Within the past two weeks, the Southeastern Conference had two high profile coaches – Tennessee women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt and Arkansas football coach Bobby Petrino – leave their respective programs. Although both coaches were among the best in their professions in terms of wins and losses, the legacies they leave behind couldn’t be more different.
Summitt’s success among women’s coaches is unparalleled; in 2009, The Sporting News listed the 50 greatest coaches of all time, and Summitt – the only female – ranked 11th on that list.
With a career record of 1,098 – 208, she won more games than any coach in NCAA history. She won eight national titles, second to only John Wooden’s 10 among hoops coaches, and 16 SEC titles. I could go on, but you get the picture.
Petrino was among the NCAA’s winningest coaches, posting a 75-26 record between Louisville and Arkansas. In 2006, he took Louisville – yes, Louisville – to the Orange Bowl with a 12-1 record.
The last two seasons in Fayetteville, Petrino took the Razorbacks to back-to-back double-digit win seasons with consecutive appearances in the Cotton and Sugar Bowls. Only one Arkansas team had even won 10 games since 1989. Not only did Petrino win, but he was regarded as an offensive genius and his teams were fun to watch.
So, both coaches had major success, but that’s where the paths diverge.
Summit’s off-court record couldn’t have been finer. She won several awards for character and leadership. Since she started coaching in 1974, every single player who went to UT for four years, graduated! Even her fiercest rivals, like Vanderbilt coach Melanie Balcomb, spoke with the utmost respect for her. Her career was without hint of scandal.
How does Petrino compare? Beyond a high winning percentage, the two don’t have much in common. Petrino, a husband and a father of four, was fired because he lied to his bosses and covered up the fact that his mistress was on the back of the motorcycle he crashed last month – the same mistress he’d just hired from a pool of 159 people for a position inside the athletic department and gave a $20,000 “hiring bonus.”
Petrino also had some sort relationship with another woman who wasn’t his wife. Though the exact details of the relationship are unclear, she happened to be a 26 year-old bikini model.
Petrino’s dishonesty should surprise nobody. While coaching the Atlanta Falcons in 2007, rumors popped up that Arkansas coveted Petrino for its coaching vacancy. Petrino promised Falcons owner Arthur Blank that he was staying in Atlanta. The next day, he was gone.
Petrino had also flirted with an open position at Auburn while coaching at Louisville in 2003. Incidentally, he lied about that as well. The next year, he talked with Ole Miss, Notre Dame and Florida during the season, too. Shortly thereafter, he signed a contract extension with Louisville – and then interviewed at LSU five days later.
As for graduation rates, John and Tracy Beckham, the adoptive parents of last year’s No. 1 recruit in America, Dorial Green-Beckham, cited Petrino’s mediocre record with them as a reason their son did not sign with Arkansas in February. Mrs. Beckham also had concerns about Petrino’s integrity, making reference to the way Petrino left the Falcons.
College kids are very impressionable, and a huge part of a coach’s job should be to prepare his or her athletes to live responsibly and with integrity. But many of those players didn’t come from homes like Green-Beckham’s, where he had loving, intelligent, involved parents. Therefore, the relationships they have with coaches are too often their clearest window into how the world of adulthood works..
Both Summitt and Petrino undoubtedly signed a number of players who lacked other mature adult guidance. It’s not hard to make a guess as to which coaches’ players were better prepared for life after college athletics.
Legendary sportswriter Grantland Rice once penned these words: For when the One Great Scorer comes to write against your name, He marks-not that you won or lost– but how you played the game.” If Rice is right, only one of these two should be remembered as a great coach.