I have written on multiple occasions about the tendency in our society for competence to trump integrity. Highly skilled individuals who accomplish the goals of those who hire them are regularly given free rein to succeed by whatever means necessary. People with integrity who fall short of the goals, and who refuse to compromise their integrity to get where they need to be, are often cut loose.
Since Bobby Petrino’s much publicized motorcycle crash on April Fool’s Day with a 25-year-old football program employee on the back, there has been significant discussion about how the story would end. Athletic director Jeff Long announced yesterday that Petrino was being terminated immediately “with cause,” meaning that there would be no buyout of his contract. Long determined that Petrino had violated the morals clause of that contract, something pretty much everybody else had figured out by the end of the day on April 1.
But the morals clause didn’t require that he be fired; it only allowed it. And in the current environment of intercollegiate athletics, it is pretty easy to be cynical about what administrators will do in these types of situations. A CBS Sports report indicated that the value of the football program to the university has increased 59 percent since Petrino became the coach, and his last two teams finished in the top 10. With Arkansas playing in the SEC West along with the two teams who played in last year’s national championship game, this is no small accomplishment. Athletic directors are hard pressed to move against coaches who have the support of the university’s board and of boosters.
But when Long looks in the mirror, he knows that, as the incoming athletic director, he was the one who hired someone with a reputation for lying and dissembling. He also stole him away from the Atlanta Falcons in the middle of the NFL season; the coach left notes in his players’ lockers letting them know he was leaving rather than meeting with them as a group. From the moment he was hired, Long knew that this was a high risk, high reward hire. He was hiring a ticking time bomb. Some boards of directors hire CEOs using the same reasoning. And Long was smart enough to structure the contract to make it very difficult for Petrino to leave on a whim, and easy to fire him if he went off the deep end. Long thought that he had largely controlled his risk.
Petrino, using the terms of my profession, is a walking control weakness. He is the type of person who can override all the systems you have in place to insure compliance with the rules. And he did just that. He not only had an affair with a former volleyball player who worked for the university’s foundation, he allegedly gave her a $20,000 gift, and then he hired her over 158 other candidates for a position within the football program. The collateral damage is not just to Petrino’s family. He leaves behind him evidence of sexual harassment and violations of explicit university policy, if not state and federal law. It is hard to fathom the amount of time that university attorneys will spend cleaning up the Bobby Petrino mess. And that is assuming that there is not another shoe to drop. As an auditor, I would be reasonably skeptical about rules being followed in other areas of the football program.
Adam Smith once said, “To attain to this envied situation, the candidates for fortune too frequently abandon the paths of virtue; for unhappily, the road which leads to the one and that which leads to the other, lie sometimes in very opposite directions.” I am pretty confident that the road that Bobby Petrino was traveling down with a blonde on the back of his motorcycle was not the road to virtue. And from all appearances, despite his driving record, Razorback boosters were hopping on the back and hitching a ride. Kudos to Jeff Long for catching a cab back to town to begin the process of rebuilding Razorback integrity.