It makes perfect sense why anyone would be hesitant to replace Bobby Petrino with his brother Paul. There's no getting around that last name. They do have a brotherly resemblance. You can even find similarities in the way they speak. Would people ask Paul about Bobby at SEC Media Days and every other press conference thereafter? Yes. Would television announcers talk about Bobby anytime the cameras found Paul calling plays on the sideline? Pretty much. Arkansas obviously wants to distance itself from Bobby Petrino. He was only referred to as "the former coach" in the press release announcing Jessica Dorrell's resignation.
As we all know, Long was labeled with terms like integrity and dignity because he made what was obviously the correct decision despite the possibility of harsh public backlash. Not hiring Paul Petrino strictly because of the worry of awkwardness goes against the same principles that made Long bravely make the decision to fire Bobby in the first place.
This season is going to be awkward. It will be no matter who the head coach is, but particularly if the coach is an interim from within the current staff. Even if Tim Horton is the coach and Paul never talks to the media, Bobby Petrino's shadow will be in Fayetteville this season. Tim Horton would also get asked about Petrino at SEC Media Days. Petrino will be mentioned in every game broadcast even if Paul is sitting in the booth. Out-of-state media will continue to ask about him. It will be in every preseason magazine and television show. Tyler Wilson is too associated with him. Knile Davis is too associated with him. Even if Paul Petrino resigned, Bobby will be discussed during games. If Arkansas goes 12-0, Bobby Petrino's saga will come up.
If Paul Petrino has shown anything in the past week, he's capable of handling those questions. He hasn't dodged anything and comes across as honest, poised, and focused on the opportunity at hand. He's made it clear that becoming a head coach is his goal, and may even be anxious to deal with the questions and prove his mettle. If nothing else, public relations case studies show It would be better for the Razorback program if he's able to handle the same questions from out-of-state media directly than by staying in the background while someone else speaks for him. It would limit whispers of "what must Paul be thinking?" and "how is the team handling playing for Bobby's brother?"
Giving Paul Petrino the keys to 2012 would be a gutsy move, but so was firing Bobby. Long knows if the next coach isn't able to win on Bobby Petrino's level, donations and ticket sales my slide back down, and fans may begin to question Long's abilities in his own job. That's as risky as a move can be for an athletic director, but Long did it anyway because it was right. If Long believes the best candidate on staff is Paul Petrino, allowing him to become interim head coach is right. If his last name is too much, Long should not have allowed Bobby to hire him.
A huge part of Bobby Petrino's dismissal was the result of the HR nightmare of hiring his mistress without disclosing the information. I'm not a legal expert, and I don't know how passing over a job candidate just because he happens to be related to a disliked person would fall under any labor law, but it seems unfair. By giving Paul a shot, Jeff Long would be saying, "Everyone gets an equal shot here. If you break the rules, you'll be gone. If you do a good job and are qualified, we'll promote you when we can. No favorites. It's a level field." Of course, Jeff Long would never publicly say he wouldn't hire Paul because he's Bobby's brother. He'd explain the positive qualities of whoever is chosen and say those were the determining factors, which in and of itself would be fair.
This is not an endorsement of Paul Petrino to become the interim coach. He does have more years as a coordinator than anyone on the staff, and would certainly continue the same system, style, verbage, and atmosphere that the team enjoyed in recent seasons under Bobby. Other members of the staff are also qualified (though it does seem counter-productive to hand the Tim Horton the recruiting limitations that come with being head coach).
Jeff Long wasn't afraid to stand in the face of unpopular opinion when he fired Bobby. He shouldn't be afraid of awkwardness coming from Paul's last name.