Hogs (not Jeff Long) Take High Road

The University of Arkansas fired head football coach Bobby Petrino yesterday.

Razorback Athletic Director Jeff Long made the announcement during an emotional press conference. Long was admirably straightforward in his remarks, clearly (and occasionally bluntly) stating the various reasons for the dismissal. Even with all Petrino’s baggage and flaws (both past and immediate), the move was mildly surprising because of the coach’s success in Fayetteville and a very promising 2012 season on the horizon. In the end, Petrino’s sleaziness, moral corruption, and inappropriate personnel management (hiring his mistress from a pool of 150+ applicants) left the university little choice but to send the ex-Louisville, ex-Atlanta Falcon coach packing. The school may lose a few more games the next year or two, but is better off without the little man with the outsized ego.

Jeff Long handled the press conference with aplomb and is receiving quite a few accolades among college football media and fans for pulling the plug on Petrino. That acclaim makes me a bit uneasy for a couple of reasons.

First, Long was among the decision-makers that brought Petrino to Fayetteville in the first place. He had to know the risks involved. Keep in mind that Petrino, already earning an annual salary in the multi-millions as head coach of the Atlanta Falcons, abandoned the NFL team in mid-season after only thirteen games. The manner in which he left was as bad as the timing … coaching a Monday night game, secretly scampering out of town without facing his team or owner Arthur Blank, leaving a brief copied note in player lockers, showing up the next night at Arkansas doing the Wooo-Pig-Sooie chant. The lack of class and common professionalism in that departure, along with all the other underhanded behavior in Petrino’s past, should have been quite a red flag for Long and the search committee at Arkansas. They knew the kind of man they were hiring and should not be shocked now to find out that Petrino is still the same sorry guy.

Second, while the firing was merited and certainly deserves applause, the bulk of the praise for that decision should be aimed far above Long’s administrative level. I’ve been a college professor for nearly two decades (at institutions large and small) and for many of those years worked closely with the schools’ athletic departments as either Faculty Athletic Representative or Athletic Council chair. Believe me, virtually no decision – and certainly not one as significant as firing the head football coach at a BCS level university – is made solely by the Athletic Director. At the very least, the university president or chancellor would be deeply involved, and (more significantly) the power brokers of the institution’s trustees would need to approve a move of this magnitude.

So, while Jeff Long deserves his share of pats on the back for firing Bobby P (or his share of blame if you support the coach) … Arkansas Chancellor David Gearhart and the university’s Board of Trustees made the decision. Without question. Good for them.

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The Games People Play

Cause you’ve given up your sanity,
for your pride and your vanity
turned your back on humanity …
oh, the games people play …

The Games People Play
Joe South 1968

Will the University of Arkansas give up its sanity for the pride and vanity of winning football games?

Apparently, Bobby Petrino is intent on finding out.

Petrino, Razorback head football coach and serial scoundrel with the great offensive mind and even more offensive personality, skidded into his latest ethical lapse when he wrecked a motorcycle last week. Petrino emerged from the crash looking like he’d gone twelve rounds with the truth, but the real pain for him – and Arkansas fans – arrived when the police report of the accident noted that a young lady had been a passenger on the bike. That woman, a twenty-something former Hog volleyball player, was also an Athletic Department employee, hired by and reporting directly to Petrino. Following personal form, Petrino initally lied to Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long about the details of the crash until just before the police report went public.

Long now finds himself in the unenviable position of either firing a talented head coach, or retaining an untrustworthy employee.

Petrino’s record the past two seasons is 21-5 and includes a BCS appearance (Sugar Bowl). The Hogs return a strong nucleus from last year’s squad (including quarterback Tyler Wilson), host SEC West Division rivals Alabama and LSU this fall, and are likely to enter the 2012 campaign as a pre-season top ten team. Should Long fire Petrino and the team falter, the Athletic Director’s head may be the next to roll. Still, Jeff Long and the Arkansas administration must measure those factors with others.

