|Petrino watched one of his last practices at Arkansas from the press box at Razorback Stadium. (US Presswire)|
Bobby Petrino didn't cheat.
Perhaps in the biblical sense, yes, but not if you consider the 434-page NCAA Manual, the industry's gospel according to Mark Emmert.
Character issues alone usually don't keep a fired coach down for long, said an attorney who has represented coaches in the past.
The key point, he said, "There weren't any NCAA violations."
So at least there's that for the nation's most defrocked, disgraced and discussed former coach at the moment. Elsewhere in Bobby Petrino's so-called life there promises to be a long, twisted, complicated path back to coaching relevance.
Not only employment, relevance; coaching at the top level of FBS. You may have noticed that's a major job he just kissed away.
But for how long? Each recent coach-gone-wild scandal has seemed to be accompanied by a "worst than ..." label. Jerry Sandusky's original conduct was worse than Joe Paterno's knowledge of that conduct which was worse than Jim Tressel which was worse than Bruce Pearl which was worse than ... what?
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"I think the Paterno thing and Tressel had a profound impact on this country," said Jack Stark, a clinical psychologist out of Nebraska with a thriving sports practice. "It changed college presidents, ADs and boards of directors who are saying, 'I don't care who this guy is. We cannot [let him] take the program down.' "
Since late May those two national championship coaches have departed in shame along with a highly respected president (Penn State's Graham Spanier) his AD (Tim Curley). Spanier told CBSSports.com last summer that cheating in college football was "about as bad as it's been in the modern era." Turns out the breaking of NCAA rules wasn't his biggest concern.
Petrino is the latest coach gone wild. No one knows when his profession is going to be tamed. The same organization (American Football Coaches Association) that urged the NCAA to adopt tougher penalties for rulebook cheating can't account for the marital sort.
Does it matter off the field? Should it matter? There was a time when we were disgusted that Lane Kiffin had piled up a half dozen secondary violations at Tennessee.
Holding coaches to the same standard of discipline asked of their players is a good place to start. Who knew a few days ago that Arkansas AD Jeff Long would qualify as man of the year material for merely doing the right thing?
Petrino's baggage includes a morally ambiguous record of covering up and lying whether it was on a tarmac talking to Auburn officials or walking out on the Atlanta Falcons. Throw in the Arkansas misdeeds and you would think that's enough to keep Petrino from ever being a head coach at the BCS level ever again.
"I think it's going to take him a very long time," said Stark, who has spent 35 years in the profession. "He's done two things. He burned his bridges pretty good at the pro level in the middle of the season, which is unheard of. There is a lot of anger there at the pro level.
"At the collegiate level ... the thing that distinguished him is he repeatedly lied. That seems to be the new line in the sand for athletic directors."
A line that puts ADs, coaches and college sports on trial after the latest "worse than ..." scandal. If Petrino is hired again at the college level then what are his employers saying about his conduct? What does it say about their values?
Probably that winning trumps most everything, which suggests that exactly nothing is new. Petrino remains one of most innovative offensive minds in the country. He took a program that had been in the middle of the SEC and elevated to national championship contention last season. The Hogs were ranked No. 3 in the BCS going into the last week of the season.
It may be as simple as the value of the sport itself. A disgraced Petrino would be hotter -- excuse that adjective -- than any other sport's disgraced coach. Disgrace suddenly becomes relative when an athletic department's finances are involved. As football goes, so goes that department. Under Petrino, Arkansas had equaled its best two-year run (21 wins) in school history.
Alicia Jessop is like a lot of observers. The Denver-based attorney estimates an 18-month sabbatical to more or less cleanse Petrino before he re-enters college.
"If I was an NFL owner I'd be less inclined to hire him than an athletic director," said Jessop, an expert in sports business/entertainment law who runs RulingSports.com. "The guy obviously has some issues.
"He won't get a job because people don't want to hire a liar. This guy is the worst liar on the face of the planet. He's been caught three times."
Remember, this is from a person who believes Petrino will be back in college. The game is littered with former moral miscreants. The NCAA deals with violators of those bylaws by applying a show-cause order. Tressel essentially cannot coach in college for the next five years. Pearl is gone for three years.
|Petrino and Jim Tressel, who met in the 2011 Sugar Bowl, have in common lying to their bosses. (Getty Images)|
"I just have this hunch he'll be back in it sooner rather than later," Jessop said. "In our society, with our love for winning, you easily forget about things like this."
