Bob Holt is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy, Biletnikoff Award and AP Top 25 basketball poll. Holt was awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year in 2000 and 2015.
Players answer Petrino’s barbs
STAFF PHOTO ANDY SHUPE -- Arkansas running back Knile Davis (7) walks off the field after the Razorbacks' 52-0 loss to Alabama Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012, at Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE Former Arkansas players took to Twitter on Thursday to express their displeasure with comments attributed to Paul Petrino - the Razorbacks’ offensive coordinator last season - in an online Sporting News article released Wednesday night.
Former defensive coordinator Paul Haynes and interim coach John L. Smith also were quoted in the story, but it was Petrino who drew most of the ire from former players.
Petrino and Haynes were quoted as saying that some players quit on the team, including faking injuries, when the Razorbacks fell from a top 10 national preseason ranking to a 4-8 finish under interim Coach John L. Smith. Petrino, now Idaho’s coach, and Haynes, now Kent State’s coach, didn’t mention any players by name.
“Quit? This is my take on it!!!” tweeted former All-SEC running back Knile Davis, a two-year team captain who is skipping his fifth season of eligibility to enter the NFL Draft. “The same guys who sacrificed their time and freedom. The same guys who gave their blood, sweat and tears for that hog on the side of that helmet. The same guys who skipped an opportunity of a lifetime by not entering the draft and came back knowing the risk. The same guys who battled to get that win in the Liberty Bowl in the freezing cold. The same guys that battled to get the school’s first berth in the Sugar Bowl. The same guys that fought and won the Cotton Bowl. These same guys quit on one of the most anticipated seasons in Arkansas history? I don’t think so. Not these guys. Not my guys. HAWG 4 LIFE.”
Some players took direct shots at Petrino, whose older brother, Bobby, was fired as Arkansas’ coach in April after lying about details of a motorcycle accident that eventually uncovered an affair with a female employee, Jessica Dorrell, he hired for a position of the football staff.
Tenarius Wright, a former defensive end and linebacker who missed much of the 2012 season after undergoing shoulder surgery, tweeted it’s “crazy and selfish” to accuse the players of quitting on the coaches.
“How about us the players write an article?” Wright tweeted. “Call it Hurricane Petrino.”
Former defensive lineman Jared Green said he was “beyond mad” about the comments, and noted that Paul Petrino was at Illinois in 2010 when Arkansas finished 10-3 with a Sugar Bowl bid and went 10-2 in 2011 before Petrino returned to the coaching staff for the Cotton Bowl.
“Paul Petrino wasn’t even a part of our most successful years and I wonder why,” Green tweeted.
Petrino and Haynes also said that Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long made a mistake by only giving Smith a 10-month contract, which undermined Smith and the assistants’ authority to lead the team.
Smith, who was head coach at Weber State at the time of Petrino’s firing, pursued the job at Arkansas, where he had been an assistant the previous three seasons. Smith’s hiring was publicly endorsed by the assistant coaches as well as the players, with no criticism regarding the contract’s terms at the time.
Long declined an interview request by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette regarding Petrino’s and Haynes’ comments. Petrino and Haynes also declined interview requests by the Democrat-Gazette regarding their comments in the Sporting News article.
“Coach Petrino’s comments were in support of his long-time friend, colleague and mentor John L. Smith,” Idaho Sports Information Director Becky Paull said in an e-mail. “He is, and always will be, a fan and supporter of the University of Arkansas and the Razorbacks.”
Paull said Petrino called some former Arkansas players Wednesday night after the Sporting News story hit the Internet, but she declined to say who he called and what Petrino told them.
“That’s private,” she said.
Kent State Sports Information Director Aaron Chimenti said in an e-mail that what Haynes told Sporting News reporter Steve Greenberg “was taken completely out of context and he was misquoted.The headline and the article “Former Arkansas coaches say players quit on team” “did not match the conversation they had. Paul never said or made reference to players quitting on the team.”
Chimenti said he advised Haynes not to comment on the article because it “doesn’t deserve to get any more attention than it’s already getting.”
Smith, who is now coach at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colo., couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday regarding the Sporting News article.
“There were some seniors who kind of hung it up, to be honest with you,” Petrino said in the Sporting News article. “They were going to worry about their futures more than that team. A couple seniors said they were hurt, and I don’t know if they really were.”
Said Smith in the article: “If a kid’s hurt, he’s hurt. Could some of the guys that were hurt have played with those injuries and continued on? That’s up to those guys.
“But I think some of the players, some of the older guys, said, ‘Why should I continue on?’ They were looking ahead to the NFL.”
Haynes said in the article he believed some players gave up on Arkansas when it became clear coaches they were close to wouldn’t be retained.
“I don’t fault the kids for thinking that way,” Haynes said in the article. “Again, there was no stability there. Again, it goes back to, ‘Who am I playing for?’ Once they can’t say, ‘We’re trying to save the coaches’ jobs’- if they’re just playing for the university, sometimes kids feel the university let them down.”
Throughout last season whenever Petrino and Haynes met with the media, they praised players for not giving up despite mounting losses. Both had positive comments after Arkansas’ 20-13 season ending loss to LSU.
“I was proud of the kids, I was proud of the assistant coaches. I was proud of everybody that fought as hard as they could to the end,” Petrino said. “That’s something we can all look in the mirror and always know that we did.”
Haynes talked about how fun it was to watch the players “fight to the end” against LSU. He said he’d have “good thoughts” remembering the season.
“It didn’t go the way we wanted it to, but the effort, the preparation our guys gave, you can’t ask for anything else,” Haynes said. “These are great kids, these are great coaches and this has been a pleasure this year.”
Sports, Pages 21 on 02/01/2013