Arkansas football coach Bobby Petrino was fortunate to avoid serious injury when he crashed his motorcycle Sunday night in Madison County, Ark. Now he’ll be fortunate to avoid serious punishment for failing to disclose that a 25-year-old female employee was also on the bike.
Petrino was placed on paid administrative leave Thursday after he apologized for what he called a “previous inappropriate relationship.”
With scrapes and bruises covering his face and a brace around his neck, Petrino addressed the media on Tuesday in Fayetteville, but neglected to mention he had a passenger on board the night he crashed. That passenger, Jessica Dorrell, is a former Razorbacks volleyball player and current Razorback Foundation fundraiser whose presence was noted in a police report released Thursday. Petrino, who is married with four children, is seen telling a reporter after the Tuesday news conference that he was alone on the bike in a video posted by KFSM-TV.
The Arkansas State Police are now taking a closer look at the accident to determine how State Police Captain Lance King, who is part of Petrino’s game-day security detail, wound up meeting the coach after the crash and driving him to a hospital.
Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long, who learned of Dorrell’s presence on the motorcycle through the police report, said he had no timeline in determining Petrino’s future with the program. Dorrell was hired by Petrino on March 28 as the student-athlete development coordinator. As of Friday, Dorrell had not been suspended.
“I’m at the beginning of the review. I don’t know what I’m going to find,” Long said. “I am disappointed that coach Petrino did not share with me, when he had the opportunity to, the full extent of the accident and who was involved.”
In Petrino’s news conference, he made passing reference to a female on the scene, saying “When I came out of the ditch, there was a lady there that had flagged down a car.”
In a statement issued Thursday, he acknowledged that he intentionally omitted Dorrell from his account.
“My concern was to protect my family and a previous inappropriate relationship from becoming public,” Petrino said. “In hindsight, I showed a serious mistake in judgment when I chose not to be more specific about those details. Today, I’ve acknowledged this previous inappropriate relationship with my family and those within the athletic department administration.”
Petrino, who just finished his fourth season with Arkansas, signed a seven-year contract in Dec. 2010 worth an average of $3.53 million annually. According to an Associated Press report, the contract contains a clause that would allow the school to dismiss Petrino for “engaging in conduct, as solely determined by the university, which is clearly contrary to the character and responsibilities of a person occupying the position of head football coach or which negatively or adversely affects the reputation of the (university’s) athletics programs in any way.”
The Razorbacks have experienced a resurgence under Petrino, posting a 21-5 record over the last two seasons including an 11-2 mark in 2011 that included a Cotton Bowl victory. Their only losses came against national champions Alabama and runner-up LSU.
But disclosing information has never been one of Petrino’s strong suits. As Yahoo Sports columnist Pat Forde recounted Friday, Petrino previously lied about and covered up multiple interviews for other head coaching positions during his tenure at Louisville. Then, five months after signing a 10-year contract with the Cardinals, he bolted for the NFL where he coached the Atlanta Falcons for 13 games before quitting mid-season — without telling his players.
Five years ago, Arkansas coach Houston Nutt was run out of town after reports surfaced of an alleged affair with Fort Smith television news reporter Donna Bragg. A Razorback fan uncovered phone records and other information that increased pressure on Nutt, who resigned after the 2007 season.
How will Arkansas and its fans handle Petrino’s “relationship” with Dorrell and attempted cover up? Will it cost him his job?