published Saturday, April 7th, 2012

Wiedmer: Coach Bobby Petrino could be on the fast track to firing

I can't think of anyone I'd less rather be this morning than Arkansas football coach Bobby Petrino.

First, he wrecked his motorcycle last Sunday without his helmet on, which doesn't sound quite like a guy bright enough to command $3.53 million a year. Then he misled the public, his family and his employer about the fact that he was not alone on said motorcycle.

Finally, he reluctantly admitted Thursday that a 25-year-old female employee of the athletic department -- whom he'd just promoted to student-athlete development coordinator -- was a passenger on the motorcycle at the time of the accident.

Oh, yeah. Almost forgot. The married father of four also came clean about having had "a previous inappropriate relationship" with Jessica Dorrell, who just happens to be engaged to be married in June to Josh Morgan, who's the Razorbacks' director of swimming and diving.

(Note to anyone who may have received an invitation to the Dorrell-Morgan nuptials: Hold onto your gift receipt.)

But much as I want no part of Petrino's problems today, I also wouldn't want to be Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long, whose thankless and complex task it is to decide what to do with Bad Boy Bobby, whom the AD put on paid leave Thursday night.

Petrino's contract runs for another six years but has a clause that states that the coach can be dismissed for "engaging in conduct, as solely determined by the university, which is clearly contrary to the character and responsibilities of a person occupying the position of head football coach or which negatively or adversely affects the reputation of the athletics programs in any way."

In other words, Long clearly has just cause to pink-slip Petrino. But will he? And should he?

After all, this is Arkansas, home of the 42nd president of the United States -- Bill Clinton -- who admitted to having at least one inappropriate relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

Beyond that, Petrino's predecessor -- Houston Nutt -- was dogged his final two years by rumors of an extramarital affair, though he never admitted to an improper relationship with an Arkansas television news anchor.

The school didn't part company with Nutt until he headed off to Ole Miss, opening the door for Petrino.

So there's certainly history -- both at the university and from the White House -- to give Long reason to forgive, if not forget.

Most important, of course, is that Petrino can flat-out coach. A fine 34-17 over his four years in Hogville after ditching the Atlanta Falcons before the end of the 2007 regular season, he's a stunning 21-5 for the past two seasons. After losing only at national champion Alabama and regular-season No. 1 LSU last autumn, the Razorbacks finished fifth in the final poll.

Yet Petrino also always has been a polarizing figure. He once attempted to torpedo former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville -- who had given Petrino his big break as the Tigers' offensive coordinator -- before an embarrassed AU brass kept Tuberville.

His brief Falcons experience so angered former Atlanta tight end and all-around good-guy Alge Crumpler that the player still refers to Petrino as "that coach whose name I won't say."

Long has every reason to fire Petrino, and the guess from here is that unless enough big-money boosters convince him otherwise, he'll do exactly that.

But should he allow the coach to stay, he should insist on four clauses and a new contract:

(1) Whatever Petrino makes now, his salary is frozen for five years without bonuses except for a cost-of-living increase, should Long feel it's warranted.

(2) Out of his own pocket, the coach pays to produce a public service announcement urging all motorcyclists to wear helmets.

(3) Should Petrino bolt, he'll owe the school the entirety of the contract.

(4) Should the school decide to fire him later than sooner, they'll owe him $1 million total.

Yet whatever Long chooses to do, one thing is certain: Whether or not his days as Boss Hog are numbered, Petrino forever more will be viewed as a pig.

about Mark Wiedmer...

Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...

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