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Before you can say 'perp walk,' we'll see Bobby Petrino coaching again

by | National Columnist

Bobby Petrino will spend time issuing mea culpas, but he'll be back soon enough. (US Presswire)  
Bobby Petrino will spend time issuing mea culpas, but he'll be back soon enough. (US Presswire)  

I was sure Bobby Petrino would have a Division I head coaching job within a year. I was also sure that you would have heard it here 585th.

Now? With pictures of him allegedly business-out, let's make it two.

At the end of a week that in all honesty was as cynically funny as anything college football has produced in years, Petrino was canned at Arkansas -- told to take his motorcycle, his uber-casual relationship to the truth, his laughably incompetent relationship to alibi skills, his odd sense of art and hit the road.

No pun intended. Well, OK, some.

But he'll be back. They're all back, eventually. All it takes is a skillfully performed perp walk to acknowledge shame, humiliation, disgrace and "taking full responsibility," one of this nation's best meaningless buzz-phrases.

You see, we as a nation are suckers for the apology. In fact, the apology is more important than restitution, or even the wisdom not to do whatever stupid thing was done in the first place. We want the performance.

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I mean, within 24 hours, we got an Ozzie Guillen filibuster on the tricky nature of thinking in one tongue and talking in another, and then a written mea maxima culpa from Petrino, whose reputation was already sort of a rolling port-a-potty before he took himself out for that late-night scrape.

And we graded them both as though they were kabuki theater. For the most part, Guillen did well. For the most part, Petrino did not. People could believe Guillen spoke without thinking because he is so practiced at it. Nobody could believe Petrino’s attempt at sincerity because he is so demonstrably poor at it.

And he didn't say anything about his cell phone graphics. That part, if true, is going to be harder for a recruit's parents to endure.

But time heals all heels, as long as they bring victories, fans and fresh wallets to the party. And Petrino, weirdness and all, wins games.

Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long won significant points by doing the right thing in the face of an entire industry that avoids the right thing as though it were drenched in skin-roasting acid. He stuck his neck out, Petrino ran it over, and after a few days to learn the true nature of the betrayal, stood on the first principle of human relations:

"I'm the boss, and my bosses are OK with me crushing you for screwing with me."

Although in this case, Long could add, "And for turning out the stupidest alibi since the Menendez boys pleaded not guilty by reason of being orphans."

But that applause will die, and it will be back to business as usual at Arkansas. The fan base will want to know how to make Petrino's 11 wins a year ago become 13 or 14 this year. Long will find out the shelf life of doing the right thing is a lot shorter than he realizes.

And some other athletic director who has known only the joys of three-, four- and six-win seasons will cast out for a bargain. And that will be Petrino, who will want the gig even if it pays less than half the gig he just did that wheelie on.

It is hard, you see, to ruin your reputation enough to be kept out of college athletics forever. Today's horrors are tomorrow's character-builders. It just depends on how well you sell the perp walk.

You have to throw games, or sleep with the prime donor's wife or daughter, or lose at four different places. Getting caught in flagrante delicto is so far down the list of crimes that it can only be found in batteries-not-included print. And even lying to the boss is barely above that. Since he is the first major college football coach we know of to go in for self-portraiture, we don't have a template for that, but we're guessing desperation finds its own level.

Besides, in most places, the football coach is the boss, and the athletic director is his faithful sidekick Moneytroll.

So Petrino has to do the walk, and with this latest dent/comedic sidebar to his resume, a sensational one. He has to admit to everything he's ever done, and maybe even some things he never did. He has to look ashamed at all times, beaten down as though the air itself was crushing him into a diamond.

And when someone offers him a hand, he has to leap at it like a puppy, promising never to be the old Bobby Petrino again. That'll be the hard part -- actually taking the cure. But pretending to want to be cured -- he's a football coach. They are all about acting, and the perp walk is part of the act. One of our favorite parts, in fact. And let's be honest -- if he can make this work, anyone can.

In fact, that's exactly what we're banking on.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for Comcast SportsNet Bay


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