Completing a stunning fall from grace, Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino was fired Tuesday for lying to his bosses.
Arkansas had placed Petrino on paid leave Thursday after it came to light that a female athletic department employee, Jessica Dorrell, was a passenger on his Harley-Davidson when it crashed April 1. Initially, the school had released a statement saying Petrino was the only individual involved in the accident.
At a news conference Tuesday night, athletic director Jeff Long said Petrino, 51, "knowingly misled the athletic department and university" about the accident and his relationship with Dorrell, 25, who was hired March 28 to work for Petrino as the student-athlete coordinator for the football team; in that role, she was to handle on-campus recruiting and works with incoming players on eligibility issues. Previously, she had worked for the Razorback Foundation – a school booster club – since May 2011. Dorrell is a former Arkansas volleyball player.
At one point during his news conference, Long said Petrino, who is married with four children, had given Dorrell $20,000 before she was hired for the football-staff job. Long said Dorrell remains an athletic department employee, but he also said he couldn't discuss her status any further.
Long said Petrino had engaged in "misleading and manipulative behavior," and also "made a conscious decision … to mislead the public" about his actions after the motorcycle accident.
Petrino was terminated with cause, meaning the school does not have to pay the remainder of his contract. He signed a seven-year deal in December 2010 that averaged $3.53 million annually.
Petrino spent four seasons with the Hogs, going 34-17. Arkansas won 21 games in the past two seasons, tied for the best two- season stretch in school history (1964-65), and this season's team was expected to start the year in the top 10. Arkansas went to the Sugar Bowl after the 2010 season, its first-ever BCS appearance and its first "major" bowl berth since the late 1980s. Last season, the Hogs tied a school record by winning 11 games, including a victory over Kansas State in the Cotton Bowl.
That type of success led many to speculate that Petrino would weather the crisis and be on the sideline this fall, with the penalty being a fine and/or a suspension. But Long, who became emotional midway through his prepared statement, said there was no negotiation with Petrino about any type of penalty.
Long said linebacker coach Taver Johnson, who was hired away from Ohio State after last season, would continue to serve as the interim coach through spring practice, which ends April 21. While Long said he would begin his coaching search as soon as the news conference ended, he said there was a possibility that Arkansas could go through the season with an interim.
The timing of the firing could make it difficult to hire a permanent coach. Every school nationally either is participating in spring practice or finished with drills. Still, names already have cropped up as potential replacements, including former Arkansas assistants Gus Malzahn and Garrick McGee (set to begin their first seasons at Arkansas State and UAB, respectively, this fall) as well as former NFL and college coach Butch Davis, an Arkansas alum.
Long has been AD since January 2008, when he replaced Frank Broyles; previously, he had been Pittsburgh's athletic director. But before he became Arkansas' AD, Long spent a few months as a special adviser to the school president and led the search that ended with Petrino's hiring in December 2007.
Petrino replaced Houston Nutt, an Arkansas native who had spent 10 seasons as the Hogs' coach. Petrino left his job as Atlanta Falcons coach 13 games into the 2007 season to take over at Arkansas. Before his short stint with the Falcons, Petrino was coach at Louisville from 2003-06, leading the Cardinals to a BCS bid in 2006.
Petrino is considered one of the best offensive minds in college football. He never has had truly elite talent, yet has won almost 75 percent of his games as a college coach (75-26). Arkansas' two losses last season came to Alabama and LSU, the teams that played for the national title.
Other popular content on Yahoo! Sports:
• Marlins suspend manager Ozzie Guillen for Fidel Castro comments
• Video: Lakers' Metta World Peace makes what announcer calls worst NBA play ever
• Masters champ Bubba Watson's first sports love wasn't golf
• A legal battle is brewing over 'Tebowing' trademark