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Petrino saga another reminder of new rules for high-profile coaches


Bobby Petrino's incredibly fast fall from the mountain top of college football is yet another example of a high-profile, powerful coach who simply didn't get it.

Petrino, like many coaches, refused to acknowledge the world is very different now than when he started coaching as an assistant for his father in 1983. And for that he has paid a painful price.

Here is what I mean: I steadfastly believe that since the arrogance of both Jim Tressel and Ohio State allowed the Tat Five to play in the 2011 Sugar Bowl, there has been a sea change in the way a tweeting public and a more vigilant national media have handled big-money coaches and their lucrative kingdoms.

In short, The Rules have changed.

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Understand that we're not talking about all coaches. We're talking about some coaches. And they know who they are.

And for those coaches, here are The New Rules. If you're a head football coach at a major university, have one of your 19 administrative assistants make a copy and leave it on your desk. Ignore them at your peril.

Rule No. 1: You have lost the benefit of the doubt and you're not going to get it back.

Somewhere along the way as the money got just ridiculous, some college football coaches began believing their own hype. Because an adoring public hung on their every word, picked up every check and questioned absolutely nothing they did, some coaches decided the world had become a pyramid.

They, of course, were at the top of that pyramid and everybody from their assistant coaches down to the lady who cleans the offices existed solely as a support structure for them.

As a result they had carte blanche to treat the subjects in their kingdom as they damned well pleased. Example: At one of Bobby Petrino's stops a new player paid a visit to the head coach's office to introduce himself. Petrino informed the player that any future contact should be made with his position coach and not him. Nice to meet you too, Coach.

There once was a time when coaches cultivated relationships with fans (not just wealthy boosters) and media so that when something went wrong or they screwed up, as all humans do, they would have something in the goodwill bank to draw upon. No more.

Rule No. 2: The Freedom of Information Act is alive and well and is going to get a helluva workout in the future.

Gone are the days when a coach could make a phone call or two and have his indiscretions or those of his players covered up by the local authorities. Bobby Petrino thought at the end of the day his state trooper buddy could get the more sordid details of the motorcycle accident swept under the rug.

But there was a 911 call (not by him), and those are a matter of public record. And when there is a 911 call about an accident, there is going to be an accident report, which is a matter of public record. And if anybody flat out lies on an accident report, including head football coaches, they are probably going to jail.

Why did Bobby Petrino finally fess up to his athletics director that he wasn't on that motorcycle alone? Because Petrino learned the accident report was going to be released to the public, as is required by law. Petrino called Jeff Long 22 minutes before the accident report went public.

Why did Arkansas call a press conference Tuesday night to fire Petrino and get all the facts on the table? Because on Wednesday there was going to be a document dump of all of Petrino's cell phone records to the Arkansas media outlets that had demanded them under the FOIA.

Moving forward, coaches need to know that every cell phone call, every text message, every email, every scrap of paper that they touch as an employee of a public institution will be subject to examination. If there are financial irregularities -- like a $20,000 payment to your mistress -- they will learn how forensic accountants can find just about anything they've tried to hide.

Rule No. 3: Coaches used to have all the power. Thanks to technology and the social media, that is no longer the case.

Randy Edsall, the head coach at Maryland, learned this rule the hard way. His quarterback, Danny O'Brien, graduated early and wanted to transfer and play somewhere else. Because he had worked really hard on his academics, O'Brien would still have two years of eligibility left. Edsall, a guy I personally like, thought he would play hardball with O'Brien. Now O'Brien had a prior relationship with James Franklin, the current head coach at Vanderbilt. And Edsall thought Franklin might have tampered with O'Brien.

But that was an issue that should have been worked out between the two schools and the two conferences. Edsall, however, reacted to his suspicions by banning O'Brien from transferring to any other ACC school or Vanderbilt.

The narrative in the social media quickly became that of the egotistical, powerful, petty, big-money football coach messing with the future of a good kid who had already graduated. Edsall was destined to lose in the court of public opinion.

Edsall was hammered on Twitter and then Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post sliced him and diced him like a fine filet.

Edsall eventually relented and said O'Brien could transfer to wherever he chose. O'Brien eventually chose Wisconsin.

Rule No. 4: Thanks to that same technology and social media, the truth will always come out.

In the old days coaches could treat players pretty much however they wanted. Players were too scared of losing their scholarships and would never, ever say anything negative about the coach in public.

Even if the athlete did complain, local reporters were hesitant to take the word of a player that a coach was doing anything wrong. The fallout from printing or broadcasting such a story would be to lose access, and that is bad for business.

Now smart phones and the social media have liberated student-athletes. Every cell phone is a camera that can document whatever transgressions that take place. Athletes can get their point of view out into the public without having to go through traditional media.

Athletes know they have options in an ultra-competitive environment. They know coaches need elite athletes to hold on to their multimillion-dollar jobs.

Rule No. 5: Don't think it can't happen to you.

Jim Tressel was a damned good football coach who had dominated the Big Ten and won a national championship at Ohio State. He also falsified an NCAA document over a bunch of nickel-and-dime stuff like tattoos. After what should be a Hall of Fame career, he's now a fundraiser for Akron.

Butch Davis rebuilt Miami into a national championship contender and made a ton of money in the NFL. He recruited a bunch of talent to North Carolina, but also hired a tutor who paid off parking tickets and later was accused of academic fraud. A school that values its reputation above all else was embarrassed on a national stage and Davis was let go in July.

You know what happened to Penn State's Joe Paterno because, at the end of the day, the institution tried to protect its multimillion-dollar football program and reputation rather than do the right thing and protect the children. If Joe Paterno can be fired, anybody can be fired.

Petrino had it all and was getting ready to have what could have been his most meaningful season as a coach. And now, with one act of arrogance and hubris, it's all gone.

If it can happen to them, it can happen to you. The world has changed and you, dear coach, have to change with it.

Don't say you weren't warned.

Tony Barnhart is in his fifth season as a contributor to He is a college football analyst for CBS Sports and The CBS Sports Network. Prior to joining CBS he was the national college football writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for 24 years. He has written five books on college football.

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