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Hogs’ Petrino Put On Leave Amidst Scandal; We Find It Sad, Not Funny

These are the kinds of stories that get great headlines.  They draw in big pageviews.  They’re scandalous.  They’re hot.

And they make this writer frickin’ sick.

Bobby Petrino has been placed on paid leave after University of Arkansas officials learned he failed to disclose that a female UA employee was riding with him when he wrecked his motorcycle over the weekend.

As so gleefully put it in the story linked to above, the employee was “half his age.”  Petrino is 51.  His passenger is 25.

The Hogs’ football coach apologized Thursday for keeping that part of the story a secret.  He claimed he was trying to protect his family and wanted to keep an “inappropriate relationship from becoming public.”

Arkansas AD Jeff Long said during a late-Thursday press conference that he was “at the beginning of the review” into Petrino’s actions and that he did not know “what I’m going to find.”  Long gave no timeline for Petrino’s return to the Razorback football program that he has so quickly rebuilt.

Via press release, Petrino said: 

“I will fully cooperate with the university throughout this process and my hope is to repair my relationships with my family, my athletic director, the Razorback Nation and remain the head coach of the Razorbacks.”

At the moment, assistant head coach Taver Johnson has been placed atop the Arkansas football program.  Johnson joined the Razorback staff from Ohio State in January.

The passenger on Petrino’s motorcycle was 25-year-old football program employee Jessica Dorrell.  Dorrell is a former UA volleyball player who was hired on March 28 — yes, just about a week ago — as the football program’s student-athlete development coordinator by Petrino himself.  That fact could prove to be the ultimate downfall of the coach.  As a state employee, hiring one’s mistress is most likely a no-no.

Long was reportedly unaware of Dorrell’s involvement in the accident until Petrino called him just minutes before a police report was released to the public on Thursday evening.  That report said Petrino was riding with Dorrell when he lost control of his motorcycle.

The coach suffered broken ribs and various other cuts and abrasions in the accident.  He returned to the practice field Tuesday wearing a neckbrace.  Part of the coach’s Thursday statement read:

“I have been in constant pain, medicated and the circumstances involving the wreck have come out in bits and pieces.  That said I certainly had a concern about Jessica Dorrell’s name being revealed. 

In hindsight, I showed a serious mistake in judgment when I chose not to be more specific about those details.  Today, I’ve acknowledged this previous inappropriate relationship with my family and those within the athletic department administration.”

Initially the coach told the press that he was alone on his bike at the time of the accident.  Lying to the press will only add to Petrino’s misery.

Petrino is married and has four children and those two facts will help kick this story into absolute hyperdrive.  Everyone loves to jump on the sins of others and Arkansas’ head football coach is about to learn that lesson the hard way. 

A motorcycle crash?  That’s a top story for one episode of “SportsCenter.”  An “inappropriate relationship” with someone “half his age,” is day-in, day-out fodder for all the shows featuring talking heads (who’ve likely engaged in worse behavior themselves).  Hiring the person with whom you’re having said inappropriate relationship? “Ugh” is the only word that comes to mind.

Sadly, this writer isn’t a fan of the moral majority in this country.  I feel a bit queasy whenever the time comes to jump on someone else for a moral failing.  (Do a quick site search of our Damon Evans coverage and you’ll find that we tried to handle the dismissal of Georgia’s AD as a sad story rather than as a joke.) 

All that said, please, don’t take the above paragraph as a defense of Petrino’s actions.  He acted stupidly.  And he has his own family to answer to for those actions.  He also owes his boss, Long, and the University of Arkansas’ president an answer.  He represents the University of Arkansas.

But he sure as Hell doesn’t owe me, you or any other ESPN, CNN, FoxNews or Twitter-using smart ass an explanation.  I don’t know about you, but I’ve got a closet full of my own skeletons to worry about without trying to destroy someone else for his.

But the fact of the matter remains — Petrino’s contract with Arkansas features a clause that could allow UA to dismiss him for “engaging in conduct, as solely determined by the university, which is clearly contrary to the character and responsibilities of a person occupying the position of head football coach or which negatively or adversely affects the reputation of the (university’s) athletics programs in any way.”

Not good. 

In fact, the only thing working in the coach’s favor is his rapid-fire success in Fayetteville.  If Petrino were a .500 coach at this point, he’d already be on his way out the door.  Still, his on-field success to date might not be able to save him from the whole, “you hired your mistress” angle of the story.

Make no mistake, this is a home run of a topic.  And you can bet which trash sites will jump all over it with snarky comments and judgmental attitudes.  What could be funnier than a man ruining his life with a bad decision, after all?

Too bad you won’t get that type of coverage here.  Oh, we’ll cover this crap because it could lead to the firing of one of the SEC’s best football coaches.  We can not ignore that fact.

But we won’t rejoice in it, either.  And as a result we won’t get the pageviews cooked up by those sites that do pile on with five stories per day on this sad tale.

So be it. 

Billy Joel once sang he’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints.  Well, I’d rather empathize with the sinners than laugh with the bloggers.

Here’s hoping Petrino can rebound from his failure.  Lord knows he’s not the first person to have one.

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The Battle For Mike Anderson Rages On

It’s the battle for Mike Anderson.   But it’s not being waged between Arkansas and Missouri as much as it’s being waged between two factions of the Razorback Nation.

