Arkansas’ Bold Move In Firing Petrino

The university and A.D. Jeff Long made it clear that ethics and character outweigh wins.

Josh Helmuthby Josh Helmuth

After misleading and deceiving the athletic department at the university, Arkansas fired head coach Bobby Petrino on Tuesday.

Athletic director Jeff Long addressed the media at an evening news conference in which he described the shocking laundry list of intentional deception by Petrino since his motorcycle accident with his mistress just more than a week ago.

The most obvious of cover-ups by Petrino, began with failing to come clean to Long about his inappropriate relationship with Jessica Dorrell, a former university volleyball player he hired on his staff and paid under-the-table.

Petrino not only lied to Long and the media about his personal and work relationship with Dorrell following the accident, but also failed to disclose that she was with him at the time of his crash — something that he didn't confront Long with until 20 minutes before he found out the police report would be released, stating the details of her presence.

"He made the decision, a conscious decision, to mislead the public on Tuesday, and in doing so negatively and adversely affected the reputation of the University of Arkansas and our football program," Long said, emotionally as he discussed the announcement to the players about the firing of their coach, "In short, 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 Petrino was fired "with cause" — meaning the university will not have to pay him the $18 million buyout of his contract. A clause in his contract gave Long the power to suspend or fire Petrino for conduct that "negatively or adversely affects the reputation of the (university's) athletics programs in any way."

Petrino is a 51-year-old married man and father of four that had not only maintained an inappropriate relationship with Dorrell for a 'significant' amount of time, but showed workplace favoritism by hiring her on his staff and giving her $20,000.

Although payment details were not disclosed, Kevin Trainor, a representative for Long, said the money came from Petrino and not university funds.

Fired via letter from Long, Petrino, issued a lengthy apology.

"The simplest response I have is: I'm sorry. These two words seem very inadequate. But that is my heart," Petrino said in a statement. "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."

Dorrell was hired by Petrino on March 28, only four days before their accident in rural Arkansas. Long stated that she was one of three finalists out of 159 applicants and was hired within a time frame that was much shorter than normal.

To complicate the drama further, Dorrell was "at one point" engaged to Josh Morgan, the director of swimming and diving operations for the university's athletic department.

"Coach Petrino abused his authority when over the past few weeks he made a staff decision and personal choices that benefited himself and jeopardized the integrity of the football program," Long said.

The removal of Petrino may come as a shock to many. The coach has built Arkansas into an SEC and national contender in just over four years, going 21-5 the past two seasons, and finishing with a No. 5 final rank and Cotton Bowl victory over Kansas State last year; all feats incredibly tough to accomplish considering national champion Alabama and national runner-up LSU are in the same division.

Assistant head coach Taver Johnson was put in charge of the program following Petrino's 'administrative leave,' last week and will continue to lead the program. Sources have stated that Long has informed the coaching staff that he would like to keep the same assistants in their current positions through the spring before opening the head coaching search later in the year.

Photo Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

Josh Helmuth is the sports editor for CraveOnline Sports. You can follow him on Twitter @JHelmuth or subscribe at Facebook.com/CraveOnlineSports.