What started as a potentially dangerous situation for Arkansas head football coach Bobby Petrino has turned into one of the most bizarre stories of the college football spring.
On April 1 it was reported that Petrino was involved in a one-vehicle accident when his motorcycle ran off the highway. Petrino was taken to a nearby hospital by a passerby, not an ambulance, and was kept overnight to treat injuries to his ribs and back. When he returned to the Razorbacks on April 3, it seemed that everything would be back to normal except for the neck brace Petrino was sporting underneath his sweatshirt.
But on April 5, the floodgates opened and scandal enveloped the football team in Fayetteville. It was revealed that Petrino was not alone on his motorcycle at the time of the accident as was initially reported. He was accompanied by Jessica Dorrell, a recently hired Student-Athlete Development Coordinator at Arkansas. As more and more was added to this brewing scandal, it turned out that Dorrell was not just a Development Coordinator, but also the other half of an “inappropriate relationship” involving Petrino. Petrino is married with four children and Dorrell is engaged herself, making this a very sticky situation for Arkansas to deal with.
Shortly after it was discovered that Petrino was not alone, he was placed on administrative leave by athletic director Jeff Long. This will be in effect as police continue to investigate the matter and also puts Petrino’s job in jeopardy if more significantly incriminating evidence is found against him. Assistant coach Taver Johnson has taken over as head coach until Petrino returns, if he returns at all.
This has blown up into a scandal that could rock the core of Arkansas football. Petrino has resurrected the Razorback program and brought them back into national light, going 34-17 in his four years at the school, including 21-5 the past two and a Sugar Bowl appearance.
The scandal was caused by Dorrell accompanying Petrino on the ride, but it has reached epic proportions because Petrino was not straight with law officials or his school administrators. He seemed determined to keep Dorrell’s name out of the news, evidenced by the 911 call released after the crash. A man named Larry Hendren, a witness to the crash, said that Petrino had instructed him not to call 911 and hitched his own ride to the hospital rather than taking an ambulance. Also he failed to mention in his press conference two days after the accident that Dorrell was with him. The only mention was when Petrino referred to her as “a lady” that helped flag down a car to take them to the hospital. He knew that admitting outright that he was engaged in an affair with this woman would damage his reputation but lying about the situation, as it often does, has just made things worse.
Had the news come to light directly after the accident that Petrino was driving with Dorrell and that they had a relationship, the response and backlash would not have been so fierce. But because he initially claimed that he was alone in the accident, only to have it discovered that he was not, has only hurt his reputation more and caused a much greater punishment so far. It has caused people to be skeptical, and rightfully so, about the rest of his statement after the accident and prompted the further investigation by the police. This investigation, if it reveals more dirt on Petrino, could end up costing him a job.
Missouri fans have seemed to reach an agreement that Arkansas will be Mizzou’s biggest rival in the SEC. Some may relish in their new rival’s despair, but this is something that one should not wish on another. Getting into an accident and sustaining several injuries is painful physically, but Petrino’s social and coaching life could be at stake with the revelation of his inappropriate relationship. His actions cannot be justified and he only fueled the fire by lying about what really happened. Much remains to be seen if the police investigation turns up any more scandal and what will happen to Petrino’s future at Arkansas as he hangs in limbo of scandal. What is certain now is that this scandal has tainted the Petrino legacy at Arkansas, whether it costs him his job or not, and has put a dark cloud over what is a very promising season for the Razorbacks.