Petrino leaves a trail of stench like a skunk. You can follow the smell from Louisville to Auburn to Atlanta, and now to Fayetteville.

Since I want readers of all ages to be able to enjoy The Campus Game, we will avoid a full review of all Bobby P’s moral lapses (those interested can read Pat Forde’s litany), and cut to the crux of the matter.

Jeff Long, along with the Arkansas administration and trustees, has every right to fire Petrino. At the least, his head coach broke the morals clause of his contract. Petrino also abused power by hiring someone with whom he had a personal relationship. He then blatantly misled Long by omitting details of his accident (thus causing the university to issue an inaccurate media release).

So … yes, the University of Arkansas should fire Petrino. But, the school probably will not because he’s winning football games.

Oh, the games people play.

Sports Fan’s Paradise

Perhaps there is a better time to be a sports fan in America than these first days of April, but one doesn’t come to mind immediately.

How’s this for an Easter week sports celebration?

College basketball offers championship games tonight (men) and tomorrow (women). Major League Baseball openers announce the arrival of another season. College football spring practices and spring games keep the gridiron game on the front burner. And, golf’s most scenic major – the Masters – wraps up on Easter Sunday.

March Madness

Two of the most storied programs in NCAA history meet tonight when Kentucky and Kansas vie for the men’s championship. The Wildcats from the Bluegrass State have won more games than any other college basketball program and the Jayhawks rank second. Kentucky features the wonderfully talented freshmen trio of big man Anthony Davis, quick and smooth point guard Marquis Teague, and do-it-all swing man Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Cats’ coach John Calipari has fully embraced the one-and-done mentality of bringing in NBA-bound players and trying to win a title in the few months they are on campus.

Kansas is a more veteran squad. The Jayhawks feature a strong inside game with stellar junior forward Thomas Robinson and 7’0 classmate Jeff Withey. KU won the Big 12 conference regular season title for a mind-boggling eigth consecutive time.

Like most, I’ll go with the Wildcats in this one. The team has terrific speed and tenacity, and are a really fun group to watch. The Jayhawks have started slowly in most games during the tournament run and cannot afford to do so tonight.

The women’s bracket also features a premier matchup with Notre Dame playing Baylor. The Irish earned a second straight trip to the title game by knocking off Connecticut in the semifinals (ND did the same last year); the team is led by popular senior guard Skylar Diggins and clutch classmate Brittany Mallory.

The Irish will literally face a tall test against unbeaten Baylor. Center Brittney Griner leads the Bears and earned fame as the first woman to dunk in an NCAA tournament game. Griner’s impact reminds me much of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (then Lew Alcindor) at UCLA … most teams have no answer and the psychological impact of facing the “giant” is almost as significant as the physical presence.

Although an Irish fan, Goliath typically wins these battles. I’ll go with Baylor.

MLB Season

Much as I would love for the Braves to reach a World Series, it looks tough.

In the National League, the Phillies appear the team to beat but watch the Marlins and Nationals out of the East as well.

The junior circuit (hey, the American League has only been around since 1901 … a full quarter century later than the National – or “senior” circuit started) provides old (Yankees and Rangers) and new (Angels with Albert Pujols and Tigers with Prince Fielder) contenders.

The Masters

Can Tiger Woods win a fifteenth major championship in his quest to surpass the eighteen of Jack Nicklaus? Of course he can, but he’ll need to beat a host of challengers, of both the experienced and novice variety.

Phil Mickelson has won three green jackets and if his putting holds up should be in contention. Young Americans Keegan Bradley, Billy Haas, Webb Simpson, Nick Watney, Hunter Mahan, and Jason Duffner could be threats. Luke Donald (England), Adam Scott (Australia), and defending champ Charl Schwartzel (South Africa) lead an always strong international contingent.

Perhaps the biggest threat to Tiger, Phil, or anybody else is Rory McIlroy. The young Irishmen took a four-stroke lead into the final round in 2011 only to falter badly. He rebounded to win the U.S. Open and is one of the pre-tournament favorites.

Just a hunch but I’ll go with Billy Haas to win.