FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — Bobby Petrino talked time and again about winning a national championship at Arkansas. From the day he was hired in 2007, Petrino never wavered in that goal or belief.
Petrino won't have that chance now, felled by scandal, and he blamed no one but himself for being fired.
"The simplest response I have is: I'm sorry," he said. "These two words seem very inadequate. But that is my heart."
Athletic director Jeff Long dumped Petrino on Tuesday and laid out a stunning laundry list of misdeeds against the man he hired away from the Atlanta Falcons four years ago.
He ripped Petrino for hiring his mistress and for intentionally misleading him about the secret relationship that was laid bare following their April 1 motorcycle ride together that ended in a crash. He said Petrino missed multiple chances over the past 10 days to come clean about an affair that had crossed the line from infidelity into workplace favoritism.
"He made the decision, a conscious decision, to mislead the public on Tuesday, and in doing so negatively and adversely affected the reputation of the University of Arkansas and our football program," Long said, choking up as he discussed telling players that their coach was gone. "In short, coach Petrino engaged in a pattern of misleading and manipulative behavior designed to deceive me and members of the athletic staff, both before and after the motorcycle accident."
The 51-year-old Petrino, a married father of four, maintained an inappropriate relationship with 25-year-old Jessica Dorrell for a "significant" amount of time and at one point gave her $20,000, Long said.
Long would not disclose details of the payment, or when the money changed hands, but said both parties confirmed the "gift." Kevin Trainor, a spokesman for Long, said the money came from Petrino, not university funds.
Petrino issued a lengthy apology and said he was focused on trying to make amends to his family.
"All I have been able to think about is the number of people I've let down by making selfish decisions," he said. "I chose to engage in an improper relationship. I also made several poor decisions following the end of that relationship and in the aftermath of the accident. I accept full responsibility for what has happened."
Dorrell, a former Razorbacks volleyball player, worked for the Razorbacks Foundation before she was hired by Petrino on March 28, four days before the accident on a rural road 20 miles outside Fayetteville. Long said she was one of three finalists out of 159 applicants and got the job after an unusually short time frame.
Petrino never disclosed his conflict of interest in hiring Dorrell or the payment and she clearly had an unfair advantage over the other candidates, Long said.
"Coach Petrino abused his authority when over the past few weeks he made a staff decision and personal choices that benefited himself and jeopardized the integrity of the football program," Long said.
Petrino has built Arkansas into a national power over four seasons, including a 21-5 record the past two years, and he was in the middle of a seven-year contract under which his salary averaged $3.53 million per year. A clause gave Long the right to suspend or fire the coach for conduct that "negatively or adversely affects the reputation of the (university's) athletics programs in any way."
Long said Petrino was fired "with cause" — meaning he will not receive the $18 million buyout detailed in the contract — and there were no discussions about ways to keep Petrino at Arkansas. Long met with Petrino on Tuesday morning to inform him there were grounds for termination and that the coach was "concerned" about that. Long sent Petrino a letter that afternoon to formally notify him he had been fired.
"I chose to do it in writing because that's the terms of his contract," he said.
Long declined to comment when asked about Dorrell's job status. She was hired as the student-athlete development coordinator for Arkansas football, paid $55,735 annually to organize on-campus recruiting visits for the team and assist with initial eligibility for each incoming player
She was "at one point" engaged to Josh Morgan, the athletic department's director of swimming and diving operations, according to a person with knowledge of the situation who spoke on condition of anonymity because the details have not been disclosed. The person said Morgan was still employed at the university.