Why Did Arkansas’ Jeff Long Really Fire Bobby Petrino?
Here is what we know for certain: Bobby Petrino is definitely out as head coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks football team. Here is what we don’t know for certain: why is he out?
If you believe athletic director Jeff Long, the decision to fire Petrino came as a direct result of the coach’s lies and misuse of power.
“He made the decision, a conscious decision, to mislead the public on Tuesday, and in doing so negatively affected the reputation of the University of Arkansas and our football program,” Long said during yesterday's press conference.
“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.”
If Long’s decision to fire Petrino was based on what he says it was based on, he deserves to be commended. Given the success that Arkansas has had over the past two years and the collective ho-hum reaction that diehard loyalists had to Petrino’s indiscretions, deciding to do what’s right and fire a coach who brought embarrassment upon the university could not have been an easy call to make.
Unfortunately, there are conflicting reports on whether or not that was the reason for the firing. According to Clay Henry (via SB Nation), Petrino’s termination was a little more complicated than originally believed. Per Henry’s sources, the school actually attempted to find a workable solution to retain its successful coach, but that Petrino allegedly refused to abide by the strict punishment that would have been imposed on him.
Even though Long denied that this rumor was true, it makes too much sense to ignore. How long could the gathering of information really have taken in this case? As soon as Petrino admitted to an inappropriate relationship with a subordinate, the excuse to fire him was there. And if he admitted to that inappropriate relationship, he probably admitted to all of the other stuff that he did wrong around the same time. (How extensive of an investigation could you have had in less than week? It had to all come via admission.)
Long knew that Petrino lied to him heading into Friday morning of last week. Even if he needed the weekend to contemplate his next move, the Arkansas AD should have theoretically made a decision to keep or fire his now former football coach by Monday. The fact that he waited until late Tuesday to do it means that something had to have been going on for the first day and a half of this week. Whether that something was him working out the legal technicalities involved with getting rid of a guy that is under contract, or him trying to work out a solution that would allow him to keep Petrino on board is something we don't know at this moment.
But when you couple Petrino’s very understanding and contrite statement about the firing with the delay we saw, you can’t help but feel like maybe Petrino had the option to come back and -- in light of everything that transpired -- simply chose not to.
In a way it doesn't matter how we got to this point, seeing as we're here regardless. In a way, though, it does matter. It matters in how we view Long. It matters in how we view Petrino. And it matters in the way we view Arkansas compared to all the other universities involved in shady dealings out there.
The truth generally comes out sooner or later. Hopefully the truth regarding this situation will eventually come out, too.