ENGLISH: Auburn lucky on Petrino miss

Published 11:01 am Thursday, April 12, 2012

By: Jim English

There has to be a collective sigh of relief coming from the Auburn campus today, thinking about what they narrowly avoided almost a decade ago, compared to where they have been in recent years.

Arkansas just announced the firing of head football coach Bobby Petrino, after a series of events that would make a soap opera proud. But if events had turned out just a little bit differently, it very well could have been Auburn having to deal with this train wreck instead.

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Most folks around here will recall the “Jetgate” scandal of 2003, in which Auburn officials flew to Louisville secretly to offer Petrino the head coaching job. Pretty shady dealings, considering Petrino would have been snatching the job from Tommy Tuberville, who had employed him as offensive coordinator just one year earlier. Oh, yeah…..and there’s the small matter that Tuberville had not even been fired yet….and the season wasn’t even over yet……and it was two days before the Iron Bowl.

Fortunately for Auburn, the Petrino deal didn’t work out, because it turns out this was just the first in a long line of clues into what kind of a person he would be found out to be.

After initially denying the meeting with Auburn officials took place, then being forced to admit it (after it was confirmed anyway), Petrino continued his pattern of interviewing with other schools in the middle of the season the following year. He reportedly talked with Florida, Mississippi, and Notre Dame during the 2004 season, then met with LSU just days after signing a contract extension with Louisville. After all that searching for greener pastures, Petrino issued a statement confirming his full commitment to Louisville.

He interviewed for the Oakland Raiders’ job the following year, but after turning them down, again confirmed his full commitment to Louisville.

The following summer of 2006, he negotiated a 10-year $25.5 million contract with a $1 million buyout clause. After leading the Cardinals to a 12-1 record, and an Orange Bowl victory, he left six days later to become the Atlanta Falcons’ head coach.

No statements this time about his full commitment to Louisville.

After having to deal with the Michael Vick dog fighting arrest, and his own players’ accusations of his inability to lead them, Petrino signed a contract to become the head coach at Arkansas just hours after a loss to the Saints – again in the middle of the season. This time he left in the middle of the night without informing his assistants or team owners, and leaving behind only a note in the players’ lockers.

The final straw was the motorcycle accident on – ironically enough – April Fool’s Day. After having the University of Arkansas lie for him in saying he was the only one involved in the accident, Petrino was forced to admit (again, only after he was caught) that he had lied to university officials. He had a 25 year old recently-hired staff member on the bike with him, who he acknowledged having an “inappropriate relationship” with. (“Inappropriate” because he is married with four children and she is engaged, was given $20,000 by Petrino, and given a university job over 159 applicants because of their affair, among other reasons.)

The sad truth is, the guy can coach, so some university or NFL team will probably ignore all his glaring character flaws and hire him anyway. But at least Auburn can breathe easy in knowing they didn’t have to deal with all the baggage that came along with Bobby Petrino.