Magness Lake, in Heber Springs, is a magnet for swans
By the time you read this, Bobby Petrino's judgment may well be wrought, and may have taken the form of outright dismissal, pecuniary loss or some hybrid penalty with a suspension and an in-house checklist by which to abide.
I'm not adequately positioned to offer my opinion of what should happen to Petrino after his body, his Harley and his credibility careened into that now-famous woodpile along Hwy. 16. Man is certainly not inerrant, and yet at a base salary in excess of $3 mil per annum, the gulf between the recipient of that kind of pay and his aspirations toward perfection is expected to be narrow. There's accordingly no consensus on what will or what Jeff Long should do with his suddenly embattled coach. The only real points of agreement: Long's been put in a terrible position by his prize horse, and Petrino's personal imbroglios reached an extreme degree of stupidity and vanity.
Long's Thursday night press conference revealed an athletic director whose usually easygoing nature had been wracked. As he spoke of Petrino being "not forthcoming" and mildly characterized his feelings as "disappointment," his face was obviously strained. A man of less composure might've just junked the canned statement, looked dead ahead at the reporters and said, "You know what? I really can't believe this shit," and then exited the room with a lot of maniacal arm gestures.
Being transplanted here, Long isn't half as jaded as Hog fans are. He watches this melodrama unfold from within and assuredly feels the searing pangs of distrust and disbelief; our inertia, on the other hand, always hurtles us back to what a friend and colleague of mine (hat tip to Chris Murray here) succinctly termed the "This is why we can't have nice things" principle.
Our most successful basketball coach was a firebrand. We knew that. He could frequently be a little too loose-lipped and so, after a period of general ineptitude and with fan frustration bubbling, he shot from the hip in Lexington in 2002 and found himself discarded soon after. Then came the lawsuit and years of ill feelings and malaise.
Prior to Petrino's arrival, our most successful head football coaches had also clashed with the venerated athletic director. We saw one bolt to Minnesota and another to Clemson, neither having any reason to entertain a rebuilding job elsewhere unless the relationships in the athletic office had been fractured beyond repair.
Petrino's immediate predecessor? Well, that debacle was so absurd that it hardly bears revisiting, but suffice to say that when your fans are flying banners over ballgames and mining public records to determine if some tawdry business is afoot, things have gotten esoteric.
Winning 29 games, including two bowls, over the past three seasons has given Petrino the kind of security that he probably never thought he would have again after he cold-shouldered the Atlanta Falcons in December 2007 with three games left in a lost season. Hog fans, including this one, pardoned that bizarre departure on any number of grounds: he was sold a bill of goods, convinced that he would have Michael Vick's services, and not permitted the kind of personnel control he had been promised. Oh, yeah, and ESPN was horribly biased, governed and steered not by ethics but by Arthur Blank's fiscal sponsorship of the network through The Home Depot. We convinced ourselves that Petrino's character had been unfairly assailed, that his vagabond status was a construct of a media that found him less than approachable.
When Petrino and his wife, Becky — naturally, the primary victim in this sordid mess — gave a generous six-figure gift to Arkansas Children's Hospital earlier this year, we all felt validated in our dogged protestations that yes, this man is human. Months later, we have received further affirmation of the fact, but in a far different context.
We probably shouldn't be surprised. Again, say it with me now: This is why we can't have nice things. There is no roadmap for how Long pulls this metaphorical Harley out of the pile and gets it back on course. All prior cases of coaching indiscretions provide only tenuous templates for how to handle a situation that is, in short, so freakish that it can only be described as quintessentially Arkansas.