FLASHBACK: Democrat-Gazette coverage of Bobby Petrino's firing 4 years ago today
Front page of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on April 11, 2016
University of Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long fired head football Coach Bobby Petrino on Tuesday, saying Petrino demonstrated a pattern of manipulative and deceptive behavior in trying to cover up his relationship with a 25-year-old employee of the football program.
Further, Long said, Petrino abused his authority in handpicking Jessica Dorrell for her job as the football program’s student-athlete development coordinator over 158 other applicants. Also, Dorrell and Petrino acknowledged that Petrino gave her $20,000 at some point during their relationship, Long said.
Long declined to divulge how long Petrino and Dorrell were in a relationship, but said, “It had been a significant period of time.”
Petrino said in a statement sent by his attorney, Russ Campbell of Birmingham, Ala., that he had no one to blame but himself.
“My sole focus at this point is trying to repair the damage I’ve done to my family,” Petrino said in the statement.
According to Arkansas State Police reports, Dorrell was a passenger when Petrino ran his Harley Davidson Road King off the road about 6:30 p.m. April 1 while trying to negotiate a curve on Arkansas 16 near Crosses in rural Madison County.
Jeff Long - Bobby Petrino FiringWatch Video
Petrino Press Conference 4.10.12
Petrino, 51, suffered serious injuries and was rushed from the scene by an Ozark couple who happened upon the accident. He was later transferred to a car driven by state police Capt. Lance King, who drove Petrino to a Fayetteville hospital. At the accident scene, Petrino declined two motorists’ offers to call 911.
Petrino made a conscious decision to lie to UA officials and to the public when he held a news conference April 3 and said he was alone during the crash, Long said. Petrino had multiple opportunities to be forthcoming and instead knowingly misled Long and others, Long said.
UA issued an erroneous statement after the accident saying that no one but Petrino was involved in the crash.
“Coach Petrino engaged in a pattern of misleading and manipulative behavior designed to deceive me and members of the athletic staff, both before and after the motorcycle accident,” Long said.
In a news conference Tuesday at Bud Walton Arena on the Fayetteville campus, Long said he fired Petrino with cause, which means the university does not intend to pay the $18 million buyout in Petrino’s contract. A clause in the contract allows UA to dismiss him on the basis of his conduct and solely at the university’s discretion.
There had been no negotiations about ways that Petrino could remain as football coach, Long said.
“He engaged in reckless and unacceptable behavior that put his relationship in the national spotlight. Coach Petrino’s conduct was contrary to the character and responsibilities we demand from our head football coach.
“In fact, that is the very language that is included in his contract that he signed at the University of Arkansas.”
Petrino’s contract stipulates that he has five days to appeal his firing, either through a committee or directly to Chancellor G. David Gearhart.
Gearhart issued a statement saying it was a “sad day” for the university and the program. “Given my role in the review process as Chancellor, I must decline further comment on today’s announcement,” the statement read.
UA chief spokesman John Diamond said that as of Tuesday evening, Petrino had not requested an appeal.
Long said that the relationship with Dorrell, by itself, wasn’t against UA policies and would have been a matter between Petrino and his family. But when Petrino failed to disclose his relationship with Dorrell in choosing her as an employee, he abused his authority and endangered the football program, Long said.
He said Petrino’s hiring of Dorrell represented a conflict of interest under the university’s policies.
The policies don’t prohibit consensual relationships but do hold a supervisor to a higher level of accountability than any subordinate the supervisor becomes involved with, according to the UA handbook. The policies also require written notification to the supervisor’s boss when such a relationship exists, it says.
Long said Petrino gave Dorrell an unfair and undisclosed advantage over other applicants for her position, which pays $55,735 annually. Dorrell, who worked previously for the Razorback Foundation as its first female fundraiser, began the job with the football program March 28.
A former UA volleyball player, Dorrell was one of three finalists who interviewed for the position, Long said, adding that he doesn’t know how long the job was advertised but that it was “shorter than normal” under the university’s affirmativeaction hiring process.
