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What's Next for Petrino?

What's Next For Bobby Petrino and Jeff Long?

The Bobby Petrino motorcycle incident just keeps getting more devastating for Hog Fans by the moment. On Thursday at 8:30 CT Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long announced that Bobby Petrino would be put on administrative leave while he reviewed the situation involving Petrino and Jessica Dorrell. This leaves the Razorback Nation holding its breath and wondering if their popular head coach will be on the sidelines ever again.

Jeff Long did exactly what he had to do in this situation. Petrino had originally stated that he was alone at the time of the accident. Then on Thursday Petrino revealed to Jeff Long that he had been with University of Arkansas employee Jessica Dorrell. Long will need to meet with Dorrell and speak to her about the relationship she has with Bobby Petrino. Then he will need to meet with his legal team to discuss if any possible state laws have been broken in this case since Petrino is a state employee(though most of his salary is funded by the Razorback Foundation). Long also has to meet with his own supervisors to discuss the situation. An administrative leave is really all Jeff Long can do at this point.

There is no doubt Bobby Petrino is a fantastic football coach. Petrino is the first man to ever lead two different programs to their BCS appearances. In his last 32 games Petrino is 26-6 and in the last two seasons has led Arkansas to its first back to back top 15 finishes since the 88 and 89 seasons. Arkansas' number 5 finish in this years Associated Press Poll was its highest since Lou Holtz's first team in 1977 finished ranked third. Athon Magazine just ranked him the second best coach in the SEC, a ranking I would certainly agree with considering his combined winning record against Spurrier, Miles, and Chizik.

Petrino is not only a great coach, but he's also very popular with Razorback fans. His business-like approach has always won over Hog fans as it is a different approach from Houston Nutt's "cheerleader with a headset" approach. He is a well liked character in the Arkansas Community too. This past September, Bobby Petrino donated $250,000 to the Arkansas Children's Hospital.

Arkansas Media seems to love Petrino as well. When they ask him a question, he doesn't dance around an issue, typically given a straight answer when he can. The only real complaint that really can be said is that Petrino doesn't release injury reports in as timely of a manner as some coaches do, but that's because he wants a player's family to know before anyone else is told.

Obviously Jeff Long does not want to fire a man that is the most popular man in The State of Arkansas since Nolan Richardson in the mid 90s. That's why the decision Long might have to make could end up being very unpopular with Hog fans. Had Bobby Petrino been on the bike with a random lady from Elkins, Arkansas that wasn't employed within the athletic department, then this situation wouldn't be so severe. Long could just tell Petrino this is something he needs to handle with his wife. Fact is that Dorrell was a University of Arkansas Athletic Department employee who just received her new position a week ago and this changes everything.
Far worse things have been done by college coaches in the past.  Gary Pinkel was charged with a DUI last year, a crime that could cause harm to others on the road.  Woody Hayes punched a Clemson football player during the Gator Bowl.  Jim Leavitt struck one of his own players and tried to cover it up. Joe Paterno allowed a child molestor to walk around on campus for many years, even after he knew about an incident involving Sandusky.  Like Petrino, Rick Pitino had an affair as well and paid for his female partner's abortion.   While Petrino's may not be as severe as the other coaches mentioned, he had his affair with a person he supervises. 

Most managers or CEOs of high profile organizations are given Human Resource training on how to deal with employees. Many companies do not allow managers to have relationships outside the office with those who work under them. Organizations spend millions of dollars every year to train their management on these facts and this is something that more than likely Bobby Petrino and any other Arkansas Head Coach has been told. A generation ago this kind of situation may have been swept under the rug, but in today's lawsuit friendly society businesses are typically forced to terminate employment of management type figure. Telling your supervisor that you were alone at the time of the incident and stating this to local news media makes the situation even worse.  Petrino issued a statement Thursday and he admits to having a "previous inappropriate relationship".  The full Petrino statement is below

“The state police report today provides an accurate description of my accident, which includes details that had not publically come to light prior to the report being issued. I regret that I have not publically acknowledged a passenger on the vehicle. I have been in constant pain, medicated and the circumstances involving the wreck have come out in bits and pieces. That said I certainly had a concern about Jessica Dorrell’s name being revealed. In my press conference, I referred to her simply as ‘a lady’. My concern was to protect my family and a previous inappropriate relationship from becoming public. In hindsight, I showed a serious mistake in judgment when I chose not to be more specific about those details. Today, I’ve acknowledged this previous inappropriate relationship with my family and those within the athletic department administration.

