Jessica Dorrell from Arkansas Media Relations Guide

Editor’s Commentary: Where Does Arkansas and Bobby Petrino Go from Here?


April 3, 2012; Fayetteville, AR, USA; Arkansas Razorback head coach Bobby Petrino speaks at a press conference at Razorback Stadium following a motorcycle accident he sustained on April 1. Credit: Beth Hall-US PRESSWIRE

How to Divide a House… Mislead Those Within. How to repair the house… Tell the truth.

In a whirlwind of events starting with non-confirmed reports Sunday night regarding Arkansas Razorback head coach Bobby Petrino’s motorcycle accident, to an official announcement on Monday, followed by his press conference on Tuesday letting Razorback fans know he will oversee Arkansas’ spring football practices, fans went from the ranging emotions of concern for their injured leader to rejoice about his return.

After all Razorback Nation understands what is at stake in 2012. What would happen if Petrino was not at the helm for the Razorbacks?

All-SEC quarterback Tyler Wilson and All-SEC running back Knile Davis return giving Arkansas two potential Heisman Trophy candidates returning on offense. The offensive line returns three full-time starters from 2011 and one lineman with four games of starting experience.

The defense returns seven starters from a team that finished the 2011 season ranked No. 47 in total defense. Based off the Razorback’s play in the Cotton Bowl, new defensive coordinator Paul Haynes brings a renewed enthusiasm about the defenses’ potential in 2012 as well.

Equally important is Arkansas’ 2012 regular season schedule. The two teams from the 2012 BCS National Championship Game both reside in the SEC West along side Arkansas- Alabama and LSU. Every other year Arkansas plays both teams on the road. In 2012 the Hogs play both teams at home, an advantage not lost on die hard fans.

On paper every aspect of Arkansas’ 2012 team screams preseason top five for the Razorbacks. Beating Alabama and LSU in the same season should take the Hogs to the next level, the SEC Championship Game.

Over the last seven years the winning team from the SEC Championship Game has been placed in the BCS National Championship Game. The next tier Razorback fans aspire to attain is winning the SEC Championship Game for a shot at winning the BCS National Championship. A tier all programs aspire to attain.

Only one of two scenarios could seemingly derail Arkansas from their possible path of football greatness before the season starts, an injury to a top player or losing their head coach.

Who knew that a non life threatening injury to their head coach could potentially cost the Razorbacks a shot at football immortality in 2012?

The unthinkable happened when the official police report was released on Thursday citing that Petrino had a female rider on the back of his bike at the time of his accident. This contradicts Petrino’s earlier statement that he was alone at the time of the accident.

The rider in question is Jessica Dorrell, the newly hired student athlete development coordinator for football. Dorrell replaced Dan Kabala on March 28 after Kabala left for Pitt.

On Thursday Bobby Petrino came forward acknowledging his affair with Dorrell. University of Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long immediate placed Petrino on a paid leave of absence until further notice.

The big question now is what happens from here? Should Petrino be released from his contract for the events that transpired or should he be allowed a second chance?

Beyond the frustration of Petrino’s actions from a fan’s perspective is there is no right answer for Jeff Long. If Long maintains Petrino’s current contract with Arkansas one can understand why. Everyone deserves a second chance.

The underlying implications are what is at stake for the program and what Petrino has accomplished for the Razorback football program over the past two seasons.

If Long chooses to release Petrino from his contract for his actions this is also equally understandable.

Per Petrino’s contract he can be released for conduct detrimental to the university and/or the football program. The verbiage covers a broad area and Petrino has landed himself in the middle of detrimental conduct everywhere he looks.

Petrino’s affair is one thing, having an affair with an employee on his staff is another problem on its own merits. After all is said and done the affair with a staff member is the heart of the matter.

Petrino lying about Dorrell being with him at the time of his accident should not be an issue to Razorback fans. His personal life along with the mistakes and successes within should be of no concern to Razorback fans. As long as Petrino is not breaking the law or poorly representing the program his life is his to lead off the football field.

If he lied to Jeff Long, that is between the two of them. Long supported his coach and trusted his word we cannot fault him for doing so.

The problem with Petrino lying at the press conference is the doubts, confusion, and mistrust this creates among his fan base. The fan base that spends their disposable income attending Razorback games, buying Arkansas paraphernalia, and paying their children’s tuition to attend school at the University of Arkansas.

