published Thursday, April 12th, 2012

Wiedmer: Will coach behavior get better?

Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long informs the media of head coach Bobby Petrino's termination during a press conference in Fayetteville, Ark., Tuesday, April 10, 2012. (AP Photo/Gareth Patterson)
Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long informs the media of head coach Bobby Petrino's termination during a press conference in Fayetteville, Ark., Tuesday, April 10, 2012. (AP Photo/Gareth Patterson)
Photo by Associated Press.

It would be wonderful to say that Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long changed the future of coaching behavior everywhere with his noble decision to fire disreputable Razorbacks football boss Bobby Petrino on Tuesday.

Not that employers in most businesses would have that tough a time terminating a 51-year-old husband and father of four who began an affair with a fellow employee half his age, then connived to promote her to a higher position within the company at the expense of 150 other applicants, then lied to his superiors about all of it.

Normally, firing a bum like that would be as easy as taking out the trash, which is pretty much what Long did when he pink-slipped Bad Boy Bobby.

Yet Arkansas is a 20-year member of the Southeastern Conference, which -- fair or not -- is viewed as the most bottom-line league in the land. That's especially true in football, where the SEC has won the past six national championships.

And given that, it is certainly refreshing to know there's at least one SEC AD with enough belief in his convictions to part ways with a coach who's won 21 of his last 26 games. Especially since the Hogs finished fifth in the final poll of the 2011 season and were predicted to do at least that well this coming autumn.

In other words, if Long was willing to toss away a national title in favor of decent and honorable behavior, perhaps the next AD confronted with a classless clipboard cad might find it that much easier to demand similar high standards.

But before we all begin rejoicing that this turns the worm -- or in this case, snake (though referring to Petrino as a snake would insult snakes everywhere) -- a word of caution from University of Tennessee at Chattanooga AD Rick Hart.

A former associate of Long at Oklahoma, Hart considers the Arkansas AD "a close personal friend, mentor and role model."

Asked Wednesday if Long's decision to can Petrino surprised him, Hart swiftly replied, "I was never in doubt that that was the decision Jeff would make if it was solely his decision. But you never know what else is going on."

What else, of course, is pressure being placed on the administration from outside sources, especially alums and boosters with pockets deep enough to hold all the gold in Fort Knox.

After all, most folks believe Long would never have lured Petrino from the Atlanta Falcons in December of 2007 with three games to play in a 16-game season without the influence of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, a former Razorbacks player who reportedly brokered the deal.

Had Jones and other high-rollers demanded Petrino remain on the job despite the very public embarrassment of the coach being involved in a motorcycle wreck on April Fool's Day with a blonde companion who was not his wife, and neither fool wearing a helmet, well, who knows what the outcome might have been?

But apparently no one of such status stepped forward to defend Petrino (shocking, huh?), and Long got his wish to take a strong stand for good behavior.

So what now?

Baird Smith lives in Monteagle, Tenn., and runs Baird Smith and Associates, which consults universities and colleges on athletic department hirings.

"This is a very unusual situation," he said. "Both the time of year it is, and the fact that you're firing a coach who was hugely successful on the field. Character is always an essential part of any [coaching] search process, but maybe never more so than this one if Arkansas decides to hire a new coach [rather than stick with interim coach Taver Johnson] before next season."

There is also this from Hart, who said of Hogville: "I guarantee you that there are a lot of people in Fayetteville and Arkansas who aren't happy about this, who wanted the school to find a way for Petrino to keep coaching. Athletics is so political. That's why credit for this decision not only goes to Jeff, but also the administration and the trustees."

It's also why firms such as Smith's may be in more demand than ever.

Or as Smith said Wednesday, "It's become much more important to check out background information on potential candidates."

Especially when that candidate is a lying, backstabbing, conniving cockroach such as Petrino.

about Mark Wiedmer...

Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...

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smokey62 said...

Good column, Mark. But I wish you weren't so wishy-washy. Just go ahead and tell us what you really think.

April 12, 2012 at 7:35 p.m.
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