Nobody is questioning his coaching acumen, but the Arkansas program has been thrown into turmoil because of his judgment. On Sunday, Petrino, 51, was driving his Harley-Davidson motorcycle on a two-lane road about 20 miles southeast of Fayetteville when he lost control, slid through a ditch and struck tree limbs and a pile of dirt.
Petrino, who was not wearing a helmet, sustained four broken ribs and a cracked vertebra. He told Jeff Long, the Arkansas athletic director, that he was alone at the time of the accident. But on Thursday, shortly before the police report was made public, Petrino told Long he had been driving a passenger, the former Arkansas volleyball player Jessica Dorrell. Dorrell, 25, was recently hired by Petrino as the program’s student-athlete development coordinator.
“In hindsight, I showed a serious mistake in judgment when I chose not to be more specific about those details,” Petrino said in a statement.
Petrino, who is married with four children and two grandchildren, acknowledged an “inappropriate relationship” with Dorrell, and on Thursday night, he was put on paid administrative leave pending review of the circumstances surrounding the crash.
“That’s karma,” the former N.F.L. safety Lawyer Milloy, who played for Petrino in Atlanta, said Friday. Milloy added, “Just because he knows X’s and O’s doesn’t mean he’s a nice person.”
That sentiment has followed Petrino for much of his career.
In 2003, he was hired at Louisville after spending the previous season as Auburn’s offensive coordinator. During his first season with the Cardinals, he secretly met with Auburn officials about replacing Tommy Tuberville, his former boss. Petrino stayed in Louisville and compiled a 41-9 record over four seasons, including a 12-1 mark in 2006.
Louis Dover, who coaches at Seneca High School in Louisville, perhaps best summed up the feelings many people in football have about Petrino. “As a coach, he’s a genius, he’s one of the elite minds,” Dover said. “Personally, well, he’s a good coach.”
Dover said some of his distaste for Petrino stemmed from his treatment of D. J. Kamer, who played for Petrino at Louisville and for Dover at a previous employer, Waggener High School. Kamer told Dover that Petrino tried to persuade him not to attend a friend’s funeral in which he was a pallbearer.
“He was very disappointed D. J. was going to miss practice to go,” Dover said. “He didn’t say, ‘You can’t go.’ He said, ‘I guess you don’t want to play football here.’ ”
Despite his personal feelings, Dover said he knew of people who swore by Petrino once they got to know him. “If he walked to the door to recruit one of my kids, I’d open it,” Dover said, “because he’s a great football coach.”
In 2007, Petrino was hired to coach the Atlanta Falcons. But when the team was 3-10 and the stigma from the Michael Vick case still hung over the franchise, Petrino accepted the Arkansas job. His sudden departure and abrasive coaching style rankled the Falcons. Petrino notified his players that he was leaving with a four-sentence letter placed in each locker.
Arthur Blank, the Falcons’ owner, said at a news conference in 2007, “I do feel a sense of betrayal, a sense of trust lost, that was just not right given the circumstances.”
Bobby Petrino attended Carroll College in Helena, Mont., where he played football for his father, Bobby Petrino Sr. He played quarterback and also starred in basketball, earning a spot in the college’s athletic hall of fame.
Evin Demirel contributed reporting.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: April 6, 2012
An earlier version of this article contained a photo caption that misidentified the man pictured wearing a black shirt. The man is Taver Johnson, the Arkansas assistant head coach, not Jeff Long, the athletic director.