Magness Lake, in Heber Springs, is a magnet for swans
Razorback football coach Bobby Petrino was fired today for lying about circumstances in his April 1 wreck but primarily for giving an unfair and undisclosed advantage to his girlfriend, Jessica Dorrell, in hiring her last month as an assistant on the football staff for $55,700.
Athletic Director Jeff Long said that Petrino had violated university policy by not disclosing his relationship with Dorrell in hiring her from 159 applicants. Long said Petrino had also paid Dorrell an additional $20,000 in
athletic department money. (Long confirmed afterwards that the money was not university money.) That is perhaps how, sources suggest, she could afford a new Acura she reportedly purchased a day or so after she took her new job. That $20,000, even if from Petrino's own pocket, would still appear a possible violation of his contract, which prohibits him from personally supplementing pay of any member of his staff, "directly or indirectly." The key issue contractually would be when Petrino gave her the money, before or after she joined the staff directly under his control on the football team. It appears to have been before the hiring, which might have made it legally correct, if not in the spirit of the contract.
Long, who choked up and had to pause when he recounted telling the football team about his decision today, listed a number of points, closely tailored to language in a dismissal clause in Petrino's contract, in explaining the firing. He said Taver Johnson would remain interim coach until the end of spring practice, but he said he was intent on finding a new head coach who would maintain Arkansas's place among America's football "elite." In response to a question, he said Petrino's brother, Paul, a highly paid assistant, was among those he tried to give assurances, too, today.
ESPN's Joe Schad, who broke the story, posted twitters that indicated Petrino was not making excuses or threatening to challenge a no-severance summary firing. Quotes:
* "I am committed to being a better husband, father and human being."
* "My sole focus at this point is trying to repair the damage I've done to my family."
* "I have no one to blame but myself."
I now see these quotes come from a statement issued by Petrino through an agent, Russ Campbell, who's now supplied it to me. While contrite, it suggests some disagreement with the version of events presented by Long and, in acknowledging mistakes, Petrino again suggests his relationship with Dorrell was in the past, though it doesn't explain the April 1 cycle ride.
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.
Petrino's full statement can also be found at the end of the jump.
Long's news conference bullet points:
* Petrino "knowingly misled athletic department and university and public on multiple occasions" about the circumstances of his accident.
* His relationship with Dorrell, a former volleyball player at the UA who'd previously worked for the Razorback Foundation, gave her "an unfair and undisclosed" advantage for the job.
* His conduct regarding the accident jeopardized the football program. In demonstrating he was able to go to work, Petrino met press and others "all the time failing to correct the initial report that only he was involved."
* Petrino's actions adversely affected the reputation of the university.
* A consensual relationship is "not against university policy" but "a matter between an individual and his family." But, Long said, in this case the coach abused his authority when he "made a staff decision that benefitted himself and jeopardized the integrity of the university."
* Petrino engaged in a "pattern of misleading, manipulative behavior designed to deceive me and the athletic department." Long said Petrino used athletic funds to hire a person with whom he'd had an inappropriate relationship. He "engaged in reckless and inappropriate behavior and put himself in the national spotlight."
Asked about Dorrell, Long said she was an employee, but her status was a personnel matter he couldn't discuss "in this environment." He said no other problems with Petrino's behavior turned up during his review.
Long said the firing for cause means the university will pay no severance to Petrino. He didn't say if Petrino said he would fight legally to contest that finding and seek a monetary settlement.
You should be able to replay the news conference here.
Instant takeaway: A proud moment in a bad time for the university. They investigated, found true wrongdoing, not just an extramarital affair, and cut out the cancer. Long acknowledged he's likely to face some unhappy fans. I think what he revealed about Petrino's personnel actions in the athletic department made his retention unsupportable in the context of the larger institution and fans will accept that. The football might-have-beens are for another day.
At 6:09 p.m. today I received notice of the news conference at 7:15 p.m. at Bud Walton Arena. Only accredited media were allowed, with the larger venue used for an expected crowd. No access to football coach or players was provided today.
ESPN reported instantly that Petrino had been fired. The report came from the same correspondent who was first with news of the motorcycle crash April 1 that brought the situation to this point and led to Long's news conference today. It was at least a bit earlier than the 10 p.m. news conference he held last Thursday to ruefully announced he'd suspended Petrino after learning he hadn't been truthful about his wreck.
