What Bobby Petrino did in — and to — the University of Arkansas athletic department is not nearly as severe as what Edward M. Kennedy did at Chappaquiddick. Let’s get that point out of the way.
Yet, while those two different actions occupy different levels of severity, a reasonable person can look at each of them and conclude, “This should disqualify a man from being able to represent a community at its highest level.”
Much as Ted Kennedy should not have been allowed to remain a United States Senator after Chappaquiddick, Bobby Petrino should not have been allowed to get back into the head coaching game after his many misdeeds and profound ethical failures.
Remember, in case you’ve forgotten or have wanted to forget: The affair with Jessica Dorell was not — and never was — the primary issue in the Arkansas scandal which Petrino will carry to his grave. The problem was everything surrounding it: the payoffs, the lies to bosses, the interference with a human resources process, the disruption of multiple programs within the athletic department, and more.
Having an affair? On a certain level, who cares? The problem was that Petrino ripped apart an athletic program because of that affair, in several different ways. It should have been a disqualifying moment for him as an FBS head coach.
A coordinator? A quarterback coach? Fine — that’s how Petrino could have stayed in the coaching profession. He wouldn’t have been the face of a program, the leader of an operation. He would have been under someone else’s watch. He would have been a cog in someone else’s machine.
Being a head coach, though? That’s money. That’s power. That’s responsibility. A sane and healthy society would have locked the gates to Petrino as a head coach, much as it would have said “no mas” to Ted Kennedy after Chappaquiddick.
Of course, we know what happens when certain people are really good at their jobs, and work in professions where the value of what they do is perceived as significant enough to override their titanic wrongdoings.
Other people in positions of power refuse to stand up to them.
Life goes on… and these people who should have been disqualified for a prime position return to work.
They remind us how good they are at their work… when they aren’t stabbing ethical principles 1,000 times with a fat knife.
You might loathe Ted Kennedy with every fiber of your being, but it is hard — if not impossible — to deny that he was an influential U.S. Senator, an able legislator, someone whose presence filled a room and whose energy certainly mattered in shaping the business of the Senate. His presence might have mattered for the wrong reasons, reasons you might not embrace… but he was impossible to ignore when he stepped in the room on an issue of significance. Which current Senator has even 40 percent of the stature he accumulated during his career?
It is similar with Bobby Petrino. He might be one of the foremost liars in the coaching profession. He might have torn a state university’s athletic department to shreds. He might be a particularly unlikable person in the coaching profession…
but he can coach. Oh, can he coach.
The man who guided Louisville to an Orange Bowl title; the man who guided Arkansas to the Sugar Bowl; the man who can work wonders with quality quarterbacks and fix offenses lickety-split — he’s found his Next Great Quarterback at Louisville.
In little more than two seasons, Petrino has overhauled the Cardinals to the point that they’re in position to contend for division and conference championships plus a spot in the College Football Playoff.
Saturday against Florida State, Petrino coached rings around Jimbo Fisher, which is not easy to do. He maximized Lamar Jackson’s talents by continuously mixing up play calls and the direction in which the Cardinals ran. He has developed his resources and put them in position to carry a maximum effect.
He has turned Louisville into a powerhouse… for the second time.
This is why Tom Jurich swallowed hard, overlooking the unpleasant divorce with Petrino several years ago and the Arkansas embarrassment in more recent times.
This is why extremely talented individuals in high-profile professions stay in the game… even when ethics and morals suggest they need to find a less visible line of work.
There’s a reason people such as Bobby Petrino continue to do what they do.
The Ted Kennedy of college football has resurrected his career.