Long declined to divulge whether Dorrell is still employed with UA, saying that was a separate personnel matter.
Long’s voice became shaky during the news conference after he said he’d met with the football team to tell its members of his decision. “I shared with them ...,” he said, before stepping away from the podium and taking sips of water to regain his composure before continuing.
“No single individual is bigger than the team,” Long said.
Assistant head coach Taver Johnson, the team’s linebackers coach, was appointed interim head coach while Long begins the process of hiring a new coach.
He said he expects the current staff to carry through with spring practice, which ends April 21, after which, he’ll decide whether to continue with an interim coach or hire someone before fall football season.
Long’s review of Petrino’s actions began Thursday after Petrino phoned him to say he had lied about being alone in the motorcycle accident. Petrino admitted lying about 20 minutes before state police released the motorcycle-accident report that included a statement from Dorrell and identified her as a passenger. In a report about King’s actions regarding the accident, which was released Monday, King acknowledged that he had phoned Petrino to let him know when the accident report would be made public.
King’s supervisors have said he violated no policy in helping Petrino after the accident. King is among the state police troopers who provide security for the Razorbacks and Petrino during home and away games.
Long announced late Thursday that he had put Petrino on paid administrative leave and that he would investigate the accident. Long’s five-day review turned up damaging evidence, he said, chiefly involving Petrino’s actions in hiring Dorrell and the $20,000 cash gift.
Long said he notified Petrino in person Tuesday morning that the university had grounds to terminate him, then sent Petrino a letter later Tuesday to inform him of the official decision.
Long, who said he had consulted with members of the faculty, staff and alumni before making his decision to fire the coach, said Petrino’s behavior had “negatively and adversely affected the reputation of the university.”
His review of Petrino did not turn up anything that could be considered a violation of NCAA rules, Long said.
Other than termination, Long had a range of punishments he could have given Petrino, including a salary reduction, suspension without pay and loss of incentives.
Petrino expressed remorse during their meeting Tuesday morning, Long said in response to a question in the news conference.
In Petrino’s statement, he said his simplest response to the recent events was that he was sorry.
“All I have been able to think about is the number of people I’ve let down by making selfish decisions,” Petrino said in the statement. “I’ve taken a lot of criticism in the past. Some deserved, some not deserved. This time, I have no one to blame but 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.”
Petrino said he received word of his firing at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday.
“I’m sure you’ve heard Jeff Long’s reasons for termination,” Petrino said in his statement. “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.”
Petrino led the Razorbacks to prominence in the Southeastern Conference, with a 34-17 record in four seasons and to the school’s first Bowl Championship Series appearance after the 2010 season. However, he didn’t reach his goal of winning championships in the toughest division in all of college football — the SEC West.
The SEC has claimed every national championship since Petrino arrived at UA, the past three by SEC West members Alabama and Auburn.
The Razorbacks were 21-5 over the past two seasons and achieved a Cotton Bowl victory over Kansas State in January.
Just 14 months ago, Petrino was at his pinnacle with the Razorbacks after leading the team to a 10-2 regular-season record that included a sixgame winning streak to end the 2010 season, capped by a 31-23 victory over Louisiana State University.
Petrino was named the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s Sportsman of the Year for 2010. He received a raise that took his salary to an average of $3.56 million for the next seven seasons and featured a blockbuster buyout deal that started at $18 million for the first two years.
“I feel good,” Petrino told the Democrat-Gazette on Dec. 22, 2010. “I feel comfortable. I feel excited for the future.”
Under Petrino’s direction, the football program had carved out a national profile as one of the top offenses in the NCAA.
Forbes estimated the UA program’s worth at $89 million last year, a figure that represented a 59 percent increase in its worth since 2009.
Under Petrino, UA also installed artificial turf at a cost of about $1 million at Reynolds Razorback Stadium in 2009 to better suit his fastpaced offense.
The university also began construction last fall on a football operations facility estimated to cost $35 million, although the price tag has gone up to $40 million or more with the addition of raised practice fields south of the Walker Pavilion.