Petrino will probably return because most of character-flawed predecessors have returned.
• Texas-El Paso's Mike Price got a job seven months after leaving Alabama.
• Rick Neuheisel coached again. All he did was sue the NCAA and his employer at Washington.
• Larry Eustachy disgraced himself at Iowa State. After a successful eight-year run at Southern Miss, he just took over at Colorado State.
Here's what might make Petrino's conduct harder to overlook: There's no argument about his culpability. It was self-induced and terrible. It was beyond brass for one of the state's highest-paid and recognizable figures to ride a powerful motorcycle (without a helmet) with a woman who is not his wife as a passenger. That passenger somehow landed a job in the football office that was coveted by 158 other applicants. She was paid by Petrino -- $20,000, according to school officials -- beyond her $55,000 salary.
Petrino apparently didn't care about using a private cellphone either. A simple records request revealed thousands of calls and texts to Jessica Dorrell since September. Either Petrino wanted to get caught or thought he was too powerful to be fired if he ever did.
"It's amazing to me, how people can throw away their careers," Stark said. "You have one of the top 10 jobs in the country, making $3.5 million per year and you throw it all away because of stupid-decision making ...
"That would come under personality disorder. You're conning people and you're conning yourself. You're married with four kids -- why do this?"
Stark pointed to well-known National Institute for Mental Health statistics: More than a quarter of the U.S. adult population suffers from some sort mental disorder. And before you freak out, no, that's not necessarily saying that group includes Petrino.
"The fact that we find [that same ratio] of our coaches exhibiting mental illness from pedophile to lying to cheating to drinking, we get upset about it," Stark said. "We shouldn't. It cuts across a lot of different professions. It's just that these guys get more headlines."
Some of the coaches listed above survived to work in their profession again because of mitigating circumstances. Price is well liked in the industry, an issue that may work against the at-times irascible Petrino. Also, Price's libel lawsuit against SI changed the perception. The two parties eventually settled.
"I've known him for 20 years," Texas-El Paso AD Bob Stull of Price. "He has won in tough situations. We really did an extensive background check. We knew everything about the case. We felt good about it afterwards. It worked out well for us. He's tremendous, one of the most popular guys in town."
Stull also hired Tim Floyd who came back to Texas-El Paso after being accused of giving $1,000 to a man in return for the delivery of star O.J. Mayo. Floyd eventually was cleared by the NCAA. After resigning from USC, his return in 2010 was made easier by the fact Floyd had been an assistant for the legendary Don Haskins from 1977-86.
"No matter what happens with this," a UTEP source said of the Petrino situation. "most people are going to have to rely on people that know them and believe in them. Time heals some things. They die down a little bit."
Emotional scars do heal, this is the land of second chances and there has to be an AD/president somewhere who is going to be desperate enough to win.
Stark sees those character flaws each day. He was works with NASCAR drivers who can't walk into a restaurant without being swarmed. CEOs who handle billion-dollar corporations. He works with All-American Creighton forward Doug McDermott.
In an offshoot of his practice, he also counsels football coaches around the country. There was so much demand that at one point he had to stop taking clients.
"I worked with Tom Osborne for 25 years," Stark said. "I bet he always felt that he was a year away from getting fired if he went 6-6."
There is a difference, though, between insecurity and biblical-proportion indiscretion.
There are also worse Monday-morning analyses of Petrino's future than Tim Brando's.
"He going to have to pull the P.R. coup of a lifetime by throwing himself on the Dr. Phils of the world," said the national radio host and TV analyst. "He is going to have to go on daytime TV, maybe follow up with a book. If he doesn't have handlers he better get them. If he does it the right way, he comes back full bore."
Admit it, you'd watch that theater, the same way you watched Rick Pitino's life play out in public. The difference being the Hall-of-Fame-in-waiting hoops coach admitted to an affair. His former mistress is in jail for extortion. He didn't lie. His family remains intact.
Louisville basketball is thriving. It's entirely possible that the gutting of Hog football that occurred in the past two weeks may take years to scab over. For Petrino, for the NFL, for prospective college employers.
Of course, most of Hog Nation could give two snorts what happens next to Petrino. His future remains a national case study -- until the next coach goes wild.