FAYETTEVILLE — Former football Coach Bobby Petrino’s failure to disclose a $20,000 gift to Jessica Dorrell when he recommended hiring her for a position in the athletic department was among the reasons for his dismissal, according to a copy of his termination letter released Friday by the University of Arkansas.
Dorrell, a former UA volleyball player, used the money to buy a black Acura during the first week she worked for the football program, the letter by Athletic Director Jeff Long said. When Petrino gave her the money wasn’t specified.
Jeff Long - Bobby Petrino FiringWatch Video
The revelation of the cash payment to Dorrell, with whom Petrino has acknowledged having an extramarital affair, was one of six reasons that ultimately led to his firing Tuesday with cause, according to the document obtained under a state Freedom of Information Act request by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Fans sound off on Petrino firingWatch Video
“All of these facts, individually and collectively, negatively and adversely affect the reputation of the University of Arkansas as well as our athletic programs,” Long wrote Tuesday in the termination letter to Petrino. “Therefore, I must terminate your employment for cause effective immediately.”
The release of the three page letter came after Petrino said late Thursday night that he didn’t plan to challenge his dismissal. His attorneys - Russ Campbell and Patrick Strong of Birmingham, Ala. - sent a note informing Long of his decision just before midnight Thursday.
In the note, the attorneys said Petrino “accepts responsibility for the events” that led to his termination, “he respects the university’s decision and will not avail himself of the university’s administrative appeals process.”
Petrino had no further comment through his attorney Friday.
By forgoing an appeals process involving UA Chancellor G. David Gearhart, Petrino, 51, gave up any claim to an $18 million buyout that was in his contract. Under that contract, he was paid $3.1 million last season.
Long fired the fourth-year coach after revelations that he had an “inappropriate relationship” with Dorrell, 25, in her role as student-athlete development coordinator for the football program.
Under a clause in Petrino’s contract, he could be fired if he engaged in behavior “clearly contrary to the character and responsibilities of a person occupying the position of head coach.”
In the termination letter, Long details a string of events in which Petrino failed to disclose his relationship with Dorrell, that she was aboard his motorcycle when he crashed it April 1, and his role in helping her land a job that pays $55,375 a year within the athletic department.
“You deliberately failed to tell me that you had engaged in an extramarital affair with Ms. Dorrell over a period of several months leading up to your recommendation to hire her,” Long wrote.
“You used your university position to advance your personal interests in violation of the university’s policies on conflict of interest. If you had been forthcoming with me about the true nature of your relationship, I would not have approved the hiring of Ms. Dorrell for this position.”
Dorrell is on paid administrative leave from her job at the UA.
Ben Wilkerson was one of three finalists for the job that Dorrell started on March 28. When he applied for the job, Wilkerson was working at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, where he was an intern assisting the offensive coordinator. Since then, Wilkerson has gotten a job as offensive-line coach at Grambling State University in Louisiana.
Wilkerson declined to comment Friday.
“I’m on my new job right now, and I don’t want that to be a distraction,” he said.
Tiffany Fields, the other finalist for the UA job, didn’t immediately return a message left on her voice mail. According to her resume, she is a recruiting assistant for the Razorbacks football program.
In the termination letter, Long said Petrino had multiple opportunities in the days after the accident to be above board about Dorrell being on his Harley-Davidson Road King. But Petrino didn’t reveal that fact until 20 minutes before the Arkansas State Police released the accident report April 5 that disclosed that Dorrell had been on the bike and helped flag down a passing car for help.
“It was incumbent on you to be forthcoming about the full truth in the matter,” Long wrote in the letter.
Instead, Petrino called a news conference April 3 after his release from Physicians Specialty Hospital and said he had been on the motorcycle alone when it crashed on Arkansas 16 in Madison County, leaving him with four broken ribs, a cracked C2 vertebra, and cuts and scrapes on his face.
After the news conference, Petrino was walking down a ramp toward the field at Reynolds Razorback Stadium when a television reporter asked him again if had been alone when the accident occurred. “Yeah,” he answered.
“I believe you were deceitful with our fans and citizens of [Arkansas] in order to conceal the nature of your relationship with Ms. Dorrell,” Long wrote. “In my judgment, you deliberately attempted to create the impression that no other person was with you.”
PHONE CALLS, TEXTS
UA released some text messages Thursday night from Petrino’s state-owned cell phone and more on Friday from Dorrell’s state owned phone.
When asked why some of the text messages that had been sent between Petrino and Dorrell weren’t released, Kevin Trainor, the UA’s associate athletic director for public relations, said it was either because they had been deleted or because they weren’t deemed “public records” under Arkansas Code 25-19-103(5)(A).
That law states that public records “constitute a record of the performance or lack of performance of official functions that are or should be carried out” by an employee of an institution that receives public funds.
“All records maintained in public offices or by public employees within the scope of their employment shall be presumed to be public records,” the law states.
“Obviously, when people delete text messages, they’re not on the phone,” Trainor said. “Or if there are text messages that don’t meet the guidelines of a public record.”