All problems could have been bypassed and narrowed down to disappointment if Petrino had come clean with the truth on Tuesday.

Will Razorback fans still show up for the games if Petrino is the head coach in 2012 and beyond? The simple answer is yes.

Will winning football games help heal any emotional wounds among Arkansas’ fan base? Has the casual sports fan not become numb to this type of situation among celebrities, athletes, and political figures?

Football is a religion in the south and Petrino is a lead pastor for the state of Arkansas.

Petrino’s Q Rating after the Razorbacks Cotton Bowl win over Kansas State was at an all-time high making him the most popular public figure in the state.Americaloves a winner and Arkansans are no different.

A concern Jeff Long has to consider before making a decision on Petrino’s fate is how high school and junior college recruits along with their parents will respond to Petrino’s actions?

An article about Dorial Green-Beckham’s recruiting process after the talented five-star wide receiver shocked the nation by picking the Missouri Tigers as his school of choice quoted DGB’s adopted father John Beckham, also his high school football coach, citing Petrino’s exit from the Atlanta Falcons as one of the reasons he did not want his son playing for Petrino.

Four years after a smear campaign was ran by Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blanks against Petrino and what continues on ESPN every time Petrino’s name is mentioned has affected Arkansas’ ability to recruit effectively.

How much more difficult has the recruiting process just become for the Razorbacks following this new situation?

Debates leading up to Jeff Long’s final decision further divides Razorback Nation on a morality issue of infidelity, an issue everyone has an immediate decision regarding and understandably so.

Speculation as to what is happening behind Jeff Long’s closed doors is meetings, possible scenarios regarding Petrino employment status fired or maintained, and financial number crunching… and a lot of each.

Until more information is released regarding Petrino’s job status here is further speculation on what will have to happen for Petrino to stay at Arkansas:

 The Jessica Dorrell factor

Jessica Dorrell will have to sign legal documents stating she will not sue the school for sexual harassment and/or wrongful firing.

Would she win a sexual harassment case against the University of Arkansas, probably not but lack of a poor case has never stopped others from suing in the past.

A signed document from Dorrell would prevent any further media relation problems for the University of Arkansas and the football program helping make this past week’s events a forgotten calamity once the season begins.

Would she win a case in a wrongful firing if released and Petrino kept his job?

She has a stronger case here. This gets into part of the number crunching scenario. Will the athletic department or boosters pony up money to help Dorrell’s separation from the program go smoother for public relation purposes?

How much money will need to be in the severance package for her to go quietly?

 

Petrino will more than likely have his contract restructured

To what extend remains to be seen but one can count on a financial overhaul at the very minimum. Some form of punishment will have to come to Petrino.

If retained look for Petrino to make far less than the $3.8 million he is suppose to make in 2012 and beyond. His contract may be laced with incentives that would bump him back up to $3.8 million or more but his base more than likely will drop.

The buyout clause in Petrino’s contract will more than likely change in Arkansas’ favor. Petrino can expect a parting gift of three million or more for a national public scandal to be wiped from his current agreement.

 

Possible game suspensions

Would suspending Petrino for the first four games of the 2012 season make a difference? Who knows? It would show the rest of college football that the school is serious about punishing Petrino in some other form than punitive damages.

A suspension would defeat the immediate purpose of keeping Petrino on staff over the short term because we all know who the Hogs third game of the season is against.

 

Petrino agrees to hire a public relations team to help fix his already damaged public image

As previously mentioned teams recruit against Petrino citing he will not be atArkansaslong and the way he left the Falcons in “the dark of the night”.

The current buyout clause should have nullified that recruiting problem from the start, but obviously less than informed parents still help “guide” their children’s college decisions based on false information against the Hogs.

This scandal will not help matters any and help beyond letting winning games do all the talking for him is needed. Wishing “it away” or refusing to acknowledge the affair seems to be more Petrino’s style thus the reason the school should demand a PR blitz out of Petrino’s own wallet.

The past situation with the Falcons should have been cleared a long time ago but was not dealt with for one reason or another. A PR firm can clear the air about a lot of confusion centered upon Petrino.