I was wrong about the outcome. I wrote for the newspaper this week, which went to press earlier today, that Petrino seemed likely to survive the matter for a variety of economic reasons, including an $18 million mutual contract handcuff. Interesting note: Clay Henry reported that the UA offered Petrino a deal to stay, but with contract concessions, and he refused, prompting the firing. Long, however, categorically denied at the news conference that there'd been any negotiation with Petrino.
ESPN proved correct in its early report that the administration believed and was prepared to defend a decision that he hadn't lived up to the "character" of a head football coach and had damaged the reputation of the university and its athletic program, key points in his contract.
That left everyone before the news conference with the inescapable conclusion that matters pertaining to the new staff member who was riding with him in the April 1 crash, Jessica Dorrell, were central to the decision. Petrino had tried to hide the fact that he wasn't alone in the wreck. He also acknowledged an unspecified inappropriate relationship.
ESPN said, as Long did later, that misleading actions by Petrino in Dorrell's hiring process were critical. Interesting. I've had an FOI pending on whether notice was posted for the Dorrell job, whether there were other applicants, whether Petrino had tried to change the terms of Dorrell's pay and other matters relevant to her hiring as "student-athlete development co-ordinator," a rather hazy job that included some work with recruits and on-campus assimilation by athletes. The previous occupant of the job was hired at another university. Dorrell, 25, had worked for the Razorback Foundation and traveled with Petrino to Razorback Club events. She's a former UA volleyball player and holds a UA MBA.
The national publicity has been brutal since the wreck. The earlier excerpt I posted from the Atlanta newspaper was one of dozens I could have chosen. His diehard fans will blame the media. The future ahead is rocky for all, not the least Jeff Long, Petrino's supervisor, who made the tough decision and now must live with the consequences, including the ongoing construction of a $40 million football facility.
Before the news conference a friend in Fayetteville with some contacts to the program told me this morning he would be fired. I should have listened to him. I still don't think Jimmy Johnson is coming in as an interim, however, as he suggested.
Jessica Dorrell's future is of course cloudy. She had once planned a June wedding with a member of the UA swimming and diving staff. The situation will be sticky, too, for brother Paul Petrino, who makes $425,000 a year. Petrino's contract was worth $3.6 million, with incentives making it worth potentially $4 million. See it for the good conduct clause and rules on his control of hiring and limits on his pay of assistants. The university handbook section on sexual relationships is also relevant.
Petrino had had four good years at Fayetteville and hopes were high for the coming season.
PETRINO PREPARED STATEMENT
I was informed in writing today at 5:45 p.m. that I was being terminated as head football coach at the University of Arkansas.
The simplest response I have is: I’m sorry. 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.
I’m sure you heard Jeff Long’s reasons for termination. There was a lot of information shared. Given the decision that has been made, this is not the place to debate Jeff’s view of what happened. In the end, I put him in the position of having to sort through my mistakes and that is my fault.
I have hurt my wife Becky and our four children. I’ve let down the University of Arkansas, my team, coaching staff and everyone associated with the Razorback football program. As a result of my personal mistakes, we will not get to finish our goal of building a championship program. I wish that I had been given the opportunity to meet with the players and staff prior to this evening’s press conference and hope that I will be given the opportunity to give my apologies and say my goodbyes in person. We have left the program in better shape than we found it and I want the Razorback Nation to know that it is my hope that the program achieves the success it deserves.
My sole focus at this point is trying to repair the damage I’ve done to my family. They did not ask for any of this and deserve better. I am committed to being a better husband, father and human being as a result of this and will work each and every day to prove that to my family, friends and others.
I love football. I love coaching. I of course hope I can find my way back to the profession I love. In the meantime, I will do everything I can to heal the wounds I have created.
I want to thank Chancellor Gearhart, Jeff Long, the Board of Trustees, the University administration, faculty, staff, students, alumni and fans for the opportunity to serve as the head football coach at the University of Arkansas for the past 4 years. I was not given an opportunity to continue in that position. I wish that had been the case, but that was not my decision. I wish nothing but the best for the Razorback football program, the University and the entire Razorback Nation.
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