After four seasons with the Razorbacks, Bobby Petrino was fired as the head football coach at Arkansas, athletics director Jeff Long announced Tuesday night.
Long said the decision came after a review of the circumstances surrounding Petrino’s April 1 motorcycle accident.
Petrino was put on paid leave after he told Long he hadn’t been honest about the presence of a passenger on his motorcycle, 25-year-old, recently hired football staff member, Jessica Dorrell.
Long said assistant head coach Taver Johnson will continue to serve as interim head coach through the completion of Spring Practice on April 21, and that the search for a permanent head coach would begin immediately.
Long speaks about the findings of his review
Coach Petrino knowingly misled the athletics department and the university about the circumstances related to his accident. He had multiple opportunities over a four-day period to be forthcoming with me. He chose not to. He treated the news media and the general public in a similar manner.
Coach Petrino’s relationship with Ms. Dorrell gave her an unfair and undisclosed advantage for a position on Coach Petrino’s football staff. She was one of 159 applicants for the job and Coach Petrino himself participated in the review and selection process without disclosing his relationship with her and that constitutes a conflict of interest under university policy.
During my review of this matter, Coach Petrino informed me that he had given a large sum of cash, some $20,000 to Ms. Dorrell. Coach Petrino, however, failed to disclose this information to me prior to his recommendation to hire her to the football program.
Coach Petrino’s conduct regarding his account of the accident jeopardized the integrity of the football program. He made a choice to return to practice on Tuesday, to hold a press conference and to demonstrate his physical resiliency and command of the program, all the time failing to correct the initial report that he was the only person involved in the accident. He made a conscious decision to speak and mislead the public on Tuesday. In doing so, he negatively and adversely affected the reputation of the University of Arkansas and our football program.
By itself, Coach Petrino’s consensual relationship with Ms. Dorrell prior to her joining the football staff was not against university policy. By itself, it’s a matter between individuals and their families. However, in this case, Coach Petrino abused his authority when over the past few weeks, he made a staff decision and personal choices that benefitted himself and jeopardized the integrity of the football program.
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.
He used athletic department funds to hire for his staff a person with whom he’d had an inappropriate relationship.
He engaged in reckless and unacceptable behavior and put his relationship in the national spotlight.
Coach Petrino’s conduct was contrary to the character responsibilities we demand of our head football coach. In fact, that is the very language that is included in his contract that he signed at the University of Arkansas.
Long’s closing comments
I realize this situation may not sit well with some Razorbacks fans here in the state of Arkansas and across the country. We have one of the top football programs in the country and a lot of that credit goes to coach Petrino, but credit for that success also belongs in large measure to the student-athletes in the program and to the other coaches and staff members who have worked hard to support them.
I have met with the players and I shared with them my disappointment in having to make this decision. I asked them to try to remain focused on their academics and finishing Spring Practice.
I am committed to providing them with the leadership that is befitting of our mission to develop student-athletes to their fullest potential. It’s been the primary obligation we have to each of them and to each of the more than 460 student-athletes we have in our program.
We are an educational institution with more than 23,000 students. We have high standards, a national reputation and one of the best public institutions in the country. Our expectations of character and integrity for our employees can be no less than what we expect from our students. No single individual is bigger than the team, the Razorback football program, or the University of Arkansas.
I assure you that we will seek a head coach with the expertise, leadership skills, and character to maintain Razorback football as one of the nation’s elite programs. We will maintain a program of student-athletes and coaches that all of Arkansas and Razorback fans across the nation will be proud.
Statement from Chancellor G. David Gearhart
This is a sad day for the University of Arkansas and Razorback sports. After a thorough review, Vice Chancellor and Director of Athletics Jeff Long has made his decision.
Mr. Petrino’s contract establishes a process by which he may have his termination decision reviewed. Under that process, the review would ultimately come to me for consideration and action.
Given my role in the review process as Chancellor, I must decline further comment on today’s announcement.
Statement from Bobby Petrino
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.
Previous press conference updates
Long: No, I did not come across anything that was an NCAA infraction in my review.
Long: I hope the fans will rally behind this group of athletes.
Q: Was Petrino acting as though he was bigger than the program? Long: Yes, that is what I was trying to convey.
Long: Do I regret hiring him? If he hadn’t engaged in this behavior, no. It was, however, his actions which resulted in his firing.
Long: It’s a difficult time to be searching for a head football coach. Again, we can command a high level coach. We won’t compromise.
Long: There are hundreds of emails I haven’t even had an opportunity to open up.
Long: Players were confused, concerned. They know they have a special team. “I know this is difficult on them.”
Long on why he’s (visibly) emotional: Because people’s lives are affected.
Long: 159 candidates applied for Dorrell’s job at UA.
Long: The inappropriate relationship had been going on for a “significant period of time.”
Long: I made the decision to fire Petrino today.
Long: Taver Johnson will remain interim coach for now.
Long: I will begin a search for a new head coach following this press conference tonight.
Long: Coach Petriono was terminated with cause. There was no negotiation (terms) where he could have remained our head football coach.
Long: Miss Dorrell is still an employee of our athletic program, and I can’t discuss that personnel matter any further.
Long: I assure you we will seek a head coach that…will keep UA among the elite programs.
Long: I met with the football team a short time ago and informed them of my decision.
Long: I realize this may not sit well with Razorback fans here, and across the country.
Long: I’ve informed Petrino he has been terminated immediately.
Long: Petrino engaged in wreckless, and unacceptable behavior.
Long: Petrino informed me he had given Dorrell a large sum of cash, around $20,000.