When the first reports about Bobby Petrino's joy ride gone bad made their way into the sports conversation earlier this week, it seemed like nothing more than a humorous aside in what might be the first quiet offseason for the SEC in a while. When the first reports of a female passenger on Petrino's motorcycle surfaced, some still wondered whether the successful head coach might be able to hold onto his job.
So much for all that.
In the space of about eight hours Thursday, a web of lies that Petrino had spun around his motorcycle ride and perhaps even his personnel decisions was coming unwound. And now it looks very much like Arkansas might be forced to get rid of the coach who seemed like the one that might finally bring the Razorbacks that elusive SEC Championship.
By the end of the day, Petrino was apologizing for an inappropriate relationship -- with a woman that he had hired to a position in the football program just days earlier. And Arkansas athletics director Jeff Long took the stage alone when he told the media that Petrino was being placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of a review that Long will conduct.
Petrino, meanwhile, was issuing a statement that seemed to show just how deep in denial he is about the whole situation:
My concern was to protect my family and a previous inappropriate relationship from becoming public. In hindsight, I showed a serious mistake in judgment when I chose not to be more specific about those details. Today, I've acknowledged this previous inappropriate relationship with my family and those within the athletic department administration.
To repeat: Petrino's family issued through the football program a statement saying that the accident "involved no other individuals." He reiterated that stance to at least one camera crew after his press conference following the wreck. He did not leave out details or choose "not to be more specific about those details." He lied about those details. He lied to his athletics department and his fans and his family. And he still appears to be lying to himself.
As for Long, he's now been placed by his head coach into an unwinnable situation. Fire Petrino and try to hire a coach between now and opening day, and the likelihood is that the team will crash and burn and you'll be blamed for it. Keep Petrino and you become the poster child of everything that is wrong with college athletics.
Again, this is more than just an affair. (And I seem to be one of those few remaining old-fashioned people who think that affairs are a big enough deal to be considered in the employment status of one of the highest-profile individuals at a state institution.) Petrino put this woman on the football program payroll a few days ago -- he made her a subordinate -- after beginning an affair with an engaged employee of the athletics department. And then he repeatedly lied to his fans and his superiors about that affair.
That's what Long seemed to be struggling with as he sat at a podium in Arkansas on Thursday. Could Petrino rebuild the trust between the head coach and Long, the football program and its fans? "I think coach can," Long said. "I'm hopeful that he can."
But that was the closest any part of the press conference came to comforting for Petrino. Long repeatedly ducked questions about whether Petrino's job was in jeopardy, and putting an employee on administrative leave rarely ends well for that employee.
It was hard to escape the feeling Thursday night that we were watching the last moments of the Bobby Petrino Era playing out in Arkansas. Even in the competitive SEC, "just win" will only take you so far.