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.