Is this a storm Bobby Petrino can survive?

April, 6, 2012
4/06/12
2:35
AM ET
PetrinoAP Photo/Beth HallThe breaking scandal has coach Bobby Petrino on thin ice at Arkansas.

Football coaches who win at a high level have been known to survive the most serious of storms.

The storm that has engulfed Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino might get worse before it gets better, and it has already become a huge embarrassment for the university.

Petrino’s success on the field and the way he has made Arkansas relevant again nationally will weigh heavily in his corner, but the stigma that's sure to follow him now might be too much to overcome.

Furthermore, who knows what other details might be out there concerning his motorcycle crash last Sunday night, and more specifically, his relationship with the 25-year-old woman he was riding with when the crash occurred? She’s the same woman, Jessica Dorrell, who was hired last month as the student-athlete development coordinator for football. She works under Petrino and oversees on-campus recruiting.

Clearly, Petrino’s bosses are ticked. Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long announced at a news conference late Thursday night that Petrino had been placed on paid leave, and Long said he would conduct a review of both Petrino and Dorrell.

While Petrino’s away, Long said assistant head coach and linebackers coach Taver Johnson would serve as Arkansas’ interim head coach. The Hogs are in the middle of spring practice and will play their spring game April 21.

Ultimately, what Long will have to decide is whether Petrino violated the terms of his contract, which has a clause in it that would allow Arkansas to fire Petrino for "engaging in conduct, as solely determined by the university, which is clearly contrary to the character and responsibilities of a person occupying the position of head football coach or which negatively or adversely affects the reputation of the (university's) athletics programs in any way."

Lying or misleading the media is one thing. The same goes for the public. But when you're not forthcoming with your bosses, that's one of those things that tends to resonate.

Only when an Arkansas state police report confirmed Thursday that Dorrell was riding with Petrino did he come clean after initially saying through a statement released by university officials that he was alone when he crashed. He repeated that claim after finishing up his news conference on Tuesday when asked specifically by a media member if he had been alone during the crash.

Long said he didn't find out until Thursday afternoon from Petrino that Dorrell was riding with the Hogs' head coach, and it was later Thursday that Petrino, who is married and has four children, issued another statement acknowledging a previous inappropriate relationship.

It only muddies the situation that, according to several reports, Dorrell was engaged to marry the Hogs' director of swimming and diving operations, Josh Morgan, in June.

[+] EnlargeBobby Petrino
Nelson Chenault/US PresswireArkansas administrators must weigh Bobby Petrino's on-field accomplishments against his off-field actions.
Here's Petrino's statement in full, in which he expresses his desire to remain as Arkansas head coach:
“The state police report today provides an accurate description of my accident, which includes details that had not publically come to light prior to the report being issued. I regret that I have not publically acknowledged a passenger on the vehicle. I have been in constant pain, medicated and the circumstances involving the wreck have come out in bits and pieces. That said I certainly had a concern about Jessica Dorrell’s name being revealed. In my press conference, I referred to her simply as ‘a lady’. My concern was to protect my family and a previous inappropriate relationship from becoming public. In hindsight, I showed a serious mistake in judgment when I chose not to be more specific about those details. Today, I’ve acknowledged this previous inappropriate relationship with my family and those within the athletic department administration.

I apologize to my wife, Becky, and our four children, Chancellor (David) Gearhart, Jeff Long, the Board of Trustees, University administration, my coaching staff, student-athletes and the entire state of Arkansas. I have been humbled by the outpouring of concern and get-well wishes. I apologize to the Razorback Nation for the attention my actions have brought to the University of Arkansas and our program. I will fully cooperate with the University throughout this process and my hope is to repair my relationships with my family, my Athletic Director, the Razorback Nation and remain the head coach of the Razorbacks.”

Much will be made about the "previous inappropriate relationship" Petrino speaks of and the fact that Dorrell was out riding the countryside with him.

But the two biggest factors working against Petrino are, No. 1, that he wasn't truthful with his superiors about the accident and lied about it publicly, and No. 2, that Dorrell was somebody who was hired to work under Petrino in the football office. If a "previous inappropriate relationship" with Petrino did indeed lead to her hiring, that's bad news for everybody involved.

It's especially bad news for the Arkansas fans, who deserved better.

Just when you thought the Hogs might be on the verge of breaking through and joining the SEC party in the national championship equation, this happens.

Petrino was dug in, too. He signed a contract two Decembers ago that more or less locked him down at Arkansas for the foreseeable future. I can also tell you from my conversations with Petrino that he truly believed that he could win a national championship at Arkansas and that the Hogs weren't that far away.

The job he'd done to this point was exemplary, and even though he was castigated for leaving the Atlanta Falcons before the 2007 season was over, it was a coup for Arkansas to get a coach of Petrino's caliber.

It all seemed to be pointing in the right direction for the Hogs, who played in their first-ever BCS bowl game in 2010 and then followed that up with 11 wins last season.

Now, in the wake of one forgettable motorcycle crash, it remains to be seen whether Petrino will get a chance to finish what he started.

Chris Low | email

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