Never thought I would say this, but here we go. Bobby Petrino doesn't deserve this negative attention.
In the aftermath of Art Briles' firing at Baylor on Thursday morning, Briles was immediately granted permanent access into the exclusive club of successful coaches fired in disgrace. Of course, Petrino is a lifelong member of the not-so-secret society.
Briles won a lot of games at Baylor, a school traditionally dwelling among Kansas and Iowa State in the Big 12 instead of one competing for a spot in the College Football Playoff. He was really good at that part of his job. As such, some wondered today whether he would ever coach again and a common refrain was, "well if Bobby Petrino could get another job...".
As usual, it wasn't just fans bringing this up. It was media. Here's a Sports Illustrated writer:
Briles will get snapped up in nanoseconds with a lucrative contract. This is an industry that willingly re-employs Bobby Petrino.— Doug Farrar (@SI_DougFarrar) May 26, 2016
Here's what's the same about Briles' and Petrino's firings: they happened in the spring and their programs were performing at an unusually high level. That's really it.
We shouldn't even say they were both sex scandals because Petrino's was a consensual relationship and that should never be grouped in with sexual assault. One is tawdry. The other is violent.
The Petrino incident was a completely self-inflicted failing. At no point was the University of Arkansas community at any risk beyond the despair among the fan base when the football team lost a lot of games over the next couple of seasons. By keeping his players shielded from any consequences to their actions, the Baylor community was at risk. Students were being terribly hurt, and they did nothing.
Petrino's problems weren't even about trying to win. It didn't involve players. It wasn't about recruiting nor keeping anybody eligible to play. In fact, Petrino's indiscretions put himself at a disadvantage. As we found out, he would spent a ton of time during game weeks text messaging with Jessica Dorrell. He hired her for an important recruiting position instead of someone qualified. It wasn't about cutting corners. There was no sort of benefit.
The problems at Baylor are indicative of a control culture prevalent among major college sports programs in which those in charge will too often go to great lengths to control every tiny aspect of their program. In Briles' case, allegedly covering up sexual assaults among his football players in order to, presumably, both keep them eligible to play and prevent any unwanted negative attention.
It remains to be seen what will happen in Briles' career going forward, if he's able to find someone willing to give him another chance. However, it's not as simple as expecting him to get a job just because Petrino did. Even though Petrino's problems weren't as severe, he was seen as completely toxic. Many cynics believed Tennessee or Auburn would wire him after the 2012 season but both passed. Petrino took the only job offer he could get, from Western Kentucky. Between his year sitting out and the relatively small salary from WKU, his scandal cost Petrino at least $5 million in salary, not including the non-stop humiliation. It's not as if he just walked out of the Ozarks and everything was ok.
Briles will have it worse. He could still be sued. The NCAA may consider a show-cause penalty that would effectively prevent colleges from hiring him. The show-cause penalty is why Jim Tressel, who won a national championship, has not gotten another job. And why Bruce Pearl had to sit out for a few years before jumping on the Auburn basketball job.
I understand why the Briles situation might feel familiar to fans in Arkansas. The concept of an ultra-successful coach fired amidst a scandal in the middle of the offseason isn't terribly common, so when it happens, it's easy to relate on that level. Perhaps John L. Smith has already reached out to Waco to see if the Bears need an interim coach this fall.
So yes, it rings a bell on one level, and I don't blame anyone in Arkansas for thinking of April 2012 today. But these situations are almost entirely different. Petrino, as badly as he screwed things up in Fayetteville, shouldn't be seen as a sort of predecessor to Briles. They're in different categories.