Grace for Winners

Winning covers a multitude of sins.  Illegal acts, unethical acts, immoral acts melt away in the presence of a healthy winning percentage.   Bill Belichick, the three-time Super bowl winning coach of the New England Patriots, repeatedly cheated by taping the practices of other teams against league rules.  After being expressly warned to stop this behavior, Belichick’s staff was caught red-handed doing it again.  Yet, he had zero risk of losing his job.  Winning begets forgiveness.  Sean Payton, Super Bowl winning coach of the New Orleans Saints, presided over a rewards system where Saints coaches gave bonuses for injuring players on opposing teams.  He didn’t lose his job even after being suspended by the league for an entire year for his role in the scandal and cover up.  Winning begets second chances.  Rick Pitino, head basketball coach of the University of Louisville, was blackmailed by the ex-wife of a lifelong friend and co-worker for having sex with her in a restaurant and, then, subsequently paying for her abortion.  He admitted these facts during her trial for extortion.  He still has his job at Louisville because he made a dormant program relevant again.  Winning begets grace.  And, yet, Tuesday evening, winning didn’t save the job of Bobby Petrino, head football coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks.   In the current climate of sports in America, this result came as quite a shock.

Over the last four years, Petrino made Arkansas relevant again in college football — something that hasn’t really been true since the 1970’s.  The Razorbacks only lost twice last year – to the two teams that played in the BCS Championship game – and finished the season ranked sixth nationally.  This year, they were a consensus preseason top ten team, had a whole host of talent coming back, and had a much more favorable schedule than last year.  Petrino had his team on an ascendant arc playing in the toughest division, in the toughest league in college football.   Many Arkansas fans felt that 2012 was the best chance that the Razorbacks had in the last 30 years to win a national championship.  On the football field, Bobby Petrino is a winner.

His firing is even more surprising given that his misdeeds would not have led to the Razorbacks being put on NCAA probation or any criminal charges being filed.  Rather, Petrino was fired for sexual immorality and lying – lots of lying – to cover it up.  He had an affair with a 25-year old engaged, former volleyball player, gave her $20,000.00 as an engagement gift, hired her to a highly sought-after position in his football office for which she was under-qualified, then took her for a fateful drive on his motorcycle that ended with him face down in a woodpile and her desperately trying to stay anonymous.  Petrino repeatedly lied to his bosses about being alone at the time of the accident.  His bosses relied on his word.   They should not have relied on his word.

He hurt the image of the University, violated university policy regarding its hiring practices, and breached the trust of his superiors.  He also won 21 games over the past 2 years.  Very few fans or pundits believed that he would be fired from his job.  He was simply too successful to fire him for his boorish behavior.  His defenders did not try to defend his behavior but simply pointed to the general lack of ethics of his profession as their best proof that he should be retained. It’s a fair point, if not a particularly noble one.  If infidelity and lying were grounds for dismissal in college football, then the BCS Bowl Division would have to be consolidated into one six-team league which, more than likely, would have half of its teams coached by robots.[1]

College Football Coaches are powerful men.  Powerful men like to have sex and lie.  Hypocrisy and deceit are not supposed to deter men like this.  As long as you don’t violate too many NCAA rules or let children be abused on your watch, history proves that you pretty much have a free pass in the whole questionable morality area of the swimming pool.

It is against this backdrop that Jeff Long, Arkansas’ Athletic Director, took the podium last night to announce the fate of Coach Petrino.  He spoke of a pattern of deceit and manipulation that broke the bonds of trust between Petrino and his superiors.  He spoke of how he felt that no one man was bigger than the ideals of the University.  He broke down in tears when asked about the impact that this entire ordeal was having on the student athletes on the football team.  He expressed affection and love for Petrino’s family and for the coach.  But, ultimately, he explained, that he had to fire his friend.  Integrity and Honesty and Character had to be the cornerstones of the program.  Petrino could not lay claim to these words anymore.  Jeff Long sacrificed a potential championship season in service of those ideals.  There is no cynical spin to put on this move.  He simply did not let winning beget moral compromise.


[1] Nick Saban, coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide, famously told the Sporting News while coach of the Miami Dolphins, that he would not be the head football coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide.  Which apparently was true, until the next morning when he accepted the job.  He later apologized by saying that it was his integrity and character that necessitated his lying about taking the job.  I wish I were joking.


About David Davies, Editor-in-Chief

David Davies is the Editor-in-Chief of Media Rostra. He is also a lawyer and a licensed minister, so he is basically distrusted by everyone on some level. He received his Political Science degree from the University of Tulsa and his Juris Doctor from the University of Arkansas. He is a former Assistant Attorney General for the State of Arkansas, a former "good athlete for his size," and current owner of The Law Offices of David Davies, PLLC -- an Estate Planning and Elder Law firm that has offices in Arkansas and Tennessee. He co-authored, with fellow editor, Aaron Brooks, the article entitled: “Exploring Student-Athlete Compensation: Why the NCAA Cannot Afford to Leave Athletes Uncompensated," in the University of Notre Dame’s Journal of College and University Law.


  1. Great article

  2.   “If infidelity and lying were grounds for dismissal in college football,
    then the BCS Bowl Division would have to be consolidated into one
    six-team league which, more than likely, would have half of its teams
    coached by robots.”

    Loved it.
    I think the movie Blue Chips is pretty much spot on when it comes what is really going on behind the scenes at these elite college programs. I just wonder how many recruiting violations Patrino broke during the past 4 years. I highly doubt this pattern of behavior did not extended into his professional life as well.

  3. Yeah, what David said.