The Top 10 Arkansas Business Stories of 2012: Making History

by Arkansas Business Staff  on Monday, Dec. 24, 2012 12:00 am  

Arkansas Business takes its annual look at the most important business stories in Arkansas that took place during 2012.

1. The Razorbacks’ Annus Horribilis

Optimism surrounding the University of Arkansas football program was high entering 2012.

In two previous seasons the Razorbacks had tallied 21 victories. Ticket sales and donations had hit record levels, enabling the UA to push forward with construction a $40 million football operations center.

Quarterback Tyler Wilson and running back Knile Davis passed on the NFL Draft and were recognized nationally as potential Heisman Trophy candidates. Wilson and Davis were among 17 starters set to return for the Razorbacks as they chased a Southeastern Conference championship and national title.

Hopes weren’t high just locally. National pundits projected 2012 as the year Arkansas would win it all. There was no doubt as 2012 dawned that the year would be a memorable one for the Razorback football program.

And it was.

Bobby Petrino, the man regarded as the architect of the Razorbacks’ success, was fired after four seasons for “a pattern of misleading and manipulative behavior” after it was revealed he had hired an extramarital girlfriend to a position on the football staff. Jessica Dorrell, 25, was with Petrino during an April 1 motorcycle accident, and until a police report was released four days after the crash, the coach had not acknowledged, not even to his bosses, that she was with him.

Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long fired Petrino with cause. Petrino, who made $3.56 million annually, lost his salary and forfeited an $18 million contract buyout.

Even in the immediate aftermath of the firing, optimism was high for Arkansas. Las Vegas oddsmakers still considered them a national title favorite, keeping their odds to win it all at 15:1 even after the hiring of John L. Smith as interim coach.

Hiring Smith, a former Razorback assistant under Petrino, was supposed to provide much-needed stability. Players loved his freewheeling attitude. All but one of the staff’s assistant coaches were familiar with Smith.

Ultimately, though, the season wound up in the ditch right along with Petrino’s motorcycle and his career.



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