I get it. I miss winning too. It’s incredibly difficult to look back at a time when Arkansas was in the conversation of being the third best team in the country. We’ve all suffered a lot of heartache, and expectations and goals haven’t been met. I get it. With all that said, I think we all need to take a step back, dive deep into the history of Bobby Petrino, and realize that we as Arkansas fans deserve better. You deserve better.
“Just One Personal Mistake”
This hasn’t been the greatest start to a football season. Admittedly, things looked bad against Portland State, things looked worse against Ole Miss, and now the fires seem mostly put out after the win against Colorado State. But considering the history of Arkansas as a football program, you have to expect a bit better. It’s only natural then, to look back on the good times and try to remember how we got there. Unfortunately, this has allowed a tarnished image to be glossed over and given a rose-tinted filter that it doesn’t deserve.
We all know how Bobby Petrino’s tenure ended at Arkansas, or at least I thought we did. The whirlwind of a motorcycle wreck, the discovery of a mistress, the discovery that the mistress was employed by the school, and the revelation that Bobby lied to his boss and to us, all of it added up to a pretty hurtful April. It destroyed a lot of momentum coming off a 5th place national finish, and sent the program spiraling into oblivion. But over the years, we’ve forgotten the sharpness of that pain, and have allowed a corruption to enter our minds in the wake of a lackluster start.
The announcement of Petrino’s speaking session with the Little Rock Touchdown Club was met with curiosity, excitement, and skepticism. After all these years, what would he have to say for himself. I was personally intrigued, but was shocked at the image rehabilitation that had begun to take shape in the wake of the announcement.
Say what you will about his writing, takes, whatever— Wally Hall has a syndicated column in the only major newspaper in the state, and as much as I tend to disagree with it, I think his opinion is important to consider. With that said, I was stunned to read the first couple of sentences of his article reaction to the Little Rock Touchdown Club speaking schedule.
“What did Petrino do to the University of Arkansas?” was the fourth sentence of the article, and might as well have been the thesis. Hall continued, “...he made one mistake, the same mistake that is made way too often every day all over the world. He paid dearly. It cost him his job, and he’s been tip-toeing home for chili ever since.”
Bobby Petrino did more than make one mistake. There is a decade of scandal following in his wake, and he’s left every program scrambling for answers after a hasty exit. Let’s briefly break this down.
- 2001: Bobby Petrino leaves his job as Offensive Coordinator with the Jacksonville Jaguars for the same role with Auburn, all without alerting his boss Tom Coughlin.
- 2003: A year into his tenure at Auburn, Petrino takes the head coaching job with Louisville. He then secretly interviews at Auburn behind the backs of his current boss Tom Jurich and previous boss Tommy Tuberville.
- 2004-2006: Petrino says “I’m not interested in any other coaching jobs.” He secretly interviews with The Raiders, LSU, and Notre Dame. He gets a raise for loyalty.
- 2006: Petrino signs a 10(!) year extension with Louisville, and “isn’t going anywhere.”
- 2007: Petrino joins the Atlanta Falcons
- 2007: Petrino leaves the Atlanta Falcons a 78 word letter of resignation to take the Arkansas job. He earns the nicknames “coward” and “gutless bastard” from the remaining Falcons staff.
- 2008: Petrino joins Arkansas
- 2012: Petrino tampers with a witness by telling them not to call 911 after his motorcycle crash, hires his mistress over vastly more qualified candidates, and siphons $20,000 from the football program to buy that mistress gifts.
- 2013: Petrino is hired at Western Kentucky. He states that “we hope that we can be here as long as possible.” Arkansas’ struggles since his departure are categorized by an anonymous SEC coach as the result of “bad recruiting - which is typical of a Bobby Petrino school.”
- 2014: Petrino returns to Louisville.
- 2016: Wake Forest’s playbook is revealed to have been leaked to Louisville staff. Petrino claims he never knew. Sure.
- 2018: Bobby Petrino is fired after a terrible season. Louisville must pay a $14 million buyout.
So, here we are with almost 20 years of shenanigans and subterfuge. And yet, we’re asking what Bobby ever did, and calling it a simple mistake. There’s a lot more nuance to it than that, Wally.
All of this Petrino hysteria culminated in his speech at the Little Rock Touchdown Club. Petrino publicly apologized to the fans in a video that has gone viral among Razorback Nation. It’s a touching sentiment. Showing real emotions, Petrino said “
But I also wanted to come here and thank you for everything the people in this room and this state did for me and my family. You were great to us.”
The best, optimistic side of me believes that he meant it. He had four really memorable years at Arkansas, and it would be nice to believe that he really meant it. But we have no reason to believe that he’s telling the truth.
Maybe it’s tinfoil hat talk, maybe I’m just tired of being let down, or maybe I’m scared of the Arkansas Athletics program making a huge mistake, but it seems to me that this is an apology of convenience. It’s very convenient that after all of this time, Petrino chooses this moment to atone for his “personal mistakes.” Arkansas is mired in football struggles, the speech occurred after a disheartening loss to Ole Miss, and there’s been enough administration turnover for past wounds to be forgotten. He’s angling for the Arkansas job again. And it seems like his wooing is working, at least on some.
Arkansas Fans Deserve Better
After this apology, the redemption tour went along to play greatest hits including Wally Hall stating “...Bobby Petrino step[ped] out of his safety zone and show[ed] a soft side.” He also seemed to insinuate that it was the wrong choice to fire Petrino when he wrote that Petrino “... made a personal mistake and was fired. The reason cited was for lying to his boss. If Long had fired everyone who lied to him, he wouldn’t have had any employees left.”
This is about as bogus of a justification as I’ve ever seen. If I used administrative privileges to hire my mistress to my job, siphoned off $20,000 of company money for that mistress, and then when confronted with the evidence, doubled down on national media and embarrassed my entire company, I’d be fired. So would you. Why would we treat Bobby Petrino differently, especially after his extensive history of issues? Winning is important, and I miss it badly. At this point though, it seems like we’ve been spit on by Bobby, and are inviting him back to spit again.
We matter. He lied to the faces of every member of Razorback Nation, and it’s time we started acting like it. I was as big of a critic of Jeff Long as I’ve ever met, but he was absolutely, 100% correct to fire him, and we should feel humiliated by the posturing that suggests we’d take Petrino back.
With all of this said, we’re coming off of the biggest win of the Chad Morris era, and I’m feeling more hopeful for the future. Maybe Chad is the guy, and maybe he isn’t, but we deserve a better class of character than we got and continue to get from Bobby Petrino. The Petrino era will always hold a special place in my heart. It was fun as hell. But it’s over, and rather than looking back longingly, we should look forward for progress and hope. It’s time we showed some pride, and started acting like it.