Coaches top long list of scoundrels

Originally Published: May 30, 2012
By Heather Dinich | ESPN.com

Liars. Cheaters. Strippers. A motorcycle and a mistress.

Over the past year, college football has produced enough drama to fill the Lifetime Movie Network -- starring scoundrels Butch Davis, John Blake, Jerry Sandusky, Bobby Petrino, Nevin Shapiro and Jim Tressel. It has been an unprecedented documentary of rule breakers, and a bad year for some of college football's best coaches. Even the late, great Joe Paterno couldn't sidestep the slime -- cuffed pants and all.

[+] EnlargeBobby Petrino
AP Photo/Richey Miller/CSM Bobby Petrino's winning record wasn't enough for him to continue at Arkansas.

Paterno, Petrino, Tressel, Davis -- all once considered untouchable, all fired seemingly at once.

"If 14 months ago ... we had said this next cycle we will watch the firing of the head coaches of Ohio State, Penn State, North Carolina, Tennessee basketball [Bruce Pearl], Arkansas -- all fabulously successful coaches on the floor and on the field -- to see those five men fired for misdeeds, not for failures on the court or on the field, none of us would have believed it," NCAA president Mark Emmert said last month. "I sure wouldn't have thought that was possible."

In a matter of months, this cast of characters marred the sport:

The liar: played by former Ohio State coach Tressel, who knowingly broke NCAA rules and wouldn't admit he was wrong.

The cheater: starring former UNC assistant Blake, who was accused of steering players to agents in exchange for cash -- just one facet of a despicable case that also involved academic fraud and players taking money and other benefits from agents.

The prisoner: former Miami booster Shapiro, who is currently serving a 20-year prison term for his involvement in a Ponzi scheme, and has vowed from his cell to bring Miami "down to Chinatown."

The Harley-Davidson: driven by former Arkansas coach Petrino, whose personal life was apparently as much of a wreck as the motorcycle he crashed. In his first version of the story, Petrino was the only one on the bike. In his second version, Petrino admitted he had company ...

The mistress: 25-year-old Jessica Dorrell, a former Arkansas volleyball player who was hired by Petrino and helped redefine the phrase "conflict of interest."

The fallen icon: Paterno, whose legacy will forever be debated after how he dealt with the sexual abuse charges against Sandusky, a longtime former assistant coach at Penn State.

Never before has college football seen so much garbage aired in public -- and that was just Shapiro's side of the story. He told Yahoo! Sports he entertained Miami players with prostitutes, trips on his yacht and dinners at high-end restaurants and nightclubs. The shock of the report has since worn off, and there is a sense of optimism from coach Al Golden that what the NCAA finds won't be nearly as damning as the initial report, but it was still volatile enough to make many wonder if the program would survive.

About the only thing guaranteed the death penalty right now is Petrino's career.

After all, the allegations against Miami were long forgotten by the time Petrino suffered four broken ribs and a cracked neck vertebra in his motorcycle accident.

When it comes to character, these coaches are guilty of transgressions you'd never find in the NCAA's doorstop of a rule book. If only the NCAA could mandate an official morality check for coaches, a sort of Wonderlic test for the soul. Those are the real "major violations."

Paterno's reactions to the allegations against Sandusky were stunning and saddening.

[+] EnlargeButch Davis
Robert Willett/Getty ImagesButch Davis was fired last July by North Carolina.

Tressel's willingness to lie to the NCAA and his superiors trumped the more than $13,000 that his players racked up in cash, tattoos and other benefits.

Davis' adamant denial of any knowledge of the UNC program's nine major NCAA violations was laughable, not to mention inexcusable. And Petrino? Eleven wins don't quite compare to the $20,000 he gave Dorrell, or the 4,300 text messages they traded.

Those text messages were probably far more personal, though, than the one former Pitt coach Todd Graham sent to players informing them he was leaving after just one season to become the coach at Arizona State. What Graham did was spineless. You won't find that in the NCAA bylaws. It's not even in the same league, though, as what happened in State College, Columbus, Fayetteville and Chapel Hill.

Is this what a $3.5 million contract buys college football fans these days? Liars and cheaters? (Petrino was "honorable" enough not to ask for any of the $18 million buyout that was a part of his contract.) If this past year was a foreshadowing of what to expect as the sport continues to morph into something even bigger than the BCS, then maybe we've only scratched the surface of wrongdoing.

Super conferences could mean super problems, as coaches face more and more pressure to win. With money comes power, and two of the most powerful men in college football -- Paterno and Tressel -- couldn't be trusted to make the right decisions.

We helped create the monsters. With lucrative contracts, adoration and elevation to god-like status, we built them up.

Like never before, though, they let us down.