Arkansas Fires Bobby Petrino: Media Misfires and Where Razorbacks Go From Here


Less than two weeks. That’s the full timeline of events leading up to Bobby Petrino’s ouster as Arkansas’s head coach, handed down Tuesday afternoon.

March 28: Jessica Dorrell is hired as Arkansas football’s Student-Athlete Development Coordinator. This is a vital, yet in all too many media outlets overlooked detail of Petrino’s firing. 

Dorrell was an employee of the Razorback Foundation previously. Her position with the football program was not only new to her, but new altogether.

April 1: Petrino veers off a two-lane highway 20 miles southeast of Fayetteville. A statement is released that says: 

"“He is in stable condition and is expected to make a full recovery. Our family appreciates respect for our privacy during the recovery and we are grateful for the thoughts of Razorback fans at this time.”"

April 3: Donning a neck brace (and 2012 Cotton Bowl champions ball cap) and with scuffs visible on his face, Petrino addresses the media in high spirits after returning to Razorback practice. 

Petrino discusses taking his motorcycle out after dinner, citing his frequent rides in the area and comments on bypassing a helmet when he left the house.

April 5: Coaches including Petrino’s SEC rival, Nick Saban of Alabama and SEC newcomer Gary Pinkel of Missouri offer their support and share their own motorcycle mishaps. 

By late afternoon on Thursday, a report breaks that Petrino’s original statement to the media that he was alone was false. Dorrell is cited as his passenger. Arkansas AD Jeff Long is notified by Petrino around 3:12 p.m. CT, prior to the report’s release. 

Long calls a press conference just after 10 p.m. local time, where a written statement from Petrino is issued. He confirms the Arkansas State Police report, and adds  “[M]y hope is to repair my relationships with my family, my Athletic Director, the Razorback Nation and remain the head coach of the Razorbacks.”

Long announces Petrino is on administrative leave. Petrino will be paid, but is “not to coach football” at that time.

April 8: Razorback football loyalists form a Facebook group called Team Save Coach Petrino. Several thousand join the group, and a rally is planned.

April 9: Team Save Coach Petrino holds a modest, peaceful demonstration to support Petrino, their ultimate goal to convince UA brass to retain the successful head coach.  

April 10: Announcement of Petrino’s firing is made just after 7 p.m. CT. 

A sordid whirlwind indeed, exacerbated by misinformation and misconceptions.

The capital-m Media is something of a boogieman. The way in which it’s spoken depicts all outlets as being part of a single cabal, conspiring together in some Transylvanian lair. Though news often reverberates through an echo chamber, that’s coincidence, not collusion.

Actual news gatherers were beyond diligent reporting this story and deserve kudos. The ever-increasing opining lot whiffed frequently on the same story. Friday morning as I drove to work, I heard a national radio host shouting about “personal affairs.” A fair point, and immediately following the suspension, understandable. However, I was hearing the same even today.

The opposite side were those ravenously calling for Petrino’s head, many drudging up past accounts that while not commendations of Petrino, were not professionally damning. Middle ground on the topic has been sparse. And much like the Penn State scandal last fall, the innocents are forgotten pawns on the chessboard.

The affair itself is a matter for which Petrino must deal with his family. For their sake, it doesn’t need public scrutiny. I feel bad for his wife and children.

Professionally, it might put Petrino on shaky ground with his employers. Winning and the money winning generates has become the all-encompassing Alpha and Omega of coaching, though. Furthermore, Petrino might not be alone. Men in power have often been caught with their pants down (pun intended), from athletes to politicians. In the world of college football, just a few years ago Charlie Weis took some very thinly veiled shots at Pete Carroll’s fidelity. Nothing ever came of that, and to make such statements off conjecture is reprehensible. That said, the possibility for cheating does exist. 

Now, to brush off his transgressions with the “everyone else is doing it” defense is taking the moral low road; the opposite, but equally wrong direction of those who marched to the peak of Mount Pious to cast stones. Furthermore, Petrino’s cardinal sin was not so much the affair as that is was with a recently hired employee at a public university. The last two words are of particular importance.

Whether that error supersedes Petrino’s success as a football coach is now moot. UA says goodbye to the coach who led it to a 21-5 mark the last two seasons, and a pair of prominent bowl games. Had this occurred in say, December, the Razorbacks could have snatched their choice of coaching candidates.

Not far away in Jonesboro, Gus Malzahn is as hot a prospect as there could be. But Malzahn wouldn’t leave ASU in mid-April to coach players expected to make a championship run; players with whom he is unfamiliar. Especially not without coaching a single game at ASU. Right?


That might shock even the most jaded of football cynics. Losing their coach at this juncture is unfair to the Razorback players. There’s been very little talk of how his departure impacts them. But giving them justice by screwing over the RedWolves is hardly justice. As much moral ambiguity as the sport has lent itself to, I cannot envision Malzahn leaving his young men at ASU high and dry like that.

Garrick McGee would have been an excellent replacement, but the former Hog offensive coordinator is now at UAB.

Taver Johnson assumed the reins after Petrino’s suspension. Assuming Long is unable to either lure a coach away this late in the game, or woo a suitable replacement out of retirement, Johnson would seemingly guide the Razorbacks into 2012. The circumstances are a bit different, but ask Luke Fickell how much fun that can be.