Why Bobby Petrino got fired but Rick Pitino didn't

Paula Duffy's picture

Bobby Petrino fans have been asking why he got fired from his job at Arkansas when Rick Pitino kept his at Louisville after discovery of an affair.

Bobby Petrino lost his job on Tuesday in a very public way. His boss, Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long held a press conference and listed the ways the former football coach breached the university's trust and violated workplace rules that could expose the school to legal claims.

Petrino's world collapsed after he acknowledged what he called an "inappropriate relationship" with an employee, 25 year-old Jessica Dorrell. He was forced to come clean after Dorrell and Petrino were aboard his motorcycle that crashed, sending him to the hospital.

He remained silent about Dorrell for day including keeping it from Jeff Long until moments before a police report was made public, naming her as a passenger. It was then that Petrino was put on leave while the university looked into the matter. Public records were released showing thousands of text messages and hundreds of phone calls between Dorrell and Petrino commencing in September 2011.

Petrino is a married father of four and had just hired Dorrell for a position that directly reported to him, in a clear conflict of interest. From 159 applications for a job, he quickly selected three to interview and chose Ms. Dorrell. He had also gifted her with $20,000 from his own personal funds, both of which occurred according to Petrino's statement, after the impropriety had ended.

Mr. Long listed the hiring as a two-pronged violation of university rules; both the hiring without disclosure of the relationship and the cash payment to an employee violated school employment regulations and could give rise to legal complaints from other employees as well as ignored job applicants.

Adding those transgressions to Petrino's holding back on the information about Dorrell being part of the accident made Mr. Long conclude the situation was intolerable. The "pattern of deception" as he called it clearly pointed to Mr. Petrino putting his own interests about the best interests of his employer. He couldn't be trusted and got fired.

Rick Pitino's affair in 2003 became public in 2009 when his lover tried to extort money and other things of value from him to keep their secret quiet. Simultaneously she went to local authorities to accuse Pitino of rape and getting her pregnant, telling a tale about him giving her money for an abortion to cover his tracks.

The woman, one Karen Wise Sypher was not connected to Pitino's employer University of Louisville. They met in a public place and after it closed, engaged in sex. Pitino's driver was in the restaurant at the time and testified to hearing their activity which sounded consensual.

There were no other incidents and he learned shortly thereafter that Ms. Sypher claimed she was pregnant but had no health insurance. She couldn't afford it she told him and Pitino gave her $3,000 reportedly for that purpose. When her demands grew and she intimated that she had information that his family, employer and the general public would love to know, Pitino got smart.

He informed the university and his family then got the FBI involved. An investigation ensued and Sypher was arrested, tried and ultimately convicted of attempts to extort Pitino. She is in the midst of serving a seven-year jail term.

Pitino held onto his job and didn't lose a step with college recruits. Unlike Petrino his affair was with an outsider and didn't involve lies to his boss regarding an employee. Both had to make amends with their families but those are private matters. Mr. Petrino lied repeatedly to his boss after his motorcycle accident and put the school in jeopardy with his under-the-table cash payment and hiring Ms. Dorrell while having a conflict of interest.

While Bobby Petrino fans would like to equate the two situations, they are completely different.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons/Rick Pitino coaching in 2007

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