L'Affaire Petrino

Arkansas Head Coach Bobby Petrino

By now you've probably heard that Bobby Petrino has been placed on administrative leave by the University of Arkansas after word broke in Fayetteville yesterday that one of the Razorback football staff members was riding with Coach Petrino at the time of his motorcycle accident - viz, a 25 year old former UA volleyball player. The young woman in question appears to have just been hired by Petrino last week onto the football staff from a former position she held at a university foundation. Fortunately, it does not appear she was hurt in the crash.

A press conference has been scheduled by the Arkansas Athletic Department for 9:45 this morning to further address the matter.

John Pennington blogs about the developments with some strong feelings against the media circus that is now erupting - Hogs’ Petrino Put On Leave Amidst Scandal; We Find It Sad, Not Funny and I have to say that I agree with a lot of his sentiments. When considered in the context of true scandals in the football world - like the Penn State coverup of Jerry Sandusky's monstrosities, or the Saints' bounty system - the Petrino crash is barely newsworthy in comparison.

Nevertheless, the tawdriness level will escalate this story out of proportion during this relatively slow news period, at least among the CFB press. No doubt this will cause excruciating humiliation to the 51 year old coach, as well as his wife and four children - not to mention the University of Arkansas community. That truly is a shame.

Yet this is a situation where the blame lies entirely with Petrino. Chris Low asks Is this a storm Bobby Petrino can survive? It's a fair question because after the accident, Petrino affirmatively told both his boss and the press that he was alone at the time of the crash. No if's, and's or but's about it.

By way of explanation last evening, however, he confessed that he intentionally withheld the woman's involvement in order to save his family and the university from the embarrassment of an "innappropriate relationship" - which is a common-enough euphemism for an affair that I can't imagine why anyone would use it if there wasn't some sort of extra-marital relationship between the two. Not only is Petrino married, of course, but the staff member appears to be engaged to the Hogs' swimming/diving operations director,

CBS Sports' Dennis Dodd writes Arkansas' boss hog survived crashing his hog, can't survive fallout. I think Dodd is probably correct, even though his fellow CBS columnist Bruce Feldman thinks Petrino's win-loss record may be enough to save him.

I have to say that I really dislike Petrino professionally. I remember writing last year words to the effect that the only person Bobby Petrino truly cares about is Bobby Petrino. I was contemptuous of how he had lied about his attempt to leapfrog from Louisville to Auburn in 2003 (even if it's become S.O.P. in the coaching world by guys like Lane Kiffin or Rich Rodriguez). Similarly, even though I am not a Falcons fan, I was disgusted by the shameful way he lied to Falcons owner Arthur Blank and the cowardly manner in which he avoided manning up to his team when he bailed on Atlanta in 2007 - posting a typed note on the Falc's locker room door for his team to find the same morning that he was being announced in Fayetteville (it was Lawyer Milloy who famously wrote "Coward!" in the margin).

I remember wondering at the time why the Hogs would trust a guy who was just as likely to betray them if a better deal came along. I also wondered why parents or recruits would trust him, either. Houston Nutt may be crazy, but to me he had more honor in his little finger than Bobby Petrino seemed to exhibit in his whole body.

Unlike NBC Sports' Ben Kercheval, I don't feel much sympathy for Arkansas A.D. Jeff Long since he was the one who lured Petrino from Atlanta. Long knew (or as we say in the law, should have known) the kind of man he was putting at the helm of the Razorback football team.

My animus to Petrino has nothing to do with the fact the Hogs have owned USC on the football field since 2008 - inflicting double-digit (and more often than not 20 point) losses on us for the past four years. I respect him as a coach regardless of his personal shortcomings. Frankly, part of me wants Petrino to survive just so that we can repay him in kind on the gridiron. We may not get that chance now.

That being said, I can't help but feel mostly sadness that this incident may take down admittedly one of the most talented coaches in the SEC, and derail the Razorbacks' season before it even begins. As much as I dislike his professional ethics, I don't want to see Petrino personally ruined, his career destroyed and his family broken. Much as I want to shove "woo pig sooie" down their throats, I do not want to see the Arkansas squad suffer through a failed 2012 campaign that seemed to hold so much promise just a few days ago.

Still, the Hog players and fans deserved better. So did the SEC as a whole. Why did Petrino have to lie? Why didn't he come clean immediately? Why is there such a history of deception with this man? I can see why a lot of people will be angry.

The Hogs have had to deal with a lot of adversity recently - with the 2011 season-ending injury to 2010 All-SEC RB Knile Davis, to the death of football player Garrett Uekman - so we know they are a resilient bunch, which speaks well for their character. But losing their head coach, with newly-arrived Taver Johnson of Ohio State as the interim, will almost certainly be a huge distraction in a year where the expectations were so high for the Arkansas football team and their fans.

If there is a chance for redemption here, then I hope Arkansas can bestow it with grace - and that Bobby Petrino can accept it with repentance. We'll find out his fate soon enough. Unfortunately, however, we seem already to have found the measure of the man. And it is sorely wanting.

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