Two college coaches stood at their respective podiums recently. I don’t need a program listing to tell me which is taller.
The images couldn’t have been starker in comparison.
First, there was Bobby Petrino, the morally bankrupt coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks football program, looking every bit the pathetic fool that he is, addressing the media with his scratched, cut-up face and wearing a neck brace.
Had Petrino been in that condition because a group of Alabama or Auburn fans set upon him and beaten him to smithereens, then that’s a different kind of pathetic.
Instead, Petrino was the kind of pathetic that makes you feel embarrassed for him and even more so for his family, particularly his humiliated wife.
Petrino was, as it turns out, spewing lies as he spoke of the motorcycle accident that (fittingly) occurred on April Fool’s Day.
Petrino was lying to the press, to the university, to his boss, to the police, to Arkansas football fans and—again, worse—to his family when he said that he was alone on his bike when he careened off a highway.
Thankfully, Petrino said, a Good Samaritan in the form of a 25-year-old woman named Jessica Dorrell happened along and offered a ride to the hospital.
It didn’t take very long for that version of what actually transpired to be folded, spindled and mutilated.
Petrino was actually in the company of Dorrell—she was his passenger—when Bobby wiped out. And she wasn’t a hitchhiker.
Turns out Dorrell, an Arkansas football staffer, had been carrying on with Petrino, 26 years her senior, in the form of what Petrino finally admitted was an “inappropriate” relationship. Basically, she was his mistress.
Anyone surprised that Petrino’s tale unraveled faster than a cheap wool sweater maybe played football—or rode a motorcycle—without a helmet.
Let’s wind the clocks back to the fall of 2007, shall we?
Petrino was in his first year as coach of the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons, having been hired away from the University of Louisville by owner Arthur Blank. The Falcons had played 13 games and were having a rough go of it under the rookie pro coach with a 3-10 record.
One day in December, the Falcons players arrived to their lockers to find a brief, typed out letter in their respective stalls. It contained all of four sentences.
It was a notice, put out by Petrino, informing his players that he had quit the Falcons and was about to take the job at Arkansas.
It was a dash into the night, one coach’s impersonation of the Baltimore Colts skipping out to Indianapolis back in 1984.
Petrino didn’t have the guts—hell, the common courtesy—to speak to his football team in person. And this after he promised owner Blank that despite the rumors to the contrary, Bobby wasn’t about to abscond to Arkansas.
Shortly after giving Blank that assurance, Bobby banged out his four-sentence letter, made photocopies and hopped onto a plane for Arkansas.
His players, after finding out that their coach had the integrity of a marked deck of cards, flew into a rage. They let Petrino have it, to the media. The Falcons’ season was spiraling out of control and the coach had fled.
Petrino sacked his team with a blindside hit, but he had the temerity to sing the Razorbacks fight song mere hours after his photocopies cooled.
Blank was seething, like the Falcons players. The man who Blank showed confidence in by giving him his first pro coaching job turned out to be a gutless liar and a phony.
So I wasn’t surprised at all when details of Petrino’s lies and the subsequent facts about the voluminous number of text messages and cell phone calls that pocked his relationship with Dorrell, were made public.
Not at all.
The second coach to take the podium this week was MSU basketball wizard Tom Izzo.
Izzo was the antithesis of Petrino: He was dressed casually, but looking very professional, and serious as a heart attack, as he talked to the press about senior player Derrick Nix’s arrest on suspicion of DUI, which occurred April 3 and resulted in Izzo kicking Nix off the team, albeit temporarily, as it turned out.
It was temporary because after Nix pleaded guilty to a reduced charge, Izzo rescinded the suspension. But that’s far from the end of the story.
Nix spoke before his coach and sobbed as he apologized to those who he disappointed and let down. Tears rolled down his very sincere face.
Then Izzo spoke.
The coach said that it was still too early to determine Nix’s ultimate fate as a Spartan hoopster. Izzo said he had met with his coaching staff—and presumably Athletic Director Mark Hollis and university President Lou Anna K. Simon—and kicked Nix’s future around, so to speak.
What kind of challenges does Nix face now, both academically and as a person? Does the kid have it within him to recover from this and be a productive member of society, let alone of the basketball team?
Those were the kinds of questions, Izzo said, that he discussed with his inner circle.
And, last but not least, what kind of further discipline will Izzo mete out?
“There is gonna be issues that I’m gonna have to determine yet,” said Izzo to the media on Thursday, “depending what he does this summer, depending on how he acts.”
And through it all, one couldn’t look at Tom Izzo, standing mere feet away from the repenting Nix, and not see a coach in total, complete control of his program—and with the integrity and credibility that goes with that.
Compare that to the image of the fool Petrino, looking like Wile E. Coyote after another go-round with the Roadrunner. How can Petrino ever guide young men again?
It’s been a rough year for the institution of the college coach—pro coaches, too, for that matter.
It’s been a year of shrinking leaders and emperors wearing no clothes.
But watching Tom Izzo discuss Derrick Nix, in front of Derrick Nix, was a silver lining to a cloud.
At least somewhere, there’s a college coach who won’t embarrass his school, his AD, his president, his players or his alumni supporters. Ever.
So take some heart in that.