Football Fallout

Bobby Petrino waves to the crowd during halftime at the Arkansas/Alabama basketball game on Saturday, Jan. 15, 2011.

Staff photo

Like it or not, the University of Arkansas terminated Bobby Petrino’s contract as the head coach of the Razorback football program. The decision by Athletic Director Jeff Long may have surprised many in the Razorback Nation. Regardless of where you stood on the situation, it’s time to move on and figure out what’s going to happen with the football program.

The big question is where does Arkansas Razorback football go from here, right this instant? As if Long has ESP, he tried to give the media, players and fans an idea of where his head is at:

I assure you that we will seek a head coach with the expertise, leadership skills, and character to maintain Razorback football as one of the nation’s elite programs. We will maintain a program of student-athletes and coaches that all of Arkansas and Razorback fans across the nation will be proud.

Not missing a heartbeat, already making their rounds on the internet are lists of potential head coaches (subscribers of ESPN Insider can see more on their Rumor Central page). Until Long comes out and makes a statement about a timeline for the search, I would imagine that spring practice will finish up with little movement.

If you ask me, I have no clue who will wind up coaching the Razorbacks. I will say, however, that it’s a safe bet Long won’t have names on his shortlist whose programs are/were under any type of scrutiny. Long’s decision, while tough to swallow given the recent success of the program, has made a statement:

We are an educational institution with more than 23,000 students. We have high standards, a national reputation and one of the best public institutions in the country. Our expectations of character and integrity for our employees can be no less than what we expect from our students. No single individual is bigger than the team, the Razorback football program, or the University of Arkansas.

While spring practice finishes up over the next two weeks and Long begins his search for a new head coach, it’s also a safe bet to make sure this isn’t the last shoe to drop in the whole situation. What other fallout might we expect to see?

Recruiting could take a hit. This is fairly common when head coaches leave a program. There has already been some chatter about commitments opening up their recruitment, again. For now, a majority of those recruiting relationships are handled by the entire coaching staff and not just the head coach. Unless there were to be a major shake-up on staff, and depending on who is ultimately chosen to replace Petrino, I would expect Arkansas to keep most of those currently committed. On the bright side, by not having Petrino as head coach, schools won’t be able to use this against Arkansas.

What other staff moves can we expect? As of right now, Associate Head Coach Taver Johnson has been named interim head coach and Paul Petrino is still the Offensive Coordinator. Might we expect Paul to also leave the Razorbacks? Or will he stick around and give the players a fighting chance this season? And if a new head coach is selected after spring practice, what will that mean for the remainder of the staff? This could be a major hit. Depending on who is hired, we might be looking at a dramatically different staff come fall. Know this, Long wants to win and the less waves he can make with a hire, the better. Pieces are in place to make a solid run at the SEC and a National Championship — I don’t expect a hire that will put Arkansas back 2 to 3 years.

How will the players respond? Losing your head coach probably isn’t a great feeling and it sounded like Long talked with the players and asked that they remained focus on their academics and finishing spring practice. It’s still going to be tough for the kids. Former Arkansas players have been tweeting about the whole situation and it sounds like they all have Arkansas’ best interest at heart. The players on the roster right now have a chance at great upcoming season. I fully expect the staff to keep focused and stay headed in the direction of success.

What will the media say about Arkansas now? If anything (and knowing how much the media wasn’t happy with Bobby Petrino BEFORE this whole mess started), they should applaud Long’s decision. But, the media is the media, and they’ll probably run stories just to get eyeballs reading it. In all honesty, we shouldn’t care what the media thinks. The University and Long made their decision and they’re moving on. The football staff is moving on. The players are moving on. So should we.

What started almost two weeks ago with a small crash off the side of a scenic highway has ended with a larger bang in the office of Jeff Long. The good news is that Long’s decision to terminate Petrino’s contract has solidified his commitment to keeping Arkansas’ reputation in tact. While it’s too early to debate if the 2012 season is lost, with the right moves, Long can keep the momentum Arkansas gained under Petrino’s rule.

I last wrote about how I didn’t want to wear Long’s shoes for the decision he was facing. I’m glad it wasn’t me making that decision. And I’m glad to say that I stand firmly behind Long, the University of Arkansas and the players that go out and make us proud to be Razorback fans. WPMFS.