Razorback football coach Bobby Petrino was fired today for lying about circumstances in his April 1 wreck but primarily for giving an unfair and undisclosed advantage to his girlfriend, Jessica Dorrell, in hiring her last month as an assistant on the football staff for $55,700.
Athletic Director Jeff Long said that Petrino had violated university policy by not disclosing his relationship with Dorrell in hiring her from 159 applicants. Long said Petrino had also paid Dorrell an additional $20,000 in
athletic department money. (Long confirmed afterwards that the money was not university money.) That is perhaps how, sources suggest, she could afford a new Acura she reportedly purchased a day or so after she took her new job. That $20,000, even if from Petrino’s own pocket, would still appear a possible violation of his contract, which prohibits him from personally supplementing pay of any member of his staff, “directly or indirectly.” The key issue contractually would be when Petrino gave her the money, before or after she joined the staff directly under his control on the football team. It appears to have been before the hiring, which might have made it legally correct, if not in the spirit of the contract.
Long, who choked up and had to pause when he recounted telling the football team about his decision today, listed a number of points, closely tailored to language in a dismissal clause in Petrino’s contract, in explaining the firing. He said Taver Johnson would remain interim coach until the end of spring practice, but he said he was intent on finding a new head coach who would maintain Arkansas’s place among America’s football “elite.” In response to a question, he said Petrino’s brother, Paul, a highly paid assistant, was among those he tried to give assurances, too, today.
ESPN’s Joe Schad, who broke the story, posted twitters that indicated Petrino was not making excuses or threatening to challenge a no-severance summary firing. Quotes:
* “I am committed to being a better husband, father and human being.”
* “My sole focus at this point is trying to repair the damage I’ve done to my family.”
* “I have no one to blame but myself.”
I now see these quotes come from a statement issued by Petrino through an agent, Russ Campbell, who’s now supplied it to me. While contrite, it suggests some disagreement with the version of events presented by Long and, in acknowledging mistakes, Petrino again suggests his relationship with Dorrell was in the past, though it doesn’t explain the April 1 cycle ride.
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.
Petrino’s full statement can also be found at the end of the jump.
Long’s news conference bullet points:
* Petrino “knowingly misled athletic department and university and public on multiple occasions” about the circumstances of his accident.
* His relationship with Dorrell, a former volleyball player at the UA who’d previously worked for the Razorback Foundation, gave her “an unfair and undisclosed” advantage for the job.
* His conduct regarding the accident jeopardized the football program. In demonstrating he was able to go to work, Petrino met press and others “all the time failing to correct the initial report that only he was involved.”
* Petrino’s actions adversely affected the reputation of the university.
* A consensual relationship is “not against university policy” but “a matter between an individual and his family.” But, Long said, in this case the coach abused his authority when he “made a staff decision that benefitted himself and jeopardized the integrity of the university.”
* Petrino engaged in a “pattern of misleading, manipulative behavior designed to deceive me and the athletic department.” Long said Petrino used athletic funds to hire a person with whom he’d had an inappropriate relationship. He “engaged in reckless and inappropriate behavior and put himself in the national spotlight.”
Asked about Dorrell, Long said she was an employee, but her status was a personnel matter he couldn’t discuss “in this environment.” He said no other problems with Petrino’s behavior turned up during his review.
Long said the firing for cause means the university will pay no severance to Petrino. He didn’t say if Petrino said he would fight legally to contest that finding and seek a monetary settlement.
You should be able to replay the news conference here.
Instant takeaway: A proud moment in a bad time for the university. They investigated, found true wrongdoing, not just an extramarital affair, and cut out the cancer. Long acknowledged he’s likely to face some unhappy fans. I think what he revealed about Petrino’s personnel actions in the athletic department made his retention unsupportable in the context of the larger institution and fans will accept that. The football might-have-beens are for another day.