When asked if the UA had withheld the text messages because they were personal instead of work related, Trainor refused to comment further.
Telephone records indicate that Petrino and Dorrell spoke more than 300 times and exchanged more than 4,300 text messages from September to April 5. Some of those text messages were in March, a month included in the Democrat-Gazette’s Freedom of Information Act request, but those texts were not included in what the university released.
In the 51 pages of text messages on Dorrell’s state-issued phone, 21 pages were conversations with Fields, who had applied for the job that Dorrell got.
All the messages released from Dorrell’s phone appeared to be work-related. No messages to or from Bobby Petrino were included in what the UA provided.
At 4:05 p.m. on April 5, Jon Fagg - the UA’s senior associate athletic director for compliance - sent Dorrell a message saying “Call me. Now.” Others also texted Dorrell saying Fagg was trying to reach her immediately.
The state police report naming Dorrell had been made public less than an hour earlier.
Reporters’ efforts to reach Dorrell were unsuccessful Friday. A message left on her cell phone voice mail wasn’t returned Friday. Also, messages left on voice mails for Polly Johnson and Christopher Dorrell, both of Aledo, Texas, weren’t returned Friday. Dorrell’s mother is named Polly Johnson, and her brother is named Chris, according to arkansasrazorbacks.com.
Dorrell is from Aledo, about 20 miles west of Fort Worth. She helped the Aledo Bearcats to a 94-39 record in four seasons of high school volleyball, according to an article on arkansasrazorbacks.com. Dorrell holds the high school’s record for “kills” - or point-scoring spikes - in a match with 25 and in a season with 501.
Dorrell lettered in volleyball for the Razorbacks from 2004-07 and served as a team captain, according to the website. At 5-feet, 11-inches tall, she won several awards and ranks eighth on the UA’s all-time career kills list with 1,310.
She was part of three NCAA Tournament teams and helped lead the 2005 team into the second round and a 21-12 overall record.
Dorrell received a bachelor’s degree from UA in 2008 in finance and marketing, and a master’s in business administration two years later.
She was a graduate assistant in development for the athletics department from May 2008 to October 2009.
Dorrell worked for the Razorback Foundation from October 2009 until last month as assistant director for women’s athletics.
Her duties primarily concerned cultivating contributors to women’s athletics and men’s Olympic sports. During the time she was there, donations to women’s sports increased by 28 percent and donations to men’s Olympic sports increased by 118 percent, Dorrell stated on her resume.
Christopher Brockett, a tax attorney in Little Rock, said Petrino will be legally obligated to file tax forms concerning the $20,000 gift to Dorrell.
If the gift was made last year, he has until Tuesday to file a Form 709 with his federal tax returns. If the gift was made this year, he has until April 15, 2013, to file.
The first $13,000 of the value of a gift is exempt from gift taxes under Internal Revenue Code 2503, Brockett said. So, Petrino would owe tax on $7,000.
The tax on gifts this year and in 2011 was between 18 percent and 35 percent, depending on the circumstances, Brockett said. But Petrino could use an exemption that would allow him to put off paying the tax. If he did that, and Petrino dies within the next three years, his estate would have to pay the gift tax, Brockett said. But if Petrino lived longer than three years, neither he nor his estate would have to pay taxes on the gift in that example.
Another way out of paying the tax would be if Petrino claimed that both he and his wife had given the $20,000 to Dorrell, Brockett said. That way, both Petrino and his wife would have given less than $10,000, which is below the $13,000 threshold where tax payment is required.
The aftermath of Petrino’s accident has attracted national attention.
Speaking to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette about the situation for the first time Friday, the UA chancellor said any criticism the university has received is difficult to measure because of “the tragedy of all of the lives that have been affected” by the revelations in the wake of the accident.
But Long’s decision to fire Petrino has been met with “a real warm outpouring of support from around the country,” including hundreds of calls and e-mails from alumni, sports fans and people who just happened to see the news conference, Gearhart said.
“The American people were in some ways hoping or waiting that a university would stand up with all the issues in athletics and all of the problems and do the right thing,” he said.
When UA officials interviewed Long for the athletic director’s job, he warned them that he “was not a win-at-all costs person,” Gearhart said. “He has sure proven that.”
Gearhart also said he doesn’t expect to change the way UA vets candidates for high-profile positions, such as coaches.
When Long hired Petrino, UA leaders heard concerns about the coach’s work with previous teams, Gearhart said. That included Petrino’s own confirmation that, while a coach at the University of Louisville, he met secretly with Auburn officials to discuss replacing Tommy Tuberville, his former boss.
“We knew that, but in discussing with him those issues, there were two sides to those stories,” Gearhart said. “We didn’t feel that any of those [issues] were egregious enough that it would disqualify someone from being the coach.”
UA leaders couldn’t have predicted how Petrino’s time in Arkansas would end, he said.
“When you hire a person, you never know. The unknown, the hidden or what develops in a person’s career is hard to know when you hire him,” Gearhart said.
Information for this article was contributed by Caleb Fort and Adam Wallworth of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Front Section, Pages 1 on 04/14/2012