long placed Petrino on leave Thursday night. The move came after Petrino told Long he had initially lied about the presence of 25-year-old football department employee Jessica Dorrell during the accident. The 51-year-old coach, married with four children, also admitted to a "previous inappropriate relationship."
Long said Saturday he expected to review Petrino's conduct on Easter Sunday. He didn't hide his disappointment in Petrino when announcing the paid leave Thursday. Now he must decide whether to fire the coach or keep him with some other punishment.
Acting head coach Taver Johnson, who was put in charge of the program by Long, withheld immediate judgment.
"Disappointment, I'm not sure," Johnson said. "Again, you don't know all the facts, you don't have all the information. So, until you have all those things, you can't really pass judgment.
"The players, I think they're along the same lines. Nobody really knows, so you can't really answer a ton of questions yet until you find out."
Arkansas entered the spring with high expectations after going 11-2, finishing with a No. 5 ranking and beating Kansas State in the Cotton Bowl. The team's only losses last season were to the top two teams in the country, Alabama and LSU. Coming back are senior quarterback Tyler Wilson and junior running back Knile Davis.
Wilson and Davis considered entering the NFL draft before deciding to return. They did so with their sights set on both Southeastern Conference and national championships.
Players weren't allowed to talk with the media following Friday's practice. Johnson, hired from Ohio State in January, said before practice that the team held a meeting and it was "business as usual."
"Throughout spring, our main focus has been the football team," he said. "So nothing has changed in that regard."
Johnson went through similar turmoil last season with the Buckeyes, who were dealing with a memorabilia-for-cash scandal that eventually cost coach Jim Tressel his job. He was retained on Ohio State coach Urban Meyer's new staff before leaving for the Razorbacks - joining former Buckeyes assistant coach Paul Haynes.
Johnson said he was prepared to step into for Petrino. The linebackers coach, however, couldn't have expected to be put in such a difficult position when he was hired less than three months ago.
"I really haven't had much contact with coach," Johnson said. "I know he's hurting internally, so I really haven't had much conversation there. However, our conversations leading up to this day, we all understand the expectations and the goals that we've set out for our team. That will definitely exude through all of us."
Johnson said he had a "human reaction, like everyone else" when told of Petrino's admissions.
"It's something that happened, and all of us are probably trying to ask questions and things like that, but I think the human element came out," Johnson said. "Right now, we don't have any facts, we can't place any blame. We have to let our administration, who's done a great job gathering all of the information, take care of that."
Johnson wouldn't go as far as to say he was disappointed in Petrino. Nor would he say if he felt his own newly acquired job was in jeopardy.
"I don't know if that's a question I can answer right away," Johnson said. "I don't know if you ever come to work and you feel that way. The only thing you're concerned about is coming here and doing the best job you can for the university and our players, more importantly."
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