FAYETTEVILLE Bobby Petrino was fired with cause Tuesday as the University of Arkansas' head football coach for what was described as misleading and manipulating behavior in an attempt to cover up an affair with a female employee.
UA athletics director Jeff Long announced the decision during a press conference Tuesday night at Bud Walton Arena. Long had placed Petrino on paid administrative leave since last Thursday while conducting an internal investigation into a motorcycle accident on Sunday, April 1.
Long said during the conference that Petrino's passenger in the accident, 25-year-old Jessica Dorrell, was hired by Petrino as student-athlete development coordinator from a pool of 159 applicants. Long said Petrino also gave Dorrell $20,000 before she was hired. The status of Dorrell's employment was not disclosed.
Long said Petrino's actions in hiring Dorrell constituted as a "conflict of interest."
"Our expectations of character and integrity in our employees can be no less than we expect of our students," Long said. "No single individual is bigger than the team, the Razorback football program or the University of Arkansas."
Taver Johnson will remain interim coach of the Razorbacks through the end of spring practices. Long said a search for a new coach would begin immediately.
"It's hard to say what impact this will have, but we hope to find a head football coach that can lead this program and attract the kind of student-athletes that can be successful in the SEC," Long said. "We all know this is the toughest football conference in the country and we're in the toughest division so I think that will attract a quality coach and quality student-athletes.
"We will conduct a search and determine whether we can find a head coach that can lead this program and if not, then we would go with an interim and do a search following the season."
The 51-year-old Petrino broke several ribs, sprained his neck and cracked a vertebra in the accident on Arkansas 16 in rural Madison County, about 23 miles southeast of Fayetteville.
The UA released a statement on April 2 claiming Petrino was the only individual involved in the accident. At a news conference the next day, a battered Petrino appeared before news media to talk about the accident, saying he was "lucky" to be there.
When the Arkansas State Police accident report was released later that week, it was discovered that Dorrell was riding with Petrino at the time of the crash. In a statement given to the media at Long's press conference last Thursday, Petrino acknowledged he had tried to keep Dorrell's name out of the public in an attempt to hide their relationship.
"The simplest response I have is: I’m sorry," Petrino said in a statement Tuesday. "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."
Petrino told Long of the situation involving Dorrell at 3:12 p.m. last Thursday, according to Long. Lance King, the Arkansas State Police captain who drove Petrino to the hospital following his accident, said he had informed Petrino the accident report would soon be made public at 2:50 p.m. that day, according to King's recount of the accident to state police.
New information released from the Arkansas State Police on Monday afternoon detailed that King was told by Petrino "a gust of wind" caused the accident.
Petrino also directed King to drive him to Physicians Specialty Hospital in Fayetteville instead of Washington Regional Medical Center, where King initially intended to take Petrino following the accident.
While receiving treatment, Petrino asked King if Dorrell's name would be included on the accident report. Petrino did not attempt to keep Dorrell's name off the report, according to a statement by King.
Dorrell, a former volleyball player at Arkansas, was hired to an administrative role within the Razorbacks football program on March 28, just four days before the crash. She had previously worked as a fundraiser for The Razorback Foundation Inc., a private fundraising entity for the university's athletics programs.
"I thought Jeff ran a very good process," said John Tyson, a member of the UA's Board of Trustees. "It was a tough process, but he went and collected facts and those facts led him to a decision.
"You can tell he was personally impacted by the decision. He had a lot of belief in Bobby and Bobby did good things for the program, but a set of facts were discovered and you have to make a decision based on the facts."
Petrino went 34-17 in four seasons as the Razorbacks' head coach, with a 21-5 record in the last two years. Arkansas earned its first invite to the prestigious Bowl Championship Series in 2010 and tied a program record with 11 wins last season.
Petrino's success, coupled with a multimedia deal with IMG College and increased profit-sharing revenues from the Southeastern Conference since his arrival, has made the Razorbacks more valuable than ever. Forbes rated Arkansas as the eighth-most valuable college football program last year at a value of more than $89 million - a 59 percent increase from 2009, Petrino's second year.
The school is currently building a $40.35 million football operations center with bonds it hopes to pay back solely with private donations. Long has also expressed the desire to add more seats and luxury suites to Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in the future - a project that will cost up to an estimated $95 million.
"I think certainly the success that we have had on the field is a great factor," Long said, "and I think the additions that we have made to our football program...all of those will make the job more attractive than it was maybe when Coach Petrino took the job."
Petrino agreed to a seven-year contract in December 2010 worth $3.56 million annually - the seventh-highest total among head coaches in college football. Arkansas' full-time football assistant coaches have also received pay raises each of the last two years with a total salary pool greater than $2 million.
Petrino was hired at Arkansas in December 2007 from the NFL's Atlanta Falcons. He spent 13 games with the Falcons that season and had spent the previous four years as head coach at the University of Louisville.
Petrino has a career record of 75-26 in his two stints as a college head coach and is one of only three coaches to take multiple programs to a BCS bowl, alongside Nick Saban and Urban Meyer.
Read more about this story in tomorrow's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
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