It’s no secret that Anderson’s connections to ex-Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson serve as his greatest plus… and his greatest minus among Hog fans.  Those who loved the up-tempo, “40 minutes of Hell,” big winning ways of Richardson are positively giddy over reports that the Hogs might/could/will land his old assistant, Anderson.  But those who despised Richardson and have not forgiven him for his noisy, messy departure from Fayetteville want no part of any return to power by the toppled king or his prince.

If you’re AD Jeff Long, you’d better know which group of boosters have the most power in this debate and then you’d better side with them.  If that means the anti-Anderson faction has more cash and more pull, best to tick off the common Hog fan and chase someone like Marquette’s Buzz Williams (who’s now helped his own cause by reaching the Sweet Sixteen).  While Joe-Average-Hog-Hat might get mad, it’s the powerbrokers who’ll keep Long employed.

Richardson and Arkansas went through a very nasty divorce.  It took nearly a decade for any kind of thaw to even begin.  So even if Long and the Hogs are pursuing and do land Anderson, there could still be some blowback from the anti-Richardson minority.  If it’s indeed the minority.

Lost in all the hoopla over Anderson’s ties to Richardson is the coach’s actual record at Mizzou.  He rebuilt the Tigers following the Quin Snyder apocalypse, but the last two years have been a tad disappointing in Columbia.  Following the school’s 31-7 2008-09 season and its run to the Elite Eight that year, the Tigers have dropped to 23-11 in each of the last two years, finishing fifth in the Big 12 both times.  Last year the Tigers lost in the second round of the NCAA tourney and this year they fell in the opening stanza.  Anderson has had a winning conference record in two of his five years in Columbia.

Would back-to-back 23-11, fifth-place finishes be accepted in Fayetteville?  For a while. 

But anyone looking for a repeat of Arkansas’ 1988-1995 run — 200 wins, just 43 losses, seven first-place finishes, three Final Fours and a national title — might be disappointed with what Anderson can actually provide.  Or what anyone else can provide for that matter.

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No Shock Here: Pelphrey Didn’t Agree With His Firing… And Neither Did We

When John Pelphrey met with the media Monday, he made it clear how he felt about his dismissal.

“I do not agree with the decision yesterday to make a change.  I do not.  I absolutely do not.”  Pelphrey requested the opportunity to take part in the press conference so he could look “Arkansas in the eye.” 

“Obviously, I would’ve liked more time,” Pelphrey said.  “It takes time to build stability in a program.  Every situation is different.  This situation was different.  I know we were really close to reaping some of the rewards of all of our hard work.”

“I know where the program started and it was a program that needed a lot of work.  I know where we are today — making progress.  I absolutely, without question, know where it is going to be tomorrow and that is having repeat success of the past.”

“We are better today from a discipline standpoint because we all believed in the Razorback way — hard work all together, all the time.  If you had a problem with that, then we would never make an apology for disciplining a student-athlete because I still to this day believe the greatest form of love is to discipline someone.”

That’s an interesting view of love.  One that brings to mind dog collars and a garage door opener — no wait — that’s “9 to 5.”  But Pelphrey’s decision to suspend multiple players throughout his tenure certainly frustrated fans and created the impression that things inside his program were worse than they might have actually been.

The coach also discussed UA’s academic numbers which are on the climb.

“GPAs are up.  We had a 955 APR score a year ago and people said we could not hit that mark.  We have four young men that are all set to graduate here in the spring and a possibility of another young man graduating in December.  I don’t know another time when that has happened.  That’s pretty special and I look forward to being there in the spring to see those guys walk ‘cross the stage.  Two of the young men are getting ready to go in the Masters’ program.”

Pelphrey also addressed the attendance issues that plagued Bud Walton Arena this season.

“Everybody here me.  It is time for the fans, who say you love that logo with every fiber that is in you — I know how you care about that logo — it is time for you to show up and support this program, and get behind these players because there is a basketball season coming.  It is time for everybody to spread the good word, to buy your tickets and to show up.”

Pelphrey even referred to UA as his dream job.

“Four years ago when I came here I said that this was a dream job.  I meant that then and I still do.  My love and affection for this state, the people, this university and that logo, it has stolen my heart.  I will always be a part of Razorback Nation.”

But that wasn’t it for Pelphrey’s graceful exit.  He said he’s also tried to convince his top 10 recruiting class to stick with Arkansas.

“I spent basically my who existence here recruiting those guys.  I have spoken to them.  I’ve told them for whatever time it was that the University of Arkansas is the best place for them.  I still believe that.”

As we’ve said for a while now, Pelphrey deserved one more season in Fayetteville.  His program might not have been growing fast enough for the fans who decided to stay home and not buy their tickets — for the boosters who decided to stay home and not fill their luxury suites — but the program was not moving backwards.

For that reason, there was little risk in giving Pelphrey one more season to show what he could do with the recruiting class he’s put together.

Instead, Pelphrey’s out and he’s wisely chosen to exit with class.  Now a new coach will take over the UA program and he’ll find a roster in better shape moving forward than the senior-heavy squad Pelphrey inherited — and won with — in his first season.  That new coach won’t have to deal with APR restrictions that Pelphrey was faced with, either.

Arkansas might find a great new coach who can win right away in the downtrodden SEC West.  But their old coach deserved one more year on the job.

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