We've all heard constant refrain from the Petrino faction -- "We're hiring a football coach, not a pastor." Indisputable! There's even a kernel of unintended wisdom; some of us could use a warning about assuming that a coach is committed to doing things "the right way" because he talks the right talk and shows up in the right place for an hour on Sunday.
So I'm happy to meet this argument on its own terms. No appeals to God, family or creed, for the sake of this discussion. Let's make the case against Bobby Petrino purely on utilitarian terms. If he is hired, I won't be renouncing my allegiance. I'm not capable of that even if I wanted to, and I suspect few are. I'll be there, cheering right alongside the rest of y'all, and hoping I'm wrong. But here are the reasons I'll always be afraid I'm not:
Petrino's failings are not personal, they are professional
Might not be my business what consenting adults you choose to sleep with. But it's at least indirectly my concern when that becomes a factor in your public reputation, especially in a profession where success begins with selling yourself to young men and their parents as a trustworthy leader. And it's absolutely my concern, as a fan, as a supporter of a university and its athletics program, as a citizen and taxpayer, when a man entrusted with his state's highest-paying job literally defrauds his employer for personal gain and lies about it, even engaging the state police in the cover-up.
The affair and the motorcycle ride were distasteful. Lying about it to his superiors was gravely unprofessional. Obtaining a sinecure for his mistress was borderline criminal, and would be an unassailable disqualification for public employment in virtually all other walks of life. You wouldn't hire a dogcatcher with that stain on his record. Why should we take that risk a job where so much more -- namely the reputation of your alma mater and the future of the young men in orange and blue -- is at stake?
His transgressions, unlike some coaches', have never been in service of winning
Petrino supporters are keen to note that very few elite coaches truly have clean hands, that some level of comfort in gray areas may be considered a job requirement. Again, strictly speaking, they may be right on that count: Jim Tressel lost his job for covering up NCAA violations. Pete Carroll skipped town as the NCAA hammer was falling. Chip Kelly may be next in the crosshairs. Nick Saban has yet to be found guilty of any serious violation, but his creative exploits in skirting scholarship limits should be well-known round these parts.
The difference between those guys and Bobby Petrino? If they bend a rule, it's on behalf of their team. Petrino cheats at the expense of his teams. Whether leaving Louisville and Atlanta in the lurch or forcing Arkansas's hand with his insubordination, Petrino has shown zero compunction at betraying anyone foolish enough to grant him their trust. There's no excuse for the job John L. Smith did with the Razorbacks, but who put them in that position?
His latest scandal is not an isolated incident but merely the latest in a well-established pattern
Everyone makes mistakes, as we've been frequently reminded. Nobody's perfect; we all have moments of weakness. But when that "moment" spans a decade, and those "mistakes" start to look like a comprehensive pattern of putting yourself above everyone around you, including your employers and your team, maybe "mistake" isn't the right word anymore. Maybe that's just who you are, and you need to radically reorient your life before you ask someone for a... fifth, is it now? chance.
Nor was this in the distant past. I know it felt like time dilated for us during this regrettable season, but Petrino was fired from Arkansas only seven months ago. Do you really believe this leopard spent a decade earning his spots and then shed them over the summer? Everyone makes mistakes, but everyone who takes a chance on Petrino eventually loses. At some point, don't you start to think these dice might be loaded?
Would he win at Auburn?
There's a good chance -- in the short tern and for a certain value of "win." Nine or ten games, a January bowl? Probably. Championships? He never truly got Arkansas over the hump, failing to win the division and only briefly ascending to the Sugar Bowl when Alabama endured a down year by their standards. He never, even in said down year, actually defeated the Tide, which makes his supporters' delusion that Saban is scared of Petrino all the more baffling. Sure, he would enjoy more resources at Auburn than he did at Arkansas, but the SEC West has only gotten tougher with the addition of Texas A&M. We still don't know the scandal's damage to Petrino as a recruiter (never his strength in the first place), nor its effect on his mindset going forward.
I love Auburn. I think we're better than Arkansas. To me, Arkansas to Auburn looks like a promotion. I'd consider a new job worth tens of millions of dollars at a more prestigious program a reward, not the humbling that this man desperately needs. What message does that send to a guy who already acts like he's untouchable? What kind of behavior is that likely to encourage in the future?
I believe Auburn shouldn't volunteer itself as the test case for those unknowns, to the extent you can even call them unknown. I believe Auburn needs someone who can look a recruit's parents in the eyes and say he has his son's best interests at heart. I believe Auburn deserves better than Arkansas's leftovers. I believe any number of other coaches are far more likely to leave Auburn in better shape than Bobby Petrino is. I believe in Auburn.