Jeff Long, CEO (Editorial)

by Arkansas Business Editors  on Monday, Apr. 16, 2012 12:00 am  

The athletic director of the University of Arkansas is getting, as of this writing, a lot of good press for doing the right thing and firing Razorback coach and motorcycle daredevil Bobby Petrino.

That's fine. We think Jeff Long deserves the praise. He handled the whole wretched mess with grace and integrity even though it obviously caused him much emotional pain. And we're not yet so jaded that we think Long faked his cracking voice when he talked about telling football players of his decision. If he can act that well, Long should be in Hollywood, not Fayetteville.

"No single individual is bigger than the team, the Razorback football program or the University of Arkansas," Long said at his Tuesday night press conference. He's right. But we'd go further: No single individual is bigger than the law and notions of basic human fairness.

Ultimately - well, in addition to the lying - what brought down Petrino was giving preferential treatment to a potential employee who, through his preferential treatment, became an actual employee. In giving friend Jessica Dorrell the job of football student-athlete development coordinator over 158 applicants, Petrino violated university policies regarding conflicts of interest. He opened up the university to 158 claims of discrimination, claims that would have been difficult to rebut and expensive to settle.

There's no guarantee that the private Razorback Foundation would have covered these financial liabilities. Arkansas taxpayers could have been left with the bill. And there is little that is less fun than paying for someone else's.

A question for you bosses out there: If your supremely talented and popular but ethically challenged subordinate had done what Petrino acknowledges he has done, would suspending said subordinate and docking his pay big time have been sufficient to 1) protect your business from embarrassing, time-consuming and expensive lawsuits and 2) rescue your business' reputation?

Of course not.

Long did the only thing a business CEO could do. That doesn't mean doing it didn't take courage.



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