Bobby Petrino’s Return Promises to Put Long-Awaited Nail in Coffin

Bobby Petrino, Jeff Long, Arkansas vs Missouri State
photo credit: Missouri State Athletics / Arkansas Athletics

A few stupid sports talk radio arguments have filled the Arkansas air waves in my 24 years here. The stadium debate and the Nolan Richardson and Mitch Mustain sagas. All three of those topics churned out some dumb and ignorant takes as the state was polarized. 

There have been many more than that, but the one that really sticks out is Bobby Petrino. Or as his fans called him ‘BMFP.’ (Insert eyeroll here).

In April of 2012, Petrino was in a motorcycle accident (I’d still like to know more about how that happened) with a mistress who happened to be a UA athletic department employee. 

That one incident ended one of the better periods of Arkansas football and ushered in a decade of the most dreadful football Hogs fans have seen with two coaches axed. The onus falls directly on Petrino. 

Jeff Long’s Decision to Fire Bobby Petrino

But before we dive into that – the talk radio discussion. After Petrino lied to then-UA athletic director Jeff Long about the circumstances of the wreck, Long had no choice but to fire him. Like I said, NO choice. But way too many Hogs fans didn’t see it that way, and I had to battle a couple of them when I guest-hosted a statewide talk show nearly a year after his termination. They still wanted to bring him back and still believed he was wrongfully fired. 

I know many of you hate Long for a myriad of reasons including signing a deal with Pepsi (Cheers to Diet Mountain Dew), but he did the right thing there. And it wasn’t the right decision from just a moral perspective, it was a business decision that had wide-ranging legal ramifications. It would have been dangerous ground for the school to be on and Long wisely listened to UA’s legal counsel and canned Petrino. The surly coach tromped on the State of Arkansas Employee handbook and lied to his boss. See ya. 

At that point, Petrino could have been the next Bear Bryant (He isn’t), and Long couldn’t keep him. He couldn’t. He couldn’t. He couldn’t. But legal logic was lost on starstruck Petrino supporters who only saw the coach as a ticket to more New Year’s bowl games. And many hung on to that sentiment over the next decade as UA football reached new lows. 

Listen to former Chuck Barrett’s conversation Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson about Bobby Petrino at the 4:50 mark:

The Domino Effect of Petrino’s Firing

As the motorcycle crashed, the wheels fell off the program. Long faced a horrible circumstance in the aftermath trying to decide who to hire to lead the program. He went with former Michigan State and Louisville head man John L. Smith, who was a Hogs special teams coach under Petrino. It was a debacle. That was just one in a series of negative dominoes that fell following the firing.

Long eventually lost his job after he hired former Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema to try to get Arkansas back to the level Petrino had guided them to, but he wasn’t a good fit in the SEC and found himself unemployed. And with Long fired before Bielema, the UA entrusted interim AD Julie Cromer Peoples (now Julie Cromer, the AD at Ohio University) with, in part, leading the search for Bielema’s replacement. In a hurried mess of a process, Arkansas settled on SMU head coach Chad Morris. We won’t talk about how awful that was. But it was God awful.

All of that aftermath falls on Petrino. Who knows what would have happened if he hadn’t crashed that motorcycle, but his abrupt firing caused a chain of events that impacted many people’s lives negatively and ruined their futures. It caused Long to be in a situation he never should have been in. Regardless of the soft drink controversy, I give him a pass on this one. 

Coming Full Circle for Arkansas Football

As Petrino prepares to bring his FCS Missouri State team to Fayetteville for a game Saturday night, the Hogs are once again a Top 10 team. In just two years, Sam Pittman has done what Bielema and Morris couldn’t – he made Arkansas football relevant. Hunter Yurachek, who has become one of the better ADs in the country, took a chance on the affable native Oklahoman who was a career offensive line coach, including a stint under Bielema. 

His laid-back, sensible nature and folksy attitude has made him a fan favorite and more importantly warmed him to recruits. The talent level has risen sharply since he arrived. His smartest moves were hiring former Missouri head coach Barry Odom as his defensive coordinator and innovative Kendal Briles to run the offense. 

The result has been an immediate turnaround. Arkansas found itself in the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1. Arkansas handled the Nittany Lions 24-10 to finish 9-4 and a Top-25 ranking. 

There is a new sheriff in town and thanks to a fresh, long-term deal he will be here a long time. Occasionally, during Bielema and Morris’ time the Petrino backers would rear their ugly heads still making a case for keeping him or …. (gulp) bringing him back. But Pittman has finally quashed that nonsense. No one, not even apparently the most logically-deprived soul among Razorback fans, is pining for Petrino now. 

His name popped up a couple years ago when he made an apologetic return to the Little Rock Touchdown Club, and in 2021 as Pittman was engineering a winning season, the meter seemed to have gone full circle. But the final word may occur at Reynolds Razorback Stadium Saturday night, where it’s rumored the student section has something special in store for the former Hogs coach. If the heavily favored Hogs drill Petrino’s Bears as predicted, we won’t have to hear ‘what if?’ about Petrino again. 

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