Arkansas shows Petrino the door
Athletic director Jeff Long announced his decision at an evening news conference and laid out a stunning laundry list of misdeeds against the man he hired away from the Atlanta Falcons four years ago.
The 51-year-old Petrino, a married father of four, had maintained an inappropriate relationship with 25-year-old Jessica Dorrell for a "significant" amount of time and at one point had given her $20,000, Long said. He would not disclose details of the payment, but said both parties confirmed the "gift."
Dorrell, a former Razorbacks volleyball player, worked for the Razorbacks Foundation before she was hired by Petrino on March 28. Long said she was one of three finalists out of 159 applicants and got the job after a time frame Long said was "shorter than our normal affirmative action hiring process."
Petrino never disclosed his conflict of interest in hiring Dorrell or the payment, Long said.
And he ignored multiple chances to simply come clean.
"He made the decision to mislead the public, (and it) adversely affected the university and the football program," Long said, choking up at one point as he discussed telling players that their coach was gone. There was a "pattern of misleading and manipulative behavior to deceive me."
It was an abrupt ending for Petrino, who had built Arkansas into a Southeastern Conference and national power over four seasons, including a 21-5 record the past two years. But Long made it clear that the success on the field was overshadowed by repeated deceptive acts and that no one was more important than the program itself.
Long said Petrino was fired "with cause"—meaning he will not receive a multimillion-dollar buyout—and there were no discussions about ways to keep Petrino at Arkansas. Long declined comment when asked about Dorrell's job status.
Petrino finishes his tenure at Arkansas with a 34-17 record in four seasons, leading the Razorbacks to a No. 5 final ranking last season and a Cotton Bowl win over Kansas State.
He did not immediately issue a statement.
The April 1 accident left him with four broken ribs, a cracked vertebra in his neck and numerous abrasions on his face. The avid motorcycle rider said the sun and wind caused him to lose control on the windy two-lane highway about 20 miles southeast of Fayetteville.
What he failed to mention, both at a news conference and to Long, was the presence of a Dorrell.
That revelation was made public when the state police released the accident report. Petrino informed Long of Dorrell's presence 20 minutes before the police released the report to the public, also admitting to what he called a previous inappropriate relationship with Dorrell.
Long placed Petrino on paid leave later that night, saying he was disappointed in Petrino and promising to review the coach's conduct. He said his review found that the relationship between the two had lasted a "significant" amount of time.
As the review continued, the state police released the audio of the 911 call reporting Petrino's accident. It revealed Petrino didn't want to call police following the crash, and a subsequent police report showed he asked police if he was required to give the name of the passenger during the accident.
Petrino was forthcoming about Dorrell's name and presence with police, but only after misleading both Long and the public during his news conference. That led to the school releasing a statement from Petrino's family the day after the accident that said "no other individuals" were involved.
The proved not to be the case and the fracture in trust, along with questions about Dorrell's hiring by Petrino to be the school's student-athlete development coordinator, proved to be too much for Petrino to overcome in Long's eyes.
Petrino took the school to its first BCS bowl game following the 2010 season, losing in the Sugar Bowl to Ohio State, and improved his win total in every year. Arkansas was 5-7 his first season in 2008, 8-5 the second before finishing 10-3 and 11-2 during his last two seasons.
The coach's tenure with the Razorbacks began under a cloud of national second-guessing following his departure from Atlanta 13 games into the 2007 season. His tenure with the Falcons was the shortest for a non-interim coach since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger.
His departure was so sudden that Petrino left farewell notes in the lockers of the Atlanta players rather than telling them of his resignation in person. He was introduced later that night as the new coach of the Razorbacks, carrying with him a vagabond image after holding 15 jobs for 11 different programs/organizations in 24 seasons.
The statement issued Tuesday night by fired Arkansas football coach Bobby Petrino:
"I was informed in writing today at 5:45 p.m. that I was being terminated as head football coach at the University of Arkansas.
The simplest response I have is: I'm sorry. These two words seem very inadequate. But that is my heart. All I have been able to think about is the number of people I've let down by making selfish decisions. I've taken a lot of criticism in the past. Some deserved, some not deserved. This time, I have no one to blame by myself.
I chose to engage in an improper relationship. I also made several poor decisions following the end of that relationship and in the aftermath of the accident. I accept full responsibility for what has happened.
I'm sure you heard (athletic director) Jeff Long's reasons for termination. 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.
I have hurt my wife Becky and our four children. I've let down the University of Arkansas, my team, coaching staff and everyone associated with the Razorback football program. As a result of my personal mistakes, we will not finish our goal of building a championship program. I wish that I had been given the opportunity to meet with the players and staff prior to this evening's press conference and hope that I will be given the opportunity to give my apologies and say my goodbyes in person. We have left the program in better shape than we found it and I want the Razorback Nation to know that is my hope that the program achieves the success it deserves.
My sole focus at this point is trying to repair the damage I've done to my family. They did not ask for any of this and deserve better. I am committed to being a better husband, father and human being as a result of this and will work each and every day to prove that to my family, friends and others.
I love football. I love coaching. I of course hope I can find my way back to the profession I love. In the meantime, I will do everything I can to heal the wounds I have created.
I want to thank Chancellor Gearhart, Jeff Long, the Board of Trustees, the university administration, faculty, staff, students, alumni and fans for the opportunity to serve as the head football coach at the University of Arkansas for the past four years. I was not given an opportunity to continue in that position. I wish that had been the case, but that was not my decision. I wish nothing but the best for the Razorback football program, the University and the entire Razorback Nation."
Last updated: 8:10 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012