Bobby Petrino’s firing Tuesday as University of Arkansas football coach was the latest chapter in a colorful career that has seen great success on the field but also less-than-flattering headlines.
Arkansas’ athletic director said he fired Petrino because, in part, Petrino didn’t immediately disclose that a 25-year-old female member of his staff was with him when he crashed his motorcycle on April 1.
A university review also determined the woman had had a consensual relationship with the married father of four, and that he had hired the woman – out of 159 applicants - days earlier without disclosing their relationship, Athletics Director Jeff Long said.
Petrino “engaged in a pattern of misleading and manipulative behavior designed to deceive me and members of the athletics staff before and after the accident,” Long said Tuesday.
Not the kind of statement you’d want from a former boss if you’re looking for your next gig. But the 51-year-old coach has been getting jobs despite a reputation for a lack of candor, and he’ll likely get another chance, SI.com’s Andy Staples writes.
“Some school will eventually hire him. He wins football games. That makes up for any number of foibles,” Staples writes.
And win he does. Before his firing, Arkansas fans were dreaming of a run at a national championship in 2012. Last season, his No. 5 Razorbacks lost only two games – to national champion Alabama, and to runner-up Louisiana State.
The coach was 34-17 in four seasons at Arkansas, and 21-5 over the last two. Although many Razorbacks fans have told Arkansas CNN affiliates such as KFSM that they understand why Petrino was fired, and even agree with the firing, the success makes his departure hard to swallow.
“Man, it became a big shock. I thought maybe he would still be here and they would work something out, but character matters,” former Arkansas wide receiver Anthony Lucas, who said the firing was the right thing, told CNN affiliate KTHV.
Petrino also won at his previous college job, going 41-9 in four seasons at Louisville, guiding the previously ho-hum Cardinals to their highest-ever end-of-season ranking (No. 6) in 2006.
And before that, he earned a sterling reputation as an offensive coordinator and assistant coach who developed successful quarterbacks. In assistant positions at Auburn, Louisville and Arizona State, Petrino guided Jason Campbell, Chris Redman and Jake Plummer. This is in addition to Ryan Mallett and Brian Brohm, whom he led during his head coaching stints at Arkansas and Louisville.
But with Petrino comes a string of past decisions that, one might say, his employers could have done without. Both Staples and his SI.com colleague Michael Rosenberg write that Petrino wasn’t up front with his bosses at Louisville and, later, when he was head coach of the Atlanta Falcons when it came to looking out for other jobs.
In 2003, his first year as Louisville head coach, Petrino secretly met with Auburn officials about the Tigers’ head coaching position, which wasn’t even open yet. In 2007 - his first and only year with the Atlanta Falcons, he indicated to owner Arthur Blank that he was staying with the team just days before he departed for the Arkansas job, Sports Illustrated’s Peter King wrote at the time.
Petrino left Atlanta with three games remaining in the NFL season, announcing his departure to his players by leaving a 78-word letter in their lockers. It was one of the shortest tenures for a non-interim coach since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger, King wrote.
For now, Arkansas is looking for a coach who might be able to keep hopes for a spectacular 2012 season alive. SI.com’s Stewart Mandel writes the situation recalls that of Ohio State, which in 2011 fired its head coach, Jim Tressel, on suspicion of lying. Though Arkansas will have more difficulty attracting a top coach, it’s not the end of the world, Mandel writes:
“Arkansas is an SEC program with a history of winning and a rabid fan base to support it. It's also shown a willingness to shell out big dough. Petrino was one of the nation's 10 highest-paid coaches, making $3.5 million a year by the time of his ouster. With that kind of money, Arkansas can entice an experienced head coach of similar or better profile than Petrino upon his hire.”
As for Petrino, he released a statement Tuesday apologizing for his lack of candor and “selfish decisions” at Arkansas. He said his “sole focus at this point is trying to repair the damage I’ve done to my family.”
But eventually he’ll look to his coaching future.
“I love football. I love coaching. I of course hope I can find my way back to the profession I love,” Petrino said.