The Legality of Bobby Petrino’s Firing

BY:  EDWARD KEALY

The biggest story in sports over the last week has been Bobby Petrino’s motorcycle accident and the subsequent fallout.[1]  Petrino was the head football coach for the University of Arkansas Razorbacks and has since been fired for cause by the University of Arkansas.

In the wake of his accident, details began to emerge about a female, Jessica Dorrell, who had also been on Petrino’s motorcycle during the accident.  The story soon spiraled into a scandal revealing an affair between the coach and Dorrell.[2]  The University has subsequently fired Petrino as a result.

Leading up to the Razorbacks’ first Sugar Bowl appearance, the University of Arkansas chose to extend Petrino’s contract by seven years in December 2010.[3]  Under the summary of essential terms of that extension, Petrino was due to make about $3.5 million annually.[4]  Additionally, Petrino’s contract contains a third-party guarantor.[5]  This particular provision provides that the total value of Petrino’s compensation package was to be guaranteed in the event the University terminates his employment for convenience.[6]

The issue in this situation is that the University has terminated Petrino for cause. Petrino’s employment agreement includes the University’s standard termination “for cause” provision.  Included in this is broad language which states that he can be terminated for cause for “otherwise engaging in conduct, as solely determined by the University, which is clearly contrary to the character and responsibilities of a person occupying the position of Head Football Coach or which negatively or adversely affects the reputation of the University…”[7]  As is typically the case, the contract states that should the agreement be terminated for cause, “neither the University nor the third-party guarantor shall be liable for any payments or benefits after the date of termination.[8]  Therefore, Petrino will see none of the compensation due under his contract. That includes forfeiting the compensation package worth $18 million.[9]

Naturally, it is in the University’s best interest to release Petrino with cause, thus relieving them of any financial obligation to him.  Unfortunately for him, this is a case where it would be virtually impossible for him to dispute his dismissal.   Petrino’s conduct with regard to his relationship with Dorrell displays a pattern of behavior in which he lied and deceived the University.  Petrino failed to disclose his relationship with Dorrell, which records have indicated included hundreds of texts and phone calls over at least seven months.[10]  Petrino also hired Dorrell as the football program’s student-athlete development coordinator over 158 other applicants.[11]  Petrino also had given Dorrell $20,000 during their relationship.[12]  There is no doubt that these acts misleading the University were grounds for termination with cause.

 


[2] Pete Thamel, Arkansas Fires Petrino, Citing ‘Misleading and Manipulative Behavior’, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/11/sports/ncaafootball/arkansas-fires-coach-bobby-petrino.html (last visited April 8, 2012).

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Bobby Petrino, who was fired as Arkansas football coach, exchanged 100s of phone calls, thousands of texts with mistress Jessica Dorrell, NYDAILYNEWS.COM, http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/college/bobby-petrino-fired-arkansas-football-coach-exchanged-100s-phone-calls-thousands-texts-mistress-jessica-dorrell-article-1.1060413 (last visited April 12, 2012).

[11] Tom Murphy, Petrino fired for misconduct, http://www.nwaonline.com/news/2012/apr/11/petrino-fired-misconduct-20120411/?sports (last visited April 11, 2012).

[12] Id.

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