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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

Need to Know

In This Case, Is Winning Percentage Enough?

We’re about to see where the line falls. What does your winning percentage need to be to survive a fireable offense? Is winning two-thirds of your games at your current school good enough? What if you’ve won three out of every four games since the start of your college career? Since taking over at Arkansas in 2008, Bobby Petrino has won 34 games in 51 tries. Since 2009, once the Razorbacks suffered a season’s worth of growing pains, Petrino is 29-10; Arkansas has gone 21-5 over the last two years, and would have reached a B.C.S. bowl last fall if not for the tw0-team conference limit. He’s been a fantastic hire between the white lines. There’s no questioning the success.

There are questions about Arkansas’ ability to retain his coaching services. The issue isn’t that Petrino broke our societal rules: he’s not the first, and in itself, an “inappropriate relationship” with a woman who is not your wife is not just grounds for dismissal. What Petrino does in his bedroom isn’t our concern; however, as a representative of the university, Petrino worries Arkansas when he brings his dirty laundry outside to dry.

Where Petrino left himself open for criticism: one, he misled police investigators and the university in regards to the circumstances of his motorcycle accident earlier this week; and two, there’s a chance, based on the timeline, that Petrino hired a woman, Jessica Dorrell, with whom he had this relationship to work in Arkansas’ football offices.

Petrino hired Dorrell, on May 25, as Arkansas’ student-athlete development coordinator. In that position, she is deeply involved with potential recruits: she’s in charge of on-campus recruiting, meeting recruits and leading them while they visit the university. What Arkansas needs to uncover is what came first: Dorrell and Petrino’s relationship or her arrival as part of the football program.

According to Petrino’s initial statement, his one-motorcycle accident “involved no other individuals.” This is also what Petrino told Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long, only amending his statement yesterday afternoon. In withholding this crucial fact, Petrino exacerbated an already troubling and career-threatening situation.

In a statement issued late last night, Petrino said that he “certainly had a concern about Jessica Dorrell’s name being revealed.” That’s his excuse for keeping mum: it wasn’t to protect himself, but rather to protect the name of his female passenger. Clearly, Petrino’s actions immediately following the accident represents “spin,” that brand of political speak that has trickled down to every public figure stuck in a tight spot.

Petrino has been on paid leave while Arkansas continues to review the particulars of the matter. The university’s choice is simple: retain the program’s most successful coach since Ken Hatfield — if not Frank Broyles — or fire a coach who flaunted the rules and stipulations found in his contract.

Per a clause in Petrino’s deal, as noted by Robbie Neiswanger of the Arkansas News, Petrino can be relieved of his duties for “engaging in conduct, as solely determined by the university, which is clearly contrary to the character and responsibilities of a person occupying the position of head football coach or which negatively or adversely affects the reputation of the university.”

There’s Arkansas’ out: Petrino shattered a clearly-stated rule in his seven-year contract. The question is whether Arkansas wants — or has the intestinal fortitude — to use it. Long might endear himself to the fan base, which adores Petrino, should he slap his head coach on the wrist but allow him to remain in his position; doing so, however, might open Arkansas to national negativity.

Houston Nutt, for example, wouldn’t survive Arkansas’ internal review. But Nutt wasn’t Petrino; he was mediocre, and far less beloved by the fan base and university boosters. Most telling of all: Nutt’s winning percentage was mediocre. Petrino is a lot of things, but as a football coach, he’s far from mediocre — he’s one of the nation’s best.

This would be his saving grace. There’s a line of demarcation here, a level of production that saves a public figure from losing his position over a fairly inexcusable transgression. If Arkansas’ review leads to the conclusion that Petrino’s errors would justify his firing, would the fact that Petrino has won at such a high clip — and has the Razorbacks in a position to continue winning — be enough to save his job?

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  1. quigley says:

    Mike Price, Bill Clinton, AD at Georgia…where the line is drawn is solely determined by who is drawing the line. If Arkansas as the LONGTERM interests of the university in mind, they’ll him go now because it is rare that these situations disappear with time. Certainly in Petrino’s case, there is a history that his word is not always to be believed.

  2. quigley says:

    Get rid of him, name an interim and hire Malzahan next year if Ark St does well.

  3. schedule nit says:

    Welcome to the show, Miss Dorrell. Your first and only question: What are the magic words?

    MD: “…I…felt…pressured.”

  4. DMK says:

    Quick death or slow death, I think.

    Arky’s maxed out at 3rd in the SEC West and 3rd to 5th is their natural position no matter how you slice it.

    In SEC terms their recruiting situation is middling, and having a philandering liar trying to convince some kid’s parents that he has their son’s best interest in mind is not going to fly after this.

  5. DaU!!!!!!!!!!! says:

    Was this a doing of the mighty hand of Karma or just a series of unfortunate events?

  6. Matt F says:

    Not to nitpick, but
    “State police spokesman Bill Sadler said Petrino didn’t try to hide Dorrell’s part in the accident when questioned on Tuesday.

    ‘Coach Petrino was as cooperative as anybody that we could ever hope to encounter following the traffic crash,” Sadler said.’”

  7. GTWrek says:

    This is the SEC. You cannot with a straight face debate what the outcome here will be. It will be a slap on the wrist.

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