Arkansas fired Bobby Petrino on Tuesday for actions Athletic Director Jeff Long deemed jeopardized the football program and university.
Petrino was released following a review of the coach's relationship with a staff employee and his efforts to mislead the university about her hiring and involvement in Petrino's recent motorcycle accident. Petrino was informed of the decision at 5:45 p.m. — via letter — by Athletic Director Jeff Long. Petrino, who was fired with cause, had been on paid administrative leave since April 5. Petrino is not scheduled to receive any compensation for his firing, which came after a review in which it was learned he gave mistress Jessica Dorrell a $20,000 gift and circumvented UA hiring practices in adding her to his staff.
“Our expectations of character and integrity of our employees can be no less than what we expect from our students,” Long said. “No single individual is bigger than the team, the Razorback football program, or the University of Arkansas.”
Long, who grew emotional at several points during the press conference, said Petrino willingly engaged in "a pattern of misleading and manipulative behavior." Petrino did not inform UA officials that Dorrell, 25, was with him during the April 1 crash until minutes before an Arkansas State Police report was released four days later.
Dorrell was added to Petrino's football staff over 158 other applicants for the student athlete development coordinator position. Only three were interviewed before Dorrell, a former UA volleyball player, was hired from the Razorback Foundation.
“Coach Petrino knowingly misled the athletics department and the university about the circumstances related to his accident,” Long said. “He had multiple opportunities over a four-day period to be forthcoming with me. He chose not to.”
Over the course of his review, Long said Dorrell and Petrino were together a “significant period of time.” Long would not disclose Dorrell’s status within the athletic department or when Petrino gave her the $20,000 gift. Petrino’s hiring of Dorrell was deemed a “conflict of interest” by Long.
Those factors made it difficult to keep Petrino, who guided the Razorbacks to success they hadn't seen in three decades. An 11-victory season in 2011 was the first for Arkansas since 1977.
Arkansas was 21-5 the last two seasons under Petrino and 34-17 since he arrived in 2008. National analysts expected the Razorbacks to be a Top 10 program entering 2012, which would have been Petrino’s fifth season.
But Petrino’s recent off-field transgressions were too much for Long to overlook.
Long placed linebackers/assistant head coach Taver Johnson in charge of the program through spring practice. A search to fill Petrino’s spot on a full-time basis will begin immediately, Long said.
Alabama-Birmingham Coach Garrick McGee, the former UA offensive coordinator and former North Carolina Coach Butch Davis were among the names initially mentioned as possibilities. Arkansas State Coach Gus Malzahn, a former UA assistant and legendary high school coach, is a long shot for the position.
“I assure you we will seek a head coach that possesses the expertise, leadership skills, and character to maintain Razorback football as one of the nation’s elite programs,” Long said. “We will maintain a program of student-athletes and coaches that all of Arkansas and Razorback fans across the nation will be proud of.”
Petrino’s on-field success was a source of pride for Arkansas. But his off-field decisions were too much for Long to overlook.
Because of the relationship with and hiring of Dorrell, Petrino forfeited a contract that was supposed to run through 2017. Petrino was in the midst of a season that included a $17 million buyout, but his actions voided the contract.
Petrino released a statement through his attorney, apologizing for his missteps.
“The simplest response I have is: I’m sorry,” Petrino said. “These two words seem very inadequate. But that is my heart. All I have been able to think about is the number of people I’ve let down by making selfish decisions. I’ve taken a lot of criticism in the past. Some deserved, some not deserved. This time, I have no one to blame but myself.
“I chose to engage in an improper relationship. I also made several poor decisions following the end of that relationship and in the aftermath of the accident. I accept full responsibility for what has happened.”