FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas fired coach Bobby Petrino on Tuesday, saying he engaged in reckless behavior that included hiring his mistress and then intentionally misleading his bosses about everything from their relationship to her presence at the motorcycle accident that ultimately cost him his job.
“He made the decision to mislead the public, (and it) adversely affected the university and the football program,” athletic director Jeff Long said at an evening news conference, choking up at one point as he discussed telling players the news. There was a “pattern of misleading and manipulative behavior to deceive me.”
It was a stunning fall for Petrino, who had built Arkansas into a Southeastern Conference and national power over four seasons, including a 21-5 record the past two years. But Long made it clear that the success on the field was overshadowed by a laundry list of deceptive acts.
The 51-year-old Petrino was injured in an April 1 motorcycle accident. He was put on paid leave last week after admitting he lied about the presence of the 25-year-old employee, Jessica Dorrell, who had been riding with him.
Long said his investigation, which took less than a week, found that Petrino had even given Dorrell $20,000 at one point, though he wouldn’t disclose what it was for. He also said Petrino was fired “with cause” -- meaning he will not receive a multimillion-dollar buyout -- and there were no discussions about ways to keep Petrino at Arkansas.
Petrino finishes his tenure at Arkansas with a 34-17 record in four seasons, leading the Razorbacks to a No. 5 final ranking last season and a Cotton Bowl win over Kansas State.
He did not immediately issue a statement.
The accident left him with four broken ribs, a cracked vertebra in his neck and numerous abrasions on his face. The avid motorcycle rider said the sun and wind caused him to lose control on the windy two-lane highway, about 20 miles southeast of Fayetteville.
What the married father of four failed to mention, both at a news conference and to Long, was the presence of a Dorrell, a former Arkansas volleyball player and Razorback Foundation fundraiser who Petrino had hired to a football-department position just days before the accident.
That revelation was made public when the state police released the accident report. Petrino informed Long of Dorrell’s presence 20 minutes before the police released the report to the public, also admitting to what he called a previous inappropriate relationship with Dorrell.
Long placed Petrino on paid leave later that night, saying he was disappointed in Petrino and promising to review the coach’s conduct. He said his review found that the relationship between the two had lasted a “significant” amount of time.
As the review continued, the state police released the audio of the 911 call reporting Petrino’s accident. It revealed Petrino didn’t want to call police following the crash, and a subsequent police report showed he asked police if he was required to give the name of the passenger during the accident.
Petrino was forthcoming about Dorrell’s name and presence with police, but only after misleading both Long and the public during his news conference. That led to the school releasing a statement from Petrino’s family the day after the accident that said “no other individuals” were involved.
The proved not to be the case and the fracture in trust, along with questions about Dorrell’s hiring by Petrino to be the school’s student-athlete development coordinator, proved to be too much for Petrino to overcome in Long’s eyes.
Petrino took the school to its first BCS bowl game following the 2010 season, losing in the Sugar Bowl to Ohio State, and improved his win total in every year. Arkansas was 5-7 his first season in 2008, 8-5 the second before finishing 10-3 and 11-2 during his last two seasons.
The coach’s tenure with the Razorbacks began under a cloud of national second-guessing following his departure from Atlanta 13 games into the 2007 season. His tenure with the Falcons was the shortest for a non-interim coach since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger.
His departure was so sudden that Petrino left farewell notes in the lockers of the Atlanta players rather than telling them of his resignation in person. He was introduced later that night as the new coach of the Razorbacks, carrying with him a vagabond image after holding 15 jobs for 11 different programs/organizations in 24 seasons.