Information for this article was contributed by Tracie Dungan and Chris Branam of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
2002 Dec. 23, 2002
Bobby Petrino leaves Auburn after one season as offensive coordinator to take over the Louisville Cardinals after John L. Smith left for Michigan State.
2003 Nov. 25
After a 9-4 debut season, Petrino admits he met secretly with Auburn officials to discuss replacing Tommy Tuberville, his former boss. Louisville officials said no one contacted them seeking permission. Petrino stays with the Cardinals.
2004 Dec. 29
Three days before the GMAC Bowl, Petrino admits he interviewed with LSU after Nick Saban left for the Miami Dolphins. LSU ultimately hires Les Miles, and the Cardinals go on to defeat Boise State 44-40.
2006 Jan. 2
Louisville loses 35-24 to No. 12 Virginia Tech in the Gator Bowl to finish 9-3 overall and No. 19 in the AP poll.
Petrino signs a 10-year contract worth up to $25 million to stay with the Cardinals and says, “This is where I want to be, where my family wants to be.”
2007 Jan. 2
Louisville defeats No. 15 Wake Forest 24-13 in the Orange Bowl for the school’s first BCS victory, and the Cardinals end the year at 12-1 and ranked No. 5 in the AP poll.
Petrino is hired by the Atlanta Falcons, leaving Louisville with a 41-9 record over four seasons for a fouryear, $24 million NFL contract. He was hired to help shape quarterback Michael Vick, who was arrested for his role in a dogfighting ring before the season started.
In the midst of a 3-10 season, Petrino resigns as Falcons coach, informing the players via a four-sen tence note in each player’s locker.
Petrino is introduced as the Arkansas football coach at a 10:30 p.m. news conference at the Broyles Center.
2008 Sept. 30
Arkansas comes from behind to defeat Western Illinois 28-24 in Petrino’s coaching debut.
Petrino scores a signature victory in his first season, as the Razorbacks beat defending national champion LSU 31-30 in what is called the Miracle on Markham II.
2009 Nov. 28
Arkansas loses 33-30 in overtime at LSU to wrap up a 7-5 regular season in which the Hogs land a Liberty Bowl berth.
2010 Jan. 2
The Razorbacks claim their first bowl victory in six years, downing East Carolina 20-17 in overtime at the Liberty Bowl.
Arkansas outlasts Georgia 31-24 in Athens, Ga., for the first significant road victory of the Petrino era.
The Razorbacks let a 20-7 lead slip away in front of a school-record crowd of 76,808 at Reynolds Razorback Stadium in a 24-20 loss to defending champion and No. 1-ranked Alabama.
Arkansas holds off LSU 32-26 to cap a six-game winning streak and earn the school’s first berth in the Bowl Championship Series with a Sugar Bowl invitation
Petrino and UA announce their agreement on a seven-year contract with an average annual salary of $3.56 million and a blockbuster mirror buyout that begins at $18 million for the first two years.
2011 Jan. 4
Petrino coaches Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl — the school’s first BCS trip. The Razorbacks lose 32-26 to Ohio State.
Largely because of Petrino’s success, the school breaks ground on a $40.35 million practice facility set to open in 2013.
2012 Jan. 7
Petrino leads Arkansas to a 29-16 victory over Kansas State in the Cotton Bowl, finishing 11-2 to tie a school record for wins in a season.
Petrino is placed on leave after an Arkansas State Police report reveals he crashed his motorcycle April 1 with Jessica Dorrell, a UA staff member, on board. The report contradicts earlier statements by Petrino that he was riding alone. He also admits a “previous inappropriate relationship.”
Petrino is fired after Athletic Director Jeff Long completes a review of the incident.
Statement from Petrino
Editor’s note: The following statement was released by Bobby Petrino’s attorney, Russ Campbell of Birmingham, Ala., Tuesday night:
April 10, 2012 – 8:45 p.m.
COACH BOBBY PETRINO STATEMENT
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 but 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 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, 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 get to 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 it 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 4 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.
Front Section, Pages 1 on 04/11/2012