Arkansas fires Bobby Petrino
ESPN.com news services
April 11, 2012
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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- Arkansas fired head coach Bobby Petrino on Tuesday, publicly dressing him down for unfairly hiring his mistress and intentionally misleading his boss about everything from their relationship to her presence at the motorcycle accident that ultimately cost him his job.

Athletic director Jeff Long announced his decision at an evening news conference and laid out a stunning laundry list of misdeeds by the man he hired away from the Atlanta Falcons four years ago.

They included ignoring multiple chances over the past 10 days to come clean to Long about a relationship that had crossed the line from infidelity into workplace favoritism.

"He made the decision, a conscious decision, to mislead the public on Tuesday, and in doing so negatively and adversely affected the reputation of the University of Arkansas and our football program," Long said, choking up at one point as he discussed telling players that their coach was gone. "In short, coach Petrino engaged in a pattern of misleading and manipulative behavior designed to deceive me and members of the athletic staff, both before and after the motorcycle accident."

Long said Petrino was fired "with cause" -- meaning he will not receive the $18 million buyout his contract called for -- and there were no discussions about ways to keep Petrino at Arkansas.

The 51-year-old Petrino, a married father of four, had maintained an inappropriate relationship with 25-year-old Jessica Dorrell for a "significant" amount of time and at one point had given her $20,000, Long said.

He would not disclose details of the payment, or when the money changed hands, but said both parties confirmed the "gift." Kevin Trainor, a spokesman for Long, said the money came from Petrino, not university funds.

Petrino, who was fired via a letter from Long, issued a lengthy apology and said he was focused on trying to heal his family.

"The simplest response I have is: I'm sorry. These two words seem very inadequate. But that is my heart," Petrino said in a statement. "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."

Dorrell, a former Razorbacks volleyball player, worked for the Razorbacks Foundation before she was hired by Petrino on March 28, four days before their accident on a winding rural road. Long said she was one of three finalists out of 159 applicants and got the job after a time frame he said was shorter than usual.

Petrino never disclosed his conflict of interest in hiring Dorrell or the payment, Long said.

"Coach Petrino abused his authority when over the past few weeks he made a staff decision and personal choices that benefited himself and jeopardized the integrity of the football program," Long said.

It was a shocking ending for Petrino, who has built Arkansas into a Southeastern Conference and national power over four seasons, including a 21-5 record the past two years. But Long made it clear the success on the field was overshadowed by repeated deceptive acts and that no one was more important than the program itself.

Petrino was in the middle of a seven-year contract under which his salary averaged $3.53 million per year. A clause gave Long the right to suspend or fire the coach for conduct that "negatively or adversely affects the reputation of the (university's) athletics programs in any way."

Arkansas Chancellor G. David Gearhart called it a sad day for the university, but declined further comment because of the role he played in the review process.

Assistant head coach Taver Johnson had been placed in charge of the program while Petrino was on leave and sources told ESPN.com's Chris Low that Johnson will continue to lead the program. The sources said Long has informed the coaching staff he would like to keep the assistants in place through the rest of spring practice and then open the coaching search to see what candidates are available.

In a post on Twitter, former Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett, now of the New England Patriots, endorsed Garrick McGee, the Razorbacks' former quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator, for the job. McGee was hired in December as head coach at UAB.

"GM only coach Ark should look at if they wanna win now," Mallett said on his Twitter account.

In subsequent posts, Mallett clarified that he was referring to McGee and not Arkansas State coach Gus Malzhan -- who, like McGee, was an offensive coordinator at Arkansas and has the initials "GM."

"And not Gus M" Mallett tweeted. "That would be a mistake"

"Who's Gus malzhan? I'm talkin about Garrick McGee. He can win at Arkansas," Mallett added.

Long said he met with Petrino on Tuesday morning to inform him there were grounds for termination and the coach was "concerned" about that. Long followed up by sending Petrino a letter on Tuesday afternoon to formally notify him that he had been fired.

Long said he has not spoken with Petrino since sending the letter.

"I chose to do it in writing because that's the terms of his contract," he said.

Long declined comment when asked about Dorrell's job status.

She was "at one point" engaged to Josh Morgan, the athletic department's director of swimming and diving operations, according to a person with knowledge of the situation who spoke only on condition of anonymity because the details have not been disclosed. The person said Morgan was still employed at the university.

Petrino finishes his tenure at Arkansas with a 34-17 record in four seasons, leading the Razorbacks to a No. 5 final ranking last season and a Cotton Bowl win over Kansas State. There was talk of Arkansas challenging the two powerhouses in the SEC West, national champion Alabama and national runner-up LSU.

All that ended April 1, which Petrino at first described as a day spent with his wife at a northern Arkansas lake.

Instead, he and Dorrell went for a ride and skidded off the road in an accident that left him with four broken ribs, a cracked vertebra in his neck and numerous abrasions on his face. The avid motorcycle rider said the sun and wind caused him to lose control on the two-lane highway about 20 miles southeast of Fayetteville.

What he failed to mention, both at a news conference two days later and to Long for two more days, was the presence of Dorrell.

That revelation was made public when the state police released the accident report. Petrino, tipped off by the...
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