What I kept telling myself last week about Bobby Petrino still stands. He can really coach. Pure brilliance. The practices are as much fun to watch as the games.
No one will ever convince me differently. I was mesmerized watching him put his team through its paces.
That's what hurts Arkansas fans today. That's what produces the frustration and emotion for some about the decision to fire Petrino. And with some it's pure anger.
Finally, Arkansas had the right coach, perhaps a great coach, they thought. His coaching produced the kind of offensive fireworks that wound up on ESPN highlight tapes. And he gave them a trip to the Sugar Bowl and the Cotton Bowl all in 12 months. There were 21 victories.
Never have we seen so many touchdowns by an Arkansas team. Fans ached for that kind of offense. Even when Frank Broyles and Ken Hatfield won game after game in the 1960s and 1980s, there weren't these kind of offensive explosions.
There was more than hope for a second national championship. There was belief that it was going to happen. Arkansas fans were bragging again about their football program.
I get all of that. But there is more to Arkansas football than that. Or there should be.
It should be about the way you treat other people, the way you act. It should be about the way you respect truth. And it should be about the way you respect your boss.
We all have a boss. Even Bobby Petrino had a boss. If he didn't know that, he found out Tuesday.
And we all learned a lot about his boss. Jeff Long took the stage at Bud Walton Arena. He gave us the dirty laundry and showed us that he knew how to be athletic director. He told us about the $20,000 Petrino paid Jessica Dorrell. Once those kind of payments start, do they ever stop?
I saw the raw side of Jeff Long. All of Arkansas saw it. The rest of the nation saw it, too.
That's important, but that's not as important as our own self respect.
I care about what we say about ourselves more than what they say on ESPN. I care about what we are and will be in the future. It's obvious that Long cares, too.
Long is taking heat over firing Petrino. It's that fear the program will slip back into mediocrity. It may be fear that the nation won't fear us as a football program.
I think Long gets only credit. He brought Petrino here. And when the coach got too big for the program, he knew what his job was and that was to be the athletic director.
It was clear that Long was upset at Petrino. He fought back tears and had to pause when he discussed telling the players that he had fired Petrino.
I've wondered about Long until last night. Was he here for the long haul? Did he understand what Arkansas was all about? Did he get Arkansas values? Or was it just about the dollars or the victories?
I got it last night. It's not just about throwing dollars around. It can't be. It can't just be about winning, either. It should never be at any cost.
Long's job doesn't get easier. He has to find a new coach to feed the monster. It's not easy. We saw the basketball program fall back. There are no guarantees, even with players like Tyler Wilson and Knile Davis on the field.
But Long put forth a good plan Tuesday night. He will begin a national search. He has plenty of money to hire the right coach. We've seen that he'll spend millions when he hired Bobby Petrino and Mike Anderson.
There's a couple of weeks left in spring football. Long will talk to Taver Johnson, Paul Petrino and Paul Haynes at the end of spring football, if he hasn't found his man by then. And he said he could wait until after the 2012 season if the right man isn't found in the next month.
Jeff Long knows the task. He has to hit a home run. He has to find a long-term solution, someone who unites the state again. It needs to be someone who works for the good of Arkansas. I'm guessing it will also be someone who understands he works for Jeff Long.
State of the Hogs: Respect
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