|AD Jeff Long (left) could have saved Bobby Petrino from himself. (Getty Images)|
Bobby Petrino and Sean Payton might not seem like they have a lot in common, but something ties them together, and it should serve as a lesson to every big-time coach in sports, especially college and professional football.
Petrino and Payton's common thread? Neither had a boss.
Oh, on paper, they had superiors, but in reality, they had none. They were CEOs of their teams. The people above them were either sycophants or incompetent. There was no board with strict oversight. No one with the power to say: Wait, hold on, you're doing what?
No one to say: Nah dude, we don't do bounties, here. If you don't cut that s--- out, I'm firing you.
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Or: Hold on, Bobby ... why exactly are we bypassing university rules and overlooking more qualified applicants to speed up the hiring of a ... very ... pretty ... young lady? Hey, wait a minute, tell me more about this Jessica Dorrell? In fact, tell me everything.
There was no one with the true power to say no because the power of Petrino and Payton had grown larger than the power of their alleged bosses.
A general manager on an NFL team or an athletic director at a college is supposed to act like an airbrake when coaches suddenly start doing impossibly stupid things. The problem in both of these cases was the inaction or even enabling of the bosses, specifically Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long and Saints general manager Mickey Loomis.
Various NFL sources say Payton has effectively been the top man at the Saints for several years and his power was cemented (and grew considerably) after New Orleans won the Super Bowl. Payton and Drew Brees were portrayed as men who saved the city. It was around this time that the bounty scandal was in full swing.
For the most part, Loomis was a wimp who basically did whatever Payton wanted. There's a reason Payton received a full-year suspension and Loomis far less. Payton was the ringleader and Loomis the stooge, the bad lieutenant who followed Payton's instructions.
What was really needed was an intervention, but there was no one powerful enough to take on Payton. Payton was the power.
Where was owner Tom Benson in all of this? Who knows? I covered the late Wellington Mara, who was intricately involved in every decision of the team he owned, the Giants. I have no frame of reference for a Benson. I covered the late George Young, the longtime Giants general manager, and Ernie Accorsi, who followed Young. They were vastly different from the Longs and Loomises. They were men of intellect and action who weren't perfect but understood that bosses have to act like bosses.
What Long did, in many ways, is an even larger disgrace than Loomis. Petrino pushed Long to bypass school affirmative action rules requiring a 30-day period for jobs to be posted before interviews could commence so Petrino could quickly usher in his girlfriend. Long may not have known the two had a previous relationship, but he should have smelled something was rotten. Instead, his response to Petrino was yes sir. Whatever you want sir. Cream with that coffee, Mr. Petrino?
Petrino pushed for the interview process to begin just five days into the waiting period, according to a story in Sports Illustrated. "We feel that flexibility is needed," Long wrote at the time.
Petrino is flexible, all right.
Dr. Fritz Polite, sports management professor at Tennessee and director of the Institute for Leadership, Ethics & Diversity, told SI that Arkansas' speed in ignoring affirmative action procedures demonstrated "the power lies with the coach to sidestep rules ... simply because he's winning."
Petrino's success allowed him to hop over Long, and in the process Long became impotent. It's an old story that hasn't changed in decades in college football, and the lessons have not been learned from the numerous scandals in which a coach made himself king. University presidents are clueless (maybe purposely so) and athletic directors compliant and sometimes worse, fearing reprisal from a coach who has more power than anyone on campus.
Those in power above the coach self-castrate knowing the coach is the true ruler of the empire.
The same thing happened with the Saints.
What Long and Loomis should have done was cut the pretense and, whenever they saw Payton and Petrino, make a simple gesture.
They should have saluted.