Opinion

What college football can learn from the Bobby Petrino scandal

Immoral and unethical acts don’t happen in a bubble. There are usually clues to this kind of behavior long before the lid blows off the pot. The Bobby Petrino scandal makes this perfectly clear.

Bobby Petrino was fired as Arkansas’ head football coach on April 10, shortly after it was discovered that he had an affair with a 25-year-old engaged employee, Jessica Dorrell. Petrino, a married man with four children, attempted to cover up the affair even after he got into an accident during a motorcycle ride with Dorrell on April 1.

Petrino has a long and sordid history of unethical actions. In 2003, in his first year as head coach at the University of Louisville, he secretly interviewed with Auburn. He denied ever doing so until he was confronted by two reporters from the Louisville Courier-Journal with documentary evidence of a private plane that brought Auburn’s president and athletic director to southern Indiana to meet with him.

Who was Auburn’s head coach at the time? None other than Tommy Tuberville — Petrino’s former boss. When you live in Petrino’s alternate reality, biting the hand that feeds you means nothing.

The duplicity didn’t end there. While at Louisville, he also flirted with Notre Dame, Ole Miss, Florida, LSU and the Oakland Raiders, all while claiming his loyalty to Louisville. He eventually found a suitor, the Atlanta Falcons, but that didn’t last long. While head coach of the Falcons, he jumped ship to Arkansas in the middle of the season, notifying his players with this brusque note:

To make matters worse, Petrino accepted the Arkansas job after having just reaffirmed his commitment to Falcons owner Arthur Blank 24 hours earlier.

Sadly, Petrino is not exactly alone in his lack of integrity. After Todd Graham was hired away from Pittsburgh by Arizona State, he notified his players via text message of his exit. There’s also Nick Saban’s perplexing tale. On December 21, 2006, Saban publicly stated, “I guess I have to say it. I’m not going to be the Alabama coach.” Two weeks later, he was the Alabama coach. More recently, newly hired Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Greg Schiano abandoned Rutgers and stood up recruits a mere week before national signing day.

College football operates in an environment where eleventh-hour job wheeling and dealing is all too common. The coaches are surely complicit in the problem, but the schools are at fault as well. What kind of example are college administrators setting when they toe the ethical boundary in the hiring process?

College football leaders should view the Petrino scandal as a cautionary tale. Don’t ignore the signs. If a coach has a questionable past, it may be unreasonable to expect him to change his ways. Schools need to be introspective as well. If you hire coaches using borderline unethical practices, you can expect no better back. Sure, you might get the young, talented coach who can possibly take you to the promised land, but at what cost? Ask Arkansas.

LaRue Robinson is an attorney. He founded and writes for the football website Any Football Fan. He played football for nine years, including three years of Varsity Sprint Football at Cornell University. He holds a law degree from Columbia Law School and resides in Louisville, Kentucky. Follow LaRue on Twitter