I apologize to my wife, Becky, and our four children, Chancellor (David) Gearhart, Jeff Long, the Board of Trustees, University administration, my coaching staff, student-athletes and the entire state of Arkansas. I have been humbled by the outpouring of concern and get-well wishes. I apologize to the Razorback Nation for the attention my actions have brought to the University of Arkansas and our program. 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.”

Did Petrino's relationship with Dorrell begin prior to her being hired to the new job?  If that happened, then Long may have no other decision, but to terminate Petrino.  Petrino was the one who hired Dorrell and if that hire happened while the two were having an affair, then everyone who applied for that job could file a lawsuit against The University of Arkansas.  Also, did this job post for 30 days in accordance to Arkansas State Law?  These issues must be investigated by Long before any decision can be made.

Another issue Long will face is what to do with Jessica Dorrell. If he fires her and keeps Petrino then a huge lawsuit would likely be faced by The University of Arkansas and Bobby Petrino. Plus, you'd likely have women's rights groups protesting outside of the Broyles Athletic Center. It's safe to say, firing isn't an option. You could reassign her to a new position, but if she doesn't want that new position then you could once again be facing a legal battle.
Dorrell was certainly qualified for the position that she was hired to do.  Dorrell played volleyball and Arkansas and earned her Masters Degree in business administration with a bachelors degree in finance and marketing.  She had previously worked with the Razorback Foundation where she was the assistant director for women's athletics and was the first female member of the fundraising staff.  Dorrell helped with the fundraising of women's sports and men's olympic sports.  With her help the women's sports annual fund grew by 26% and the men's olympic sports grew by 118%. Petrino said this about Dorrell last week after her hire . “As a former student-athlete she has an enthusiasm for the Razorbacks and is familiar with what the University of Arkansas can offer. She is extremely organized and has a professional approach, which should translate well into our program and recruiting as we continue to place an emphasis on this area.”  While she was certainly qualified for this position, did an affair help her land the job? 

Complicating things even more is the fact that Jessica Dorrell's fiance is a swimming coach at The University of Arkansas.  What kind of workplace enviroment would be created if both Dorrell and Petrino are part of the athletic department with Dorrell's fiance?  Certainly, a swimming coach and football coach don't work together often, but this could hurt Long with relationships with coaches. 

National media are going to call for Petrino's head and this should be ignored by Long, The University of Arkansas, and Razorback fans. Many in the national media still hold a grudge against Petrino for leaving the Atlanta Falcons after 13 games. Petrino left for Arkansas a night after a game in which players on the sidelines for the Falcons created a circus by wearing "Free Vick" shirts, supporting the dog torturer and murderer. Vick has been forgiven by many in the national media, but Petrino hasn't. The National Media should be the least important group of people in this situation. They don't know what is best for The University of Arkansas, so Long can't let the lynch mob make his decision for him.

Few would argue that Jeff Long will do all in his power to keep Bobby Petrino in Fayetteville. This was his first major head coaching hire as an AD at Arkansas and Petrino is the most popular coach on campus. The two seem to have a very good relationship together and neither seems to want to leave Fayetteville anytime soon. Long knows that if Petrino's employment is terminated it would cause many Hog fans to be irate. Plus, what athletic director wants to terminate a football coach in April? Can Jeff Long keep Bobby Petrino on staff and not worry about relationships with other Razorback employees? If Long can keep Petrino as head coach without facing any legal issues or major HR violations then I have little doubt he will, but only a complete investigation of the situation will reveal that.

Another question that has to be asked is if Petrino is kept as Arkansas Coach how will this effect his relationship with players, recruits, and their families? Petrino is likely to continue to have the respect of his current players, but will this hurt him when recruiting future athletes? It's well known that other SEC coaches already use the Atlanta Falcon situation as a negative recruiting tool against Petrino and it is certain they would use this against him as well. Petrino's biggest problem won't be winning over 17 year old Johnny, it will be with mama. How will mom feel about her son spending 4 years with a man that may have had an affair with a university employee? Rick Pitino doesn't seem to have any issues recruiting top athletes to Louisville after his affair, but will this hold true for Petrino?

Arkansas fans just have to sit back and hope for the best, but prepare for the worst in this ugly situation. Bobby Petrino and Jessica Dorrell have no one to blame in this situation, but themselves. Arkansas Razorback Football is certainly in better shape with Bobby Petrino on its sidelines, but the ultimate decision will be is The University of Arkansas better off with Bobby Petrino as an employee. 

Matt Barber

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