NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 04: Head coach Bobby Petrino of the Arkansas Razorbacks looks down in the third quarter against the Ohio State Buckeyes during the Allstate Sugar Bowl at the Louisiana Superdome on January 4, 2011 in New Orleans, Louisiana. According to sources on April 10, 2012, Bobby Petrino will not return as head coach of Arkansas following a scandal involving a motorcycle crash on April 1. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
The details of the Bobby Petrino scandal became more sordid as the days passed by, but with his termination now official it seems relatively clear in hindsight that it was the botched attempt at a cover-up, and not so much the crime itself, that was ultimate culprit in his demise. The money quote from Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long, per ESPN:
"He made the decision to mislead the public, (and it) adversely affected the university and the football program," Long said, choking up at one point as he discussed telling players that their coach was gone. There was a "pattern of misleading and manipulative behavior to deceive me."
Had Petrino simply came clean regarding the affair in the immediate aftermath of the motorcycle accident, the odds seem relatively high that he would have survived this fiasco, embarrassing and as detrimental as it would have been (though the $20,000 he gave to Dorrell could have certainly compelled a different result). However, after it came to light that Petrino failed to disclose the "inappropriate relationship" and may have in fact conspired with a police officer to gloss over the damning circumstances of the accident, Arkansas was left with little recourse. Exceedingly tough decision, but give Long credit for doing what he had to do.
In any event, the repercussions of this could be felt for years in Fayetteville. We'll have a better understanding once we have a more clear succession plan, but losing a coach of Petrino's caliber is a big blow regardless, and especially so for a program that has had such poor defenses and running games in recent years. Their success the past two years has been powered by Petrino's spread passing attack, and with him no longer at the helm it is reasonable to think this could be a major setback for their program, both short-term and long-term.
Some have suggested that the Hogs should go the Urban Meyer route by installing a de facto lame duck from the current staff as an interim head coach for the 2012 season before making a splash hire later this December. That may be the strategy employed by the Arkansas administration, but they face three fundamental problems with the execution: (1) a head coach as good as Urban Meyer is not likely to be available this winter, (2) Arkansas is by no means Ohio State, and (3) whatever goofy-named Big Ten division Ohio State competes in pales in comparison to the SEC West. Arkansas might make a solid hire, but legitimately replacing Petrino will likely prove a bridge too far.
For Petrino this is an obvious career-changer. Even though he is a relatively young coach, an NFL head coaching job seems to be out of the question even in the intermediate future and the same can likely be said of a head coaching job at any quality college football program. He was fired for cause -- which means he won't be getting paid -- and obviously due to his history you won't be seeing him as a television commentator any time soon, so he'll need a paycheck and accordingly he'll return to the coaching ranks somewhere, likely in 2013. In terms of being a head coach at a big-time football program, though, his four year tenure at Arkansas may be as close as he gets.
Throughout the rest of the conference, LSU and Auburn are probably the biggest winners in the wake of Petrino's termination. Petrino has been a consistent thorn in Les Miles' side, last year's thumping notwithstanding, and with Arkansas likely in for a bit of a decline that figures to make it easier for Auburn to at least consistently secure the number three spot in the SEC West behind Alabama and LSU.
Alabama doesn't expect to be quite the winner, given that Alabama has gone 4-0 against Petrino with three blowout victories to boot, and realistically Arkansas was not going to be a serious long-term threat to 'Bama so long as the Tide keeps operating as a powerhouse program under Nick Saban. Even so, though, in the short-term, that road trip to Fayetteville in late September with all of our inexperienced defensive backs looks far less daunting knowing that Bobby Petrino won't be standing on the opposing sideline.