NWA EDITORIAL | Leaders at the University of Arkansas go on the offensive

UA gives Petrino a second chance

Arkansas head coach Sam Pittman visits with Missouri State head coach Bobby Petrino, in this 2022 file photo. Pittman on Tuesday hired Petrino as offensive coordinator of the Razorbacks.(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Charlie Kaijo)
Arkansas head coach Sam Pittman visits with Missouri State head coach Bobby Petrino, in this 2022 file photo. Pittman on Tuesday hired Petrino as offensive coordinator of the Razorbacks.(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Charlie Kaijo)

Did Arkansas just throw a Hail Bobby?

News broke early this week that the Razorbacks' football program was in serious discussions with Bobby Petrino, who formerly was the head coach at the University of Arkansas, to engineer his return to the Hill as Sam Pittman's offensive coordinator. His hiring became official Wednesday.

That's "offensive" as in when the team has the ball and is trying to move it down field toward the goal line, not "offensive" as in deeply hurting, upsetting or angering someone.

The few Arkansans who don't know Petrino's past with Arkansas may not get it. He was fired 11 years ago after a motorcycle wreck. It wasn't the wreck that did him in. It was a demonstrated lack of integrity and honesty the University of Arkansas could not ignore.

Petrino's me-first decision-making off the field when he was head coach ended up hurting the UA football program and, rightly, angered fans, his colleagues and the athletes he'd taken charge of. He absolutely deserved to be fired if for no other reason than lying to his employer about critically important, program-affecting events.

The aftermath at the University of Arkansas hasn't been pretty. The disruption of Petrino's shocking departure lingered over a program that has struggled to get back on solid footing. Fans have suffered through the 4-8 debacle of quick-draw replacement John L. Smith (ironically, the same record as this year's Hogs); the mediocrity of Bret Bielema's 29-33 record; and the dismal two seasons under Chad Morris, who won four of 22 games and never won an SEC matchup.

This season under Coach Sam Pittman was difficult, which is why he was looking for a new offensive coordinator. But Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek has stood by Pittman, who took over a disheartened program and led it in his second and third seasons to bowl games, where they posted victories.

Then came 2023. If the hiring of Petrino says anything, it's that the University of Arkansas' leadership after a heart-rending season is desperate to make football competitive again. It may be that Arkansas will never become a juggernaut like Alabama or Georgia, but the program must get back to years when opposing SEC teams know the Hogs are a threat every time they're on the field. Nobody can really question Petrino's capacity to make a difference between the goal lines.

Pittman and Yurachek, in the same week the UA retooled its program to support paying players for use of their names, images or likenesses, needed a dramatic move to restore confidence in football's future. Hiring some unknown commodity would hardly have helped when next week's transfer portal opens. Say what you well about the Petrino hire, but it's unquestionably a big splash in the pond of SEC programs. Suddenly, there was a strong message to deliver to potential recruits and existing team members, some of whom already indicated plans to depart Arkansas.

For the record, from our perspective, Petrino disqualified himself from a future return with his choices when he was the Hogs' head coach. His skills are considerable. In this story, he's very much a Gen. George Patton with university leaders in the role of Gen. Dwight Eisenhower. Patton was exceptionally good in leading men into battle in World War II, but he made some huge mistakes in his treatment of soldiers that reflected poorly on him worldwide and damaged his reputation. Eisenhower sidelined him for some time, but still considered him indispensable. Eisenhower eventually put Patton back to work, in no small part because German officers considered Patton a military leader to be feared.

Likewise, Petrino remains a force within collegiate football. That he's continued to rebuild his career, most lately at Texas A&M, isn't a surprise. But it's still amazing to see him hired, in any capacity, at the University of Arkansas.

Winning, or the potential for winning, covers many sins in the world of sports.

Arkansas fans, ourselves included, no doubt wish Petrino well. His fortunes and the Razorbacks' are inextricably linked now. The kinder folks will extend the wishes for success to Petrino personally as well. What's the use in holding a grudge, right, especially when the deal is done.

All that's left to say, we suppose, is go Hogs!

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