Arkansas AD Long facing difficult decision amid Petrino scandal
Arkansas has put Bobby Petrino on administrative leave as it conducts its review
Athletic director Jeff Long must decide whether to keep a winner or fire a liar
Long: "I'm at the beginning of the review. I don't know what I'm going to find."
Poor Jeff Long.
Under normal circumstances, the job security of the Arkansas athletic director depends upon only three things. 1) Does his football coach win? 2) Does his basketball coach win? 3) Does his football coach win?
These are not normal circumstances. Not after the phone call Long received Thursday afternoon from football coach Bobby Petrino. During the call, which came minutes before the police report on Petrino's Sunday motorcycle crash was made public, Petrino informed Long that he might have misled the AD about one teeny, tiny detail of the crash. That led to the following revelations:
Petrino wasn't alone on that motorcycle. He had lied to Long about this fact, and the athletic department put out a press release on Monday morning repeating that lie on Arkansas letterhead.
Petrino's passenger was a woman. She was not his wife.
The woman, Jessica Dorrell, is an employee of the Arkansas athletic department. (Hang on. It gets worse.)
Petrino hired Dorrell, who had previously worked in the athletic department's fundraising arm, to the football staff last week.
To be clear, Petrino is most certainly not the only coach in America who has stepped out on his wife. The affair isn't the reason Long placed Petrino on paid administrative leave Thursday night.
This is why: It appears the highest-paid state employee in Arkansas hired his mistress to a department job. Later, he lied to his boss, in turn allowing the department to release the lie and appear -- at least for a moment -- complicit in the cover-up. (Which it was not.)
Now, Long must review the situation and weigh that information against this information: Petrino is 21-5 over the past two seasons, and the 2012 team appears to be better than the 2010 or 2011 teams.
"I'm at the beginning of the review," Long said. "I don't know what I'm going to find."
Even if that is all he finds, Long probably has enough to fire Petrino. Petrino's contract is pretty clear on this, forbidding the coach from "engaging in conduct, as solely determined by the University, which is clearly contrary to the character and responsibilities of a person occupying the position of Head Football Coach or which negatively or adversely affects the reputation of the University or UAF's athletics programs in any way." In legal parlance, "review" could mean "meeting with the general counsel to make sure we're allowed to can this guy without paying him." After all, what manager can trust an employee who would lie to his face and put the entire organization at risk?
But there is that 21-5 record in two seasons.
Long knows Petrino's history. This is a man who went behind the back of Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich to meet with a headhunting party from Auburn -- a party that was going behind the back of Petrino's former boss, Tommy Tuberville. This is a man who informed his Atlanta Falcons players that he had quit 13 games into his lone season with a 78-word letter posted in the locker room. Where was Petrino headed when he left the Falcons?
He was going to Arkansas, where he was hired by Jeff Long.
It didn't bother Long when Petrino did Falcons owner Arthur Blank dirty, but how will Long react now that the motorcycle-riding boot is on the other foot? If Arkansas' attorneys are any good, Long can fire Petrino with cause and not cost the school a penny.
But what will that cost Long?
In 2010, Petrino took the Razorbacks to their first BCS bowl since the system was created before the 1998 season. In 2011, Petrino led Arkansas to a No. 5 finish in The Associated Press poll. The only two teams to defeat the Razorbacks, Alabama and LSU, played one another for the national title. Alabama and LSU have to come to Fayetteville this fall. Petrino has the program rolling, and this could be the best year to call the Hogs since co-captain Jerry Jones and the Razorbacks brought home a national title in 1964. Changing coaches or suspending Petrino for a long period could derail a potential dream season, and if that happens, the cannons could turn on Long.
Long is not the first athletic director to face this type of predicament. In May 1999, Alabama AD Bob Bockrath's coach, Mike DuBose, lied about a relationship with a secretary after she filed a harassment complaint. Ultimately, the truth came out and the school had to pay the woman $350,000. Did Alabama fire DuBose? Nope. It fired Bockrath. (DuBose went on to win the 1999 SEC title and got himself fired in 2000 for losing.)
Petrino, caught red-handed Thursday, threw himself on the mercy of his boss. "I will fully cooperate with the university throughout this process and my hope is to repair my relationships with my family, my athletic director, the Razorback Nation and remain the head coach of the Razorbacks," Petrino said in a statement.
Petrino doesn't sound so sure if Long will keep him. Long certainly sounded angry with his coach, but he didn't shut the door on him. "Certainly when someone isn't as forthcoming as they should have been, certainly it puts the relationship in a different place," Long said. "But, can we overcome that? That's something we've got to work through."
Will Long work through his issues with Petrino? Or will he answer Petrino's betrayal with a pink slip?
Petrino gave Long several reasons to fire him this week. But during the past two seasons, Petrino gave Long 21 reasons to keep him. Long will have to decide which criteria mean more.