OPINION | GREG HARTON: Forgiveness in Arkansas sounds a lot like “Woooo, pig. Sooiee!”

Maybe the University of Arkansas should offer a degree in forgiveness. Actually, it would probably be more of an emphasis area within its bachelor of science in recreation and sports management.

Forgiveness isn't standard employment policy on the Hill. Rehiring someone who was previously fired for cause is unusual enough that the approval of the university president is required.

Either Bobby Petrino is so exceptionally reformed, in the opinion of the university's leadership, or the football program is so exceptionally in the dumps that, in this case, the president thought standard policy ought to be waived.

The former head coach of the Hogs, fired 11 years ago for covering up poor choices and opening the UA to considerable employment liability, is back now to coordinate the football team's offense, which needs exceptional reformation, too.

I've been a Razorback fan effectively from birth. Growing up, my family and another family almost always came together for what was a home-based tailgate for the rare televised games, a few years before ESPN even existed. Later, my Boy Scout troop raised money by selling Cokes and Sprites in the stands of War Memorial Stadium, back when every season featured three or four "home" games in Little Rock. We would load up 15 or 20 full cups in a metal carrying tray strapped around our necks and walk up and down the stadium hollering "Coooooke" or "Ice-cold Coca-Cola." In between sales, I'd catch glimpses of the game and Lou Holtz pacing the sideline in his red-and-white plaid pants. Usually, we'd be released for the fourth quarter and get to go watch the game. It was a thrill.

Nowadays, I go to just about every football and basketball home game in Fayetteville. My vocal cords needed some recovery time after Wednesday evening's big-time basketball victory over Duke. I'll go to as many baseball games as possible.

I say all that to be clear: I'm not a detached observer when it comes to the Hogs. A frequent concern when I'm buying a new shirt is whether it's a color I'll want to wear to Razorback events.

As a fan, I had a reaction to Petrino's hiring. It felt a little like nausea. I remain astonished that the bridges he burned while at Arkansas could ever be rebuilt enough to lead him back to Fayetteville.

For some fans, the rehiring of Bobby Petrino offends their sense of fairness or integrity. They find the decision disturbing.

But it seems much of the population known as "Razorback Nation" had its spirits lifted last week by Petrino's return. I listened as a considerable part of the crowd at Bud Walton Arena chanted "We want Bobby." And he was there, with Head Coach Sam Pittman.

As a Razorback fan who was so utterly disappointed when Petrino wrecked not just his motorcycle, but his life and Arkansas' football program, I struggle with his return. When someone shows you who they are, it's unusual for them to change their stripes. A crushingly disappointing season that demonstrated a need for offensive brainpower and intensity opened the door to his return.

The University of Arkansas finally and thankfully welcomed back into the fold former basketball Coach Nolan Richardson, who sued the UA after he was fired in 2002. The basketball court is named in his honor now. He was in the audience at Wednesday's game vs. Duke. Forgiveness was necessary on both sides of that once-contentious relationship. Grudges aren't healthy.

I heard a commentator the other day say sports fans love a redemption story. There's truth to that. Petrino's hiring, though, isn't a redemption story, at least not yet. Whether he is redeemed is ultimately determined by how much grace Arkansas fans are willing to extend and by Petrino's own daily choices.

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