Jim Harris: Arkansas' Long Has Much To Weigh In Dealing With Petrino's Razorback Future

by Jim Harris  on Friday, Apr. 6, 2012 9:45 am  

Jeff Long at Thursday's news conference. (Photo by ArkansasRazorbacks.com)

This story is from the archives of ArkansasSports360.com.

Although he appeared visibly shaken and perhaps perturbed at the sudden events and the emergence of sordid facts involving his football coach on Thursday, Jeff Long may have experienced his finest hour to date as the Razorbacks' athletic director. It's one thing to introduce new coaches and lead the Hog calls in a rah-rah fan and media gathering as Long has done since taking over Jan. 1, 2008; it's another to face the media in a crisis because his most celebrated hire has lied and put him in a publicly difficult spot.

So, when Arkansas football coach Bobby Petrino got around Thursday afternoon to telling Long that he had misled Long and others about Sunday evening's motorcycle wreck, and that he in fact was accompanied by a single, attractive 25-year-old female who just happened to have been hired by Petrino on March 28 for a football staff position, suddenly the head of UA athletic department had a public relations nightmare on his hand.

One wonders if perhaps Long, in those angry hours between this new revelation and the late Thursday press conference, thought, "I'd been told about this guy, but I hired him anyway. I trusted him."

Or, perhaps it went more like, "Here we are, with the football program the best it's been here in 30 years, and this has to happen?"

The range of emotion from Arkansas fans who tweeted or emailed this writer late Thursday ranged from disappointment in Petrino's action to anger at the media for even covering the story. Seriously. For some fans, it seemed like Penn State's supporters reacting to Joe Paterno's firing all over again: "How dare you attack our football coach ... Let this go, it's not important, we're winning now ... All I want is to have a winning football team ... this is the coach's business."

I mean, the nerve of the media to report that Petrino lied starting with the family's original statement on Monday, which was released through Long's department more than a half-day after the wreck on the Pig Trail east of Fayetteville that left the coach with broken ribs, a cracked vertebrae and a face that looked like he'd taken a severe beating. Or that he lied again on Tuesday when he faced the media, insisting that he was alone on the bike.

It doesn't matter that he was with a woman half his age who wasn't his wife when the wreck occurred. The problem is that he lied to cover it up, to save face with his family and to keep the woman's name out of it, at least until the Arkansas State Police report came out that said he, in fact, wasn't alone.

Then there's that little problem of the woman, former UA volleyball player Jessica Dorrell, most recently an employee of the Razorback Foundation, having been hired by the coach for his staff just days before the accident.

Petrino fessed up to Long, apparently just minutes before the State Police report became public. And though we'd have rather seen him make a public mea culpa, even if he left the news conference before Long arrived and took no questions, Petrino managed a written statement that admitted to a "previous inappropriate relationship," an apology that covered the gamut from family to employers, and the hope that he'd still coach the Razorbacks.

Throughout the night, I kept thinking about how this stunning revelation paralleled former President Bill Clinton's scandalous relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, which hit the news in early 1998. With both men, one senses a recklessness and a brazenness that's hard for the average person to understand. Why would a man of such power risk submarining his career by doing something so stupid? Why do these men reach a point where they consider themselves bullet-proof.

Arkansas isn't paying its football coach $3.5 million or more to act stupid.

Sen. Dale Bumpers famously said in his defense during Clinton's impeachment trial that "When they say it's not about sex, it's about sex." For Clinton, that was partly true in that his political enemies pushed the impeachment while his party's supporters stayed nearly unanimously behind him, and the president survived. That he lied, not only in a press conference of denial, but under oath in a deposition, wasn't strong enough to remove him from office, and the case really did become one about sex and the president's "enemies."



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