Why ESPN continues to make Tiger Woods a positive focal point of EVERY ESPN News or Sports Center telecast is befuddling. Why they continue to make Petrino their punching bag every chance they get is equally bewildering.

 

No more skeletons in the closet come to the surface

If this is the last of the scandal with no more bombshells being dropped this will make life a little bit easier for Jeff Long and company to retain Petrino.

The unfortunate truth is when one domino comes crumbling down the rest of the dominoes tend to follow suit as well. Hopefully this is the last issue for Arkansas to deal with regarding Petrino outside of a possible impending divorce.

If another mistress or mismanagement of his staff comes to the surface regarding Petrino during his time at Arkansas, he may have coached his last game for the Razorbacks.

 

What’s working in Petrino’s favor?

- He’s a winner

The sad truth is if Petrino was coming off a 7-6 or 6-7 season with no immediate prospects for improvement he would be gone already.

The reality is he is coming off a 10-win season in 2010 and an 11-win season in 2011 with prospects for a national championship in 2012.

Arkansas has not won a national championship in football since 1964. The last outright opportunity the Hogs had a chance to win a national championship was in 1965 but lost their bowl game to LSU.

The Hogs had an outside shot at a BCS National Championship Game berth this past season had they beat LSU in Baton Rouge. Obviously the Hogs lost but the point remains, Petrino has taken the Razorbacks to heights they have not achieved since 1965. Right or wrong this is an accomplishment not easily forgotten by long suffering Hog fans.

- Right or wrong other head coaches have had similar scandals but have retained their positions at their respective schools.

The “everyone else is doing excuse” does not make things right but it does help Petrino with his case.

Rick Pitino’s 2009 scandal with the wife of his equipment manager seems to have been forgotten and was not a major story during Louisville’s 2012 run to the Final Four.

Arkansas fans have been through a somewhat similar situation when former Arkansas head coach Houston Nutt’s texting relationship with Donna Bragg was made public through the Freedom of Information Act in the spring of 2007.

Nutt would later resign from his position at Arkansas to take the same position with Ole Miss after the completion Arkansas’ 2007 regular season schedule. His resignation was not over the Bragg texting scandal. Nutt was “ran off” because of his dealing with quarterback Mitch Mustain and the mess that created.

- Petrino’s affair has not endangered the student athletes he oversees.

In 2009 Mike Leach was fired by Texas Tech after punishing Adam James for not playing through a reported concussion. Leach isolated James, the son of ESPN announcer and former SMU college standout Craig James, in an equipment room as punishment during practice.

The outrage by Adam James’ celebrity father over his child’s treatment helped push the outspoken coach out of his job.

Leach was hired by Washington State in December of 2011 as their new head football coach.

If Petrino is fired by Arkansas rest assured another AQ program will hire Petrino. Whether you like him personally or not, Petrino is a great college football coach.

Does that mean he is above reproach, no. What it means is extra time and attention should be given before a final decision is made not only by Jeff Long but by the fans that comprise Razorback Nation.

- Petrino openly admitted to his affair

Maybe Petrino’s confession was a day or so late for some Arkansas fans or college football pundits across the nation, regardless he came forward with the truth.

As hard as it was for him to admit what had transpired publicly one can only imagine how difficult it was to have to admit to his immediate friends and family what had taken place. That’s his cross to bear and his own punishment for what he’s personally done to those around him.

On Thursday Petrino stated, “My concern was to protect my family and a previous inappropriate relationship from becoming public. In hindsight, I showed a serious mistake in judgment when I chose not to be more specific about those details.

Through it all Jeff Long has handled the situation admirably. Regardless of Arkansas’ need to have Petrino coaching spring practices, Long has suspended his head football coach as he gathers evidence to make an informed decision on the impending fate of Petrino and the Razorback football program.

Long’s actions may seem like a no-brainer to some but other programs have handled their situations by allowing big name coaches do as they please regardless of the mess they have created for the school, the players, and the coaching staff by letting them continue their coaching duties.

With what has been a renewed enthusiasm for Arkansas Razorback football not only in-state but on a national level and his ability to win games in the toughest college football conference in the nation should that help dictate Bobby Petrino’s future at Arkansas?

It all comes down to a simple question, should Bobby Petrino stay or should he go? If you were the athletic director for Arkansas what would you do?

If you were Bobby Petrino what would you have done?

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