Even the grimmest, meanest, toughest coaches, succeed because, at some level, they are sympathetic figures.
Read “Junction Boys” and common human decency was in short supply under Bear Bryant at Texas A&M.
Bo Schembechler peeled his share of paint.
Woody Hayes went out with barely a shred of dignity.
But they were sympathetic figures because they were revered by their former players. They could turn it on in the living room for any mama who cared to open the door for a recruiting visit. They could sell their schools. They could also sell themselves. Before their winning percentage made them legends, they were hard-working everymen. In troubled times, that's what sustained those legends.
What sustains Bobby Petrino at this moment? At Arkansas it's Cotton and Sugar bowls in succeeding years. And the promise of more. If he returns as the Hogs' coach that's what the school will be admitting without saying a word.
Petrino was put on paid administrative leave Thursday after his admission of an “inappropriate relationship” with a previously undisclosed female passenger on his motorcycle. Arkansas' coach crashed his bike Monday and thankfully survived.
His career shouldn't.
You don't even have to bring up previous notable character flaws: Negotiating with Auburn on a runway while coaching Louisville. Or walking out on the Atlanta Falcons.
If you can't bring yourself to be indignant over those episodes, what occurred Thursday was enough to push Petrino out the door. He can't recruit from here forward. He can't recruit because every rival from Gainesville to Knoxville will open their living-room pitch with news accounts of what occurred Thursday night. And what is sure to be fallout in subsequent days.
Petrino can't recruit because every mama who does let him in the door will be shooting him the stink eye. They are wives and mothers too, just like his wife and his children's mother, Becky.
In a fit of hubris and arrogance Petrino just lost his ability to recruit. At least recruit well. His misdeeds occurred in the Bible Belt where such things matter. Maybe matter more.
Petrino isn't the first coach to have an “inappropriate relationship”. He is one of the few to get caught.
But let's not get too huffy about this. In keeping with a modern trend, Petrino's cover up was worse than whatever moral crime he could have committed. Like Jim Tressel and Bruce Pearl before him, he hid, he deceived, he misled because he could. He's the coach and he wins. If somehow everyone kept their mouths shut, the coach and his winning would triumph.
When he quickly returned to practice this week, Petrino looked grim, tough, mean – and cool. The boss Hog wrecked a hog, so what? Let's play ball.
Now we know Petrino can't continue as coach. Arkansas will find this out. This is not one of those things that blows over. How and when does a paid administrative leave end when the coach has admitted to the facts? Those facts will be used against Petrino and Arkansas on the recruiting trail from here to the end of his tenure in Fayetteville, which could be soon.
You want to know how bad this is? Right now, in comparison, John Calipari looks like a saint.
AD Jeff Long is promising a full investigation. That's likely code for wetting his finger, sticking it in the air and seeing which way the political winds are blowing. I'm betting that the Bible Belt answers back in the negative.
In a way, the school and the state are also on trial here. Forget all the other stuff with Houston Nutt, they didn't tolerate him in the end because he didn't win enough. Petrino is knocking it out of Razorback Stadium. Now he may never re-enter it.
What will kill Petrino as a coach at Arkansas? He's in the same profession as Bear, Woody and Bo. As a sympathetic figure, he's not even on the same planet as those legends.