Published April 12, 2012
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Former Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino went out of his way to refer to his relationship with Jessica Dorrell in the past tense when he was put on paid leave.
Cellphone records show the two remained in near-daily contact before and after the motorcycle accident that led to his firing.
Petrino and Dorrell exchanged more than 4,300 text messages and nearly 300 phone calls over the past seven months — on game days, before dawn and even as the police report that hastened his downfall was being released to the public, according to a review of his business cellphone records by The Associated Press.
The messages, among some 300 pages of records released Wednesday under a Freedom of Information Act request, appear to include picture and video files, though there was no way to verify the content. But the records clearly show a married father of four in frequent contact with Dorrell, a 25-year-old former Razorbacks volleyball player.
Petrino was fired Tuesday night for failing to disclose his relationship with Dorrell, whom he hired last month without disclosing his conflict of interest or the fact he had once paid her $20,000.
Athletic director Jeff Long said he had determined their relationship had been ongoing for a "significant" amount of time, but he did not say for how long.
The phone records show that Petrino remained in close contact with Dorrell following the April 1 motorcycle accident in which Petrino suffered four broken ribs, a cracked neck vertebra and scrapes and bruises
That day, Petrino and Dorrell went for a motorcycle ride on a two-lane highway southeast of Fayetteville and skidded off the road. Petrino and Dorrell talked for 16 minutes earlier that day before the crash at 6:45 p.m., and they also had a 22-minute conversation the following day — while Petrino was apparently still in the hospital recovering.
Petrino's accident report was disclosed by state police on April 5, and the two talked 11 times that day. That included a pair of 2-minute calls around 3:30 p.m., when police were releasing the report that for the first time exposed her presence at the accident.
Later that evening, as questions swirled about his future at Arkansas, Petrino exchanged four calls with his agent, Russ Campbell, totaling 10 minutes.
The cellphone records show Petrino and Dorrell were in contact at least as far back as Sept. 12. The university provided nearly seven months of Petrino's business cellphone records, and that is the first date listed.
Among the findings:
Petrino exchanged 91 texts with Dorrell on Sept. 13 and 84 texts with her over five hours on Oct. 28, the day before a game at Vanderbilt.
On Oct. 17, the two swapped 73 text messages, and on four days in a row in the week before a loss to eventual national champion Alabama, Petrino called Dorrell early — at 5:52 a.m., 6:35 a.m., 5:49 a.m. and 7:55 a.m.
The day Arkansas beat Troy, the two exchanged 70 texts. They exchanged 26 texts the day Arkansas beat Mississippi State and four following the Razorbacks' loss to LSU on Nov. 25.
Dorrell sent Petrino a text during Arkansas' Cotton Bowl win over Kansas State, though the coach didn't reply until the following day.
The 51-year-old Petrino was earning an average annual salary of $3.5 million and he had built Arkansas into a national power, including a 21-5 record over the past two seasons and a No. 5 ranking in last season's final AP poll. He was expected to lead the Hogs on a national title run next season, but his career was effectively ended the day of the accident.
Petrino didn't disclose Dorrell's presence on the ride to Long until 20 minutes before the police report was released to the public. The records show Petrino's six-minute call to Long at 3:11 p.m., during which the coach first told Long of his inappropriate relationship with Dorrell and her presence at the accident. He was on the phone with her a few minutes later.
Petrino has issued a lengthy apology and said he was focused on trying to make amends to his family.
Long, meanwhile, is now a full day into his search for a new coach. Late Wednesday, he tweeted: "At this time I have not spoken to anyone about the Head Coaching position."
Former Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett, now with the New England Patriots, tweeted his support for Garrick McGee. The former Razorbacks offensive coordinator was hired as the head coach at UAB in December after four years in Fayetteville.
"GM only coach Ark should look at if they wanna win now," Mallett wrote. "I'm talkin about Garrick McGee. He can win at Arkansas."
Mallett made clear he was not referring to Gus Malzahn, the former offensive coordinator at Arkansas, Tulsa and Auburn who took the head coaching job at Arkansas State in December.
"That would be a mistake," Mallett tweeted.
Associated Press writers Chuck Bartels, Jeannie Nuss, Allen Reed and Andrew DeMillo contributed to this report from Little Rock, Ark.