FAYETTEVILLE — Bobby Petrino said he has a “better understanding of what life is about” and believes he’ll also “be a better coach” because of his high-profile mistake.
The former Arkansas coach took another step in trying to rehabilitate his image Thursday, speaking publicly for the first time since being fired by Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long on April 10. He granted the first interview to ESPN’s Joe Schad, who went to Montana to speak with the disgraced coach about his downfall and what Petrino is hoping for his future in his personal and professional life.
Petrino was apologetic and emotional during the interview, choking up at times as he relived the affair with Jessica Dorrell, the damage done to his family and the Arkansas football program. Dorrell was a passenger on Petrino’s motorcycle when it crashed on April 1, leaving the coach with severe injuries. But that wasn’t all.
It was later revealed Petrino was having an affair with Dorrell, who he had recently hired over other candidates for a position in the Arkansas football department.
“There is no justification,” Petrino told ESPN. “There is no excuse for having her in the interview pool, hiring her, having her on the back of the motorcycle. When I look back on it there is no good answer. All I know is that I wasn’t thinking and I wasn’t acting correctly. That’s not how I was raised. That’s not how I raised my children.
“I take responsibility for it and I really am sorry.”
Long fired Petrino after a review process, which uncovered the fact Petrino had an affair with Dorrell and also gave her $20,000 shortly after she was.
It abruptly ended Petrino’s successful four-year run at Arkansas in which he went 34-17, including a 21-5 mark in the final two seasons.
“I have played it over in my head a million times,” Petrino said during the interview with ESPN. “How could I do this? How could this happen? And not just the hiring or that day. But my actions. And my behavior. For months. It was just wrong.”
Now, Petrino is in an unfamiliar place as he tries to “save” his marriage. He won’t be on the sidelines somewhere this season for the first time since 1983, when he broke into coaching as a graduate assistant on his father’s staff at Carroll College.
He hasn’t been completely removed from coaching the past few months, though, telling ESPN he has done some consultant work for the Tennessee Titans and Cal.
Petrino wants to coach again and offered what he would tell potential bosses.
“Well I just hope and pray that I get the chance to sit down in front of the person that is making the decision like that and be able to explain the mistakes I’ve made,” Petrino said. “How I’ve become a better person. A better father. A better husband.
“Like I said, I know I’m going to be a better coach because I know I’m going to spend more time coaching the person. Not just the player.”
In the meantime, Petrino said he continues working to make amends for his failures.
He was photographed publicly for the first time since his firing working as a caddy for his daughter during a golf tournament in Kentucky last month. Petrino said he has apologized to his parents and told ESPN he is in counseling with his wife.
“Sitting down and telling Becky,” Petrino said when asked in the ESPN interview about the most difficult moment. “And looking at the look in her eyes of how I possibly could do something like this to hurt her. It’s just something I guess anybody that’s ever hurt their loved ones or lost their dream job, can relate to how that is.”
Petrino also reached out to a few current coaches and players to apologize. Arkansas coach John L. Smith – who left Weber State to lead the Hogs after working on Petrino’s staff for three years - and players said they spoke with him in July.
Running back Knile Davis said then it was good to hear from Petrino and even told his former coach not to be so hard on himself after his fall.
“It was good to know he was OK and it was good to hear him say he wanted us to have a successful season,” Davis said. “I thought that was a good thing that he did.”
Petrino – in a story that appeared on ESPN.com – said it will be difficult watching the Razorbacks play without him this season and added, “I just can’t believe I screwed up so bad.” But Petrino, who said he intends to keep a “better balance” in his life, insisted his first priority is with his wife and children now.
“I’m working hard to save my marriage. I’m working one day at a time,” Petrino told ESPN during the television portion of the interview. “I want to stay married. That’s mainly my main priorities, making things right with my family.”