SBD/April 11, 2012/Colleges

Arkansas AD Jeff Long Cites "Misleading" Behavior As Reason For Firing Petrino

Arkansas AD said Petrino's actions in hiring Dorrell constituted a conflict of interest
Univ. of Arkansas AD Jeff Long announced yesterday that the school “has fired head football coach Bobby Petrino with cause for what was described as misleading and manipulating behavior in an attempt to cover up an affair with a female football employee,” according to Matt Jones of the ARKANSAS DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE. News broke of the relationship four days after Petrino and the female employee, Jessica Dorrell, were involved in a motorcycle accident April 1. Dorrell was "hired by Petrino as student-athlete development coordinator from a pool of 159 applicants.” Long at a press conference last night said that Petrino “also gave Dorrell $20,000 before she was hired.” Jones notes the status of Dorrell's current employment “was not disclosed.” Long said Petrino's actions in hiring Dorrell constituted a "conflict of interest." He added, “Our expectations of character and integrity in our employees can be no less than we expect of our students. No single individual is bigger than the team, the Razorback football program or the University of Arkansas." Jones notes Petrino's success, “coupled with a multimedia deal with IMG College and increased profit-sharing revenues with the Southeastern Conference since his arrival, has made the Razorbacks more valuable than ever.” Forbes rated Arkansas as “the eighth-most valuable college football program last year at a value of more than $89 million -- a 59 percent increase from 2009.” The school is “currently building a $40.35 million football operations center with bonds it hopes to pay back solely with donations.” Long has also “expressed the desire to add more seats and luxury suites to Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in the future -- a project that will cost an estimated $95 million” (ARKANSAS DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE, 4/11).

IT'S IN THE DETAILS: Long said, “Coach Petrino knowingly misled the athletics department and the university about the circumstances related to his accident. He had multiple opportunities over a four-day period to be forthcoming with me. He chose not to.” ARKANSASSPORTS360.com’s Chris Bahn noted Petrino has now “forfeited a contract that was supposed to run through 2017.” The coach was “in the midst of a season that included a $17 million buyout, but his actions voided the contract.” Of the 159 applicants for the position on the football staff, only “three were interviewed before Dorrell, a former UA volleyball player, was hired from the Razorback Foundation” (ARKANSASSPORTS360.com, 4/10). USA TODAY’s Tom Weir in a sports section cover story noted Long “didn’t specify the source of the $20,000, or whether it involved school funds.” Long did say he interviewed Petrino and Dorrell and “both parties admitted a gift was given.” Long said that there was “no single issue that led to Petrino’s dismissal but ‘casting the negative publicity onto our university … was one of the more acute factors.'” Long: “I’m disappointed in his lack of judgment, his failure to tell me the truth of it.” Long said that Petrino leaves “with no buyout money ... and apparently no severance of any kind.” He added, “Coach Petrino was terminated with cause, and no, there were no negotiations about ways that he could remain our football coach” (USA TODAY, 4/11). The ARKANSAS TIMES’ Max Brantley wrote the $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.’" Long noted that Petrino “used athletic funds to hire a person with whom he'd had an inappropriate relationship.” He added Petrino "engaged in reckless and inappropriate behavior and put himself in the national spotlight." Asked about Dorrell, Long said that she “was an employee, but her status was a personnel matter he couldn't discuss ‘in this environment.’" Brantley: “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” (ARKTIMES.com, 4/10).

TOUGH DECISION, RIGHT DECISION
: ESPN.com’s Tim Keown wrote Long made “the only decision a right-thinking person could.” This was “purely an employment issue.” The cheating, if “that's what it is or was, is mostly irrelevant to Petrino's firing,” as he “lied to his supervisors about the accident.” Keown: “Long and the Arkansas administration stood up for something. They decided against winning at all costs, which was the only argument for Petrino.” In the end, the “right decision was the easiest decision” (ESPN.com, 4/10). ESPN.com’s Mark Schlabach writes, “Give Long credit for making a difficult decision. He made the right one.” He came to the “only logical conclusion: he could no longer trust Petrino.” Long’s decision “gave ethics and integrity a rare victory over winning in college sports” (ESPN.com, 4/11). CBSSPORTS.com’s Brett McMurphy wrote Long “won the press conference Tuesday night.” He is “a class individual” (CBSSPORTS.com, 4/10). FOXSPORTS.com’s Thayer Evans writes Long “reminded us of what is all too often overlooked: Integrity means far more than wins and losses” (FOXSPORTS.com, 4/11). In N.Y., Dick Weiss notes Long “was in tears as he talked about telling the players the news” of Petrino’s firing. But he “had the integrity to do the right thing, the only thing he could do, given the circumstances” (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 4/11). CBSSPORTS.com’s Tony Barnhart wrote, “Integrity finally won.” Fighting back tears and “clearly distraught and hurt,” Long “stood in front of a media audience and delivered the single worst beat down I have ever heard by an administrator on a coach.” It was a “well-deserved beat down, to be sure,” but it still “was surprising.” Barnhart: “Arkansas, the university, gained a lot of respect” (CBSSPORTS.com, 4/10).

RISING TO THE MOMENT: In Memphis, Geoff Calkins writes Long “rose to the moment like few dared to believe he would.” Calkins: “He eviscerated Petrino. … It was a magnificent performance. It was stunning, too. What does it say about the nature of college sports that it came as such a surprise?” (Memphis COMMERCIAL APPEAL, 4/11). In Oklahoma, Berry Tramel wrote Long “stood tall Tuesday night” (NEWSOK.com, 4/10). SI.com’s Andy Staples writes Long “performed well Tuesday” and made the decision “he had to make despite the fact that it placed his own neck on the block” (SI.com, 4/11). Syndicated radio host Jim Rome wrote on his Twitter feed, “I had no reason to believe Arkansas AD Jeff Long would do the right thing & break off Bobby Petrino. But he did. Brass.” Indiana men's basketball coach Tom Crean wrote, “Watching Jeff Long handle the presser at Arkansas is a strong example of tremendous leadership in adverse times.” ESPN's Buster Olney: “I don't know anything about Ark. AD Jeff Long. But if I were a college looking for AD, I'd want to interview him after watching him tonight.”

COMING BACK TO BITE THEM: ESPN’s Mike Greenberg noted Long is being "painted as some sort of heroic figure" for firing Petrino, but "let's also remember that Jeff Long hired Bobby Petrino." Greenberg: "Do we need to go over Bobby Petrino’s history? ... This should not have come as a surprise to no one. This is not a heroic figure.” ESPN’s Mike Golic: “He was the AD when he signed him away from the Falcons and didn’t really go through the proper procedures there of asking for permission. ... I thought it was interesting the praise Jeff Long was getting and listen, he may be doing a fine job there, but looking at this situation ... this was something that had to happen” (“Mike & Mike in the Morning,” ESPN Radio, 4/11). ESPN Radio’s John Kincade said, “The only people tonight who would be impressed by Jeff Long are those with amnesia. This is the man who hired Bobby Petrino, who offered him a job when he was under the employment of the Atlanta Falcons in the middle of a season, while three-quarters through it, and never asked for permission to speak to the man. So, to me, the moral beacon that is being held up, the guiding light of virtue of Jeff Long is really lost on me. Did Jeff Long not know who he was crawling into bed with?” (“The John Kincade Show,” ESPN Radio, 4/10).
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