SNYDER: WKU will let Bobby Petrino atone for sins

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ANALYSIS/OPINION:

When a big-boy school welcomes Bobby Petrino as the new football coach, in a year or two, it can thank Western Kentucky for paving the way. Until then, the Hilltoppers can thank Tennessee, Auburn and Kentucky for being phonies, hypocrites and cowards.

Such schools won’t mind being fired upon in the near future, but only because WKU stepped forward to take the first hail of bullets.

Petrino’s previous sins won’t be less egregious a couple of seasons from now. He’ll be the same former Arkansas coach who hired his mistress and lied about her presence on his Harley when they crashed. He’ll be the same former Atlanta Falcons coach who left a note in each player’s locker before fleeing in the midst of his first season. And he’ll be the same former Louisville coach who interviewed for a job that his mentor still held, got a big raise from the Cardinals and still bolted for the NFL.

None of that will matter when the next major school hires him; there was no reason to pretend that it matters now. Petrino has been called a lot of things (sleazeball, jerk, bad guy), but he enjoys universal acclaim for his coaching prowess, good for top-10 rankings at Arkansas and Louisville and a career record of 75-26.

WKU brought him aboard for the same reason that a desperate, would-be powerhouse will give him a job soon.

“We hired him because he’s an outstanding football coach,” athletic director Todd Stewart told reporters Monday at Petrino’s introductory news conference.

Kentucky, an SEC doormat with basketball on the brain 24/7, could have used a coach of Petrino’s caliber. If he already had served his sentence at WKU when the Kentucky job opened this year, the Wildcats would’ve jumped through hoops to land him.

The same is true for Tennessee, a vacancy that appealed to top candidates like Obamacare appeals to the GOP. Auburn, which once employed Petrino as offensive coordinator, wouldn’t be able to contain itself if he agreed to battle Nick Saban for Alabama supremacy.

But at this point, just eight months removed from his sordid ending at Arkansas, Petrino is like Col. Nathan R. Jessup in “A Few Good Men,” and sheepish college administrators can’t handle the truth: “My existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, wins football games. And deep down in places you don’t talk about, you want me to win those games. You need me to win those games.”

The Alabamas, Floridas and LSUs of the world are relevant enough to attract a prime coach without having to hold their noses. But schools with lower profiles can’t hire a coach with better credentials than Petrino; they just have to worry about the publicity hit and wonder about the alumni reaction.

Neither of those concerns screams “brave leadership!”

Critics question Petrino’s fitness as a leader of young men, which is perfectly fine. Character hasn’t been one of his strong suits, unless deception, fabrication and manipulation are the traits you seek.

At Arkansas, he circumvented university policy to interview and hire his mistress Jessica Dorrell over 158 other applicants, most of them better-qualified candidates. That was his most serious offense, a case of bad judgment that opened the school to numerous lawsuits if either he or Dorrell had kept their jobs last April. His poor decision in carrying on with a subordinate was compounded when he lied about their motorcycle accident, telling Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long that no one else was on the bike.

The incident was extremely embarrassing for the university and Petrino, who went from sympathetic figure with contusions and a neck brace to national laughingstock with four children and a disgraced wife. Stewart said Petrino deserves another chance. “What it comes down to is that he made a big mistake, and he acknowledges that and he’s taken ownership of that,” Stewart said. “And he’s paid a heavy price for it.”

Coaching WKU is part of his punishment, administered by the Football Bowl Championship schools that had openings but passed. Their hesitancy is a lack of nerve more than anything else. They’ll be much more courageous after Petrino exhibits good behavior with the Hilltoppers.

They know he will, and we know he will. He would do likewise in the SEC, starting today, considering the public humiliation he’s been through. “At this point in my career, it’s about getting back and coaching players,” he said.

Soon enough, he’ll do that at the highest level. Big-time schools that make him wait a few years aren’t fooling anyone.

They’re just not as open about their priorities as Western Kentucky.

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

About the Author

Deron Snyder

Deron Snyder is an award-winning journalist and Washington Times sports columnist with more than 25 years of experience. He has worked at USA Today and his column was syndicated in Gannett’s 80-plus newspapers from 2000-2009, appearing in The Arizona Republic, The Indianapolis Star, The Detroit News and many others. Follow Deron on Twitter @DeronSnyder or email him at deronwashtimes@gmail.com.

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