Published November 20, 2014
Moments after their motorcycle accident, Bobby Petrino and a female employee told a passer-by not to call 911, then got a ride back to Fayetteville where the Arkansas football coach was met by a state trooper who provides his personal security during the season.
New details of the immediate aftermath of Petrino's crash were in a 911 call released Friday by the state police. The passer-by, Larry Hendren, describes coming upon the accident scene Sunday evening just after Petrino and Jessica Dorrell "were getting up out of the ditch." He said Petrino was "walking, but it looked like his face was bleeding quite a lot."
"The rider and the passenger of the motorcycle declined us to call 911," Hendren told a dispatcher. "They got into a vehicle and headed toward the hospital."
Petrino was taken to a Fayetteville intersection by another passer-by. There, Dorrell left in her own car while Petrino was met by Capt. Lance King, his personal security guard during the season. King took Petrino to a hospital, where he was treated for broken ribs and a cracked neck vertebra.
State police said Friday they planned to question the trooper, looking for "any information Captain King may have learned about the crash" during conversations with Petrino.
"While the inquiries have no direct correlation to the investigation of the motor vehicle crash, the questions are legitimate and worthy of answers," state police spokesman Bill Sadler said. King has been asked to detail "his involvement with Coach Petrino and other individuals who've been identified within the crash investigation."
The developments came as Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long considered the future of the football coach, whose salary averages more than $3.5 million.
Long appears to have everything he needs to fire Petrino, but the question now is whether he will actually get rid of Petrino, who failed to mention having Dorrell with him during the accident and then admitted the two previously had an inappropriate relationship.
Petrino was not cited by state police, and was described by troopers as cooperative after the accident on a rural road 20 miles outside Fayetteville.
What has him in trouble is his attempt to keep anyone from finding out he was riding with Dorrell, a 25-year-old former Arkansas volleyball player who he hired just last week. A clause in Petrino's contract gives Long the right to suspend or fire the 51-year-old coach for conduct that "negatively or adversely affects the reputation of the (university's) athletics programs in any way."
That language gives Long plenty of leeway to punish Petrino, who is on indefinite paid leave after reviving Arkansas' football program over four seasons and, until now, steering clear of off-field blemishes.
"That (contract) is very favorable to the university," said Matt Mitten, director of the National Sports Law Institute at Marquette. "It gives them a pretty broad range of discretion in determining what negatively affected the university's athletic program or what they think in conduct inconsistent with the head coach."
The accident and attempted cover-up has become the latest scandal to hit major college athletics following shocking child sex abuse allegations against assistant coaches at Penn State and Syracuse last fall. The Penn State case resulted in the firing of revered head football coach Joe Paterno, while head Syracuse basketball coach Jim Boeheim kept his job.
The Razorbacks have become a national contender under Petrino, but next season is an afterthought — at least for now — after the stunning admission by the married father of four.
Long only learned of Dorrell was on the motorcycle shortly before state police released their accident report on Thursday. Petrino initially said he was riding alone after a day off with his wife at a lake.
Petrino declined further comment on Friday through his agent, Russ Campbell.
"At this point, it is in the university's hands," Campbell wrote in an email.
Long has not offered a timeline for his review, though he did promise to move expeditiously. It is expected to include an investigation into how Dorrell was hired.
Dorrell, who has not returned messages seeking comment, was previously a fundraiser for the Razorback Foundation before being selected March 28 as the student-athlete development coordinator for Arkansas football. She is in charge of organizing on-campus recruiting visits for the team, including initial eligibility for each incoming player.
Long has been through tough decisions before, including firing basketball coach John Pelphrey last year and guiding the football program through the unexpected and sudden death of backup tight end Garrett Uekman from a heart condition in December. But he now faces the difficult choice of keeping a tainted coach who has raised the school's profile or letting him go.
"They kind of have a problem if they don't terminate for cause because then, if he subsequently does something else, it kind of is an indication the university didn't take all that seriously its ability to terminate for cause when it had an opportunity to do it," said Ray Yasser, a law professor at the University of Tulsa who specializes in sports law.
Long joined the Arkansas program in late 2007 before taking over as athletic director to begin 2008. Previously, he worked at Pittsburgh, where he hired Dave Wannstedt after Walt Harris left for Stanford in 2004.
Nothing in Long's career, however, approaches this crisis.
"To be honest, I haven't stopped and thought about whether I've had these things," Long said Thursday night as he announced Petrino's leave. "I haven't taken a chance to sit back and think about if I've had this in my past experience. I can't recall that I've put somebody on administrative leave from a coaching position."
The scandal is likely to be a distraction for days if not weeks as the Razorbacks wrap up spring practice. It is discouraging news for fans who have watched Petrino put up a 34-17 record, in becoming a power in the Southeastern Conference. Arkansas was 11-2 last season, finishing the season ranked No. 5.
Petrino was welcomed and embraced by the state, even after his national reputation was smeared following a midseason departure from the Atlanta Falcons in 2007.
Arkansas assistant head coach Taver Johnson, who was put in charge of the program in Petrino's absence, spoke briefly before the Razorbacks took the field for a practice in front of several hundred mostly quiet fans Friday afternoon. He said Arkansas held a short team meeting and that it was "business as usual" as the team prepared for its scrimmage. Players were not made available.
Johnson was an Ohio State assistant last season when the Buckeyes were dealing with a memorabilia-for-cash scandal that cost coach Jim Tressel his job after it became clear he knew players were improperly selling Ohio State mementos but did not report it.
"I don't know if you can ever get prepared when you're going through tough situations," Johnson said. "However, any type of adversity, if you've been through it in your life, that definitely prepares you in terms of making sure that you're mentally strong and making sure you're ready to step up to a leadership role."
Associated Press writers Jeannie Nuss and Andrew DeMillo in Little Rock, Ark., and Sports Writers Hank Kurz Jr. and Will Graves contributed to this report.