FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Arkansas fired coach Bobby Petrino on Tuesday and then scathingly dressed him down for unfairly hiring his mistress and intentionally misleading his boss about everything from their relationship to her presence at the motorcycle accident that ultimately cost him his job.
Athletic director Jeff Long announced his decision at an evening news conference and laid out a stunning laundry list of misdeeds against the man he hired away from the Atlanta Falcons four years ago.
They included ignoring multiple chances over the past 10 days to come clean to Long about a relationship 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 at one point 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, had maintained an inappropriate relationship with 25-year-old Jessica Dorrell for a “significant” amount of time and at one point had given her $20,000, Long said.
He 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, who was fired via a letter from Long, issued a lengthy apology and said he was focused on trying to heal 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 their accident on a winding rural road. Long said she was one of three finalists out of 159 applicants and got the job after a time frame he said was shorter than usual.
Petrino never disclosed his conflict of interest in hiring Dorrell or the payment, 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.
It was a shocking ending for Petrino, who has built Arkansas into a Southeastern Conference and national power over four seasons, including a 21-5 record the past two years. But Long made it clear that the success on the field was overshadowed by repeated deceptive acts and that no one was more important than the program itself.
Long said Petrino was fired “with cause” — meaning he will not receive the $18 million buyout his contract called for — and there were no discussions about ways to keep Petrino at Arkansas.
Long said he met with Petrino on Tuesday morning to inform him there were grounds for termination and that the coach was “concerned” about that. Long followed up by sending Petrino a letter Tuesday afternoon to formally notify him that he had been fired.
Long said he has not spoken with Petrino since sending the letter.
“I chose to do it in writing because that's the terms of his contract,” he said.
Long declined comment when asked about Dorrell's job status.
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 only on condition of anonymity because the details have not been disclosed. The person said Morgan was still employed at the university.
Petrino finishes his tenure at Arkansas with a 34-17 record in four seasons, leading the Razorbacks to a No. 5 final ranking last season and a Cotton Bowl win over Kansas State. There was talk of Arkansas challenging the two powerhouses in the SEC West, national champion Alabama and national runner-up LSU.