If there’s one thing I learned from being in sports radio for several years, it’s that Arkansas football fans are as passionate as it gets. They probably don’t get as much attention as other fan bases because they don’t poison trees, get punched at fast food restaurants, or have a huge rival, but Hog fans love their team and are as fervent as they come. That’s why I was expecting Arkansas to appease its fan base by penalizing Bobby Petrino embarrassing the school with his crash and affair rather than outright firing him. I was wrong; athletic director Jeff Long made the bold and moral decision to fire Petrino.
Petrino came to Arkansas after leaving the Atlanta Falcons mid-season. He notified his players he was leaving them with a note taped in their lockers. Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer called him a “gutless coward” for the way he handled things. Arkansas knew the poor character Petrino had when they got him, but after the Houston Nutt mess, it didn’t matter — they wanted a winner. And that’s what they got.
Petrino needed just two years to turn the Hogs into a winner, going 5-7 and then 8-5 in his first two seasons. He took it to another level leading Arkansas to back-to-back double-digit win seasons the past two years. The program was enjoying its greatest success since Ken Hatfield was coach in the late ’80s. They hadn’t quite reached the Frank Broyles level of success from the ’60s, but they were close. The fan base had been clamoring for a return to those days and they were nearly there. That’s why firing Petrino is such an unpopular move.
But Bobby deserved to be fired. He hired his mistress for a position on the football staff, giving her the job over 158 other applicants, and paying her $20,000 as a gift. He got into a motorcycle crash and lied to the school to cover up his “inappropriate relationship.” Based on his history, Petrino leaving the school on bad terms is not a surprise. What’s surprising is that Arkansas, which hired a guy who left his NFL team mid-season, decided to draw a line and say they weren’t willing to stoop lower than that to win.
Whether it was because they felt embarrassed over the negative publicity, were upset they were lied to, or like they needed to protect themselves in a legal sense, or that they just didn’t want Bobby Petrino representing the university anymore, Arkansas made the right decision to move on. They’re sacrificing potential success on the field to stand their moral ground. It was the only call to make.
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