Bobby Petrino, Cathy Samford, and the Pettit dinner table
We had a fairly strange week last week. Two big national news items dominated the talking time around the Pettit dinner table. One was the messy firing of the head football coach at the University of Arkansas; Bobby Petrino. The other was the equally unfortunate dismissal of a high school volleyball coach and science teacher at Heritage Christian Academy in Rockwall, Texas; Cathy Samford. How did these seemingly unrelated and distant events collude to interrupt our family’s peace? Our son, Austin, is a freshman at the University of Arkansas and a huge football fan. Our daughter, Haley, is a freshman at Heritage Christian Academy in Rockwall, Texas and played volleyball for Cathy Samford.
Bobby Petrino was a winning coach at Arkansas. I took our son, Evan, up to Fayetteville in the fall of 2011 for Homecoming to watch the Razorbacks defeat a very good University of South Carolina team. The campus was covered in Razorback Red. Tents and tailgaters were everywhere. I had never been to a Southeastern Conference football game before but everything I had heard about these popular events proved true. Some of the male students dressed in suit and tie. Since it was Homecoming the entire city was packed with alumni travelling in from around the southeastern parts of the United States. We attended a Campus Crusade for Christ picnic before the game and the environment was electric as the clock ticked down toward kickoff. The Hogs won that game and many more as they ended the season 11-2, their only losses coming at the hands of LSU and Alabama…the two teams that ended up playing for the National Championship. Arkansas football was back and the promise for Coach Petrino and the 2012 season was sky high.
Then, word came out on Easter Sunday that coach Petrino, had wrecked his Harley-Davidson on a country road in Crosses, Arkansas. But, he soon appeared at a press conference wearing a neck brace, bandaged and bloodied, yet telling everyone he was thankful to be alive and that no one else was involved in the accident. A local reporter even specifically asked, “You were alone, right Bobby?” To which the coach sheepishly responded, “Yeah.” Except by now the whole world knows that Petrino was indeed not alone, but had 25 year old Jessica Dorrell riding on the back seat. She was the tall, blonde volleyball player Petrino selected out of 159 applicants for the job of Student Athlete Development Coordinator, bypassing several highly qualified candidates who had much more football experience than Dorrell. Why? We now know that Dorrell was involved in an “inappropriate relationship” with her supervisor, Coach Petrino. A sad, sordid affair indeed.
We were wondering how our son, Austin, was taking the news since many on the University of Arkansas campus were saying that morals didn’t matter…what really mattered was football wins and losses. We were pleased to hear that while Austin was still a strong Bobby Petrino supporter and knew that a brilliant football mind would be moving on he also recognized that “character counts” when working with student-athletes. Austin texted, “I’m going to miss coach Petrino, but I guess if you’ll cheat on your wife, you’ll cheat on your team.” Austin was a successful quarterback and defensive end in high school and a pitcher and first-basemen on his baseball team. Over time he’s learned the valuable lessons of honesty and teamwork…lessons Coach Petrino is painfully still learning.
Like Coach Petrino, Coach Cathy Samford was also dismissed from her coaching position. As a divorced, single mother of two young children, Samford was hired to coach volleyball and teach science to high school and middle school students. Samford and the Heritage Christian Academy girls volley ball team had a successful season…advancing to the regional round of the state playoffs. However, toward the end of the volleyball season, Samford became pregnant without ever having re-married, violating the morals clause in her teaching and coaching contract.
She was dismissed from the team and the school. Unlike Coach Petrino, who walked away from the remaining $17 million dollars on his contract, Coach Samford kept her children enrolled at the school and demanded she be paid for the remainder of the school year. After a failed attempt at private mediation, Samford and her lawyers went to the public and took their grievance to Dallas-area media outlets. Samford was portrayed as a young lady who “happened” to get pregnant. No mention was ever made of a boyfriend, her previous marriage and divorce, or her two other children. Heritage Christian Academy was portrayed as a cruel school that had kicked their coach to the curb.
At the Pettit dinner table we tried to emphasize God’s grace in the life of these two coaches. God’s grace intervened in the life of coach Petrino. Since the wreck he has asked for forgiveness from those he has hurt and says he wants to rebuild the trust in his family with his wife and four children. He also says he wants to coach again…and hopefully the life lessons he is learning will be passed down to the young men and women he teaches. This week Cathy Samford delivered a healthy baby boy…highlighting God’s continuing grace in her life. Above all, both of these stories caused us to look at our own lives. In what ways are we violating “moral clauses” in our own walks with God? I’m afraid if my own failures, which are many, were broadcast on the evening news I would be tempted to quit my job and move to a far country. And yet…God reminds us that, “His mercies are new every morning.” Yes, there ARE consequences to our actions…sometimes serious consequences that we cannot repair. There is a tension in these two truths. We do hold high standards for our teachers and coaches as they greatly influence those they tutor. On some occasions workers are dismissed from jobs for violating signed contracts. At the same time we should love, forgive, and assist those who see their own shortcomings as we surely desire others to forgive us when we fall short.
22 Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.