Former Arkansas football coach Bobby Petrino tried to sidestep University of Arkansas guidelines to quickly hire his mistress, Jessica Dorrell, as the team's player development coordinator, according to documents obtained by SI.com. The documents show that Petrino sought a waiver to circumvent a university affirmative action policy requiring that the job be posted for at least 30 days before interviews could commence. Dorrell's first interview was scheduled even before the waiver was granted by the university's Office of Equal Opportunity and Compliance.
According to the documents, obtained via a Freedom of Information request, the job listing for a player development coordinator to serve the football program was posted on March 4. Five days later, Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long pushed along a request from Petrino and sent a memo to Danielle Wood, the school's assistant director of affirmative action, asking if interviews for the position could begin even though the job had been listed for just five days, not the required 30. "We feel that flexibility is needed," Long wrote.
Records show that on March 12, Carrie DeBriyn, the human resources manager for Arkansas athletics, e-mailed the university's Office of Equal Opportunity and Compliance to ask that the hiring process be expedited at Petrino's behest. The e-mail said, "Coach Petrino would like to request to interview early due to needing a Player Development Coordinator as quickly as possible." Without filling the position quickly, DeBriyn wrote, "we could potentially make a recruiting error with NCAA rules and regulations." At 10:44 a.m. that same day, approval was granted to interview candidates. According to records, however, Dorrell's interviews had already been scheduled and were set to begin at 9:30 that same morning.
Dr. Fritz Polite, sports management professor at Tennessee and director of the Institute for Leadership, Ethics & Diversity, said that Arkansas's haste in brushing aside affirmative action hiring procedures shows that "the power lies with the coach to sidestep rules ... simply because he's winning."
Long, who declined to comment for this story, said in a press conference to announce Petrino's firing on Tuesday that "Coach Petrino's relationship with Ms. Dorrell gave her an unfair and undisclosed advantage for a position on Coach Petrino's football staff ... and Coach Petrino himself participated in the review and selection process without disclosing his relationship with her and that constitutes a conflict of interest under university policy." (Petrino has said that he will not appeal his firing, nor seek any part of an $18 million buyout that was in his contract.)
At 6:45 p.m. on Sunday, April 1, Petrino crashed his motorcycle on a highway near the University. Petrino initially claimed that he was riding alone, but subsequently admitted that Dorrell was his passenger and that he was having an inappropriate relationship with the 25-year-old. (Dorrell has been placed on paid leave by Arkansas.)
According to Arkansas' job posting for the football development coordinator, one of the "minimum qualifications" for the position was "two years of prior experience within a football program." Among coordinator's responsibilities are staying up to date with eligibility requirements for high school football players, including those who visit the Arkansas campus, and maintaining strong relations with high school football coaches. Although not expressly stated, the position is clearly designed for someone with a football background.
From 159 applicants, three finalists were identified: Ben Wilkerson, Tiffany Fields and Dorrell. According to the resumes they submitted to Arkansas, Wilkerson and Fields had football backgrounds. Dorrell's resume did not mention football.
The job description also listed "master's degree in related field" as a preferred qualification. Again, Dorrell was the only finalist not to meet that standard.
According to his resume, Wilkerson completed a master's degree in sports management at LSU in August 2011. He also had the most extensive football background. Wilkerson was a four-year starter at offensive line at LSU, from 2001 to '04. He was part of the school's 2004 national championship team and was named a first-team All-America. He went on to play for the Cincinnati Bengals in 2005 and '06, and for the Atlanta Falcons in 2007 and '08. Petrino was Atlanta's head coach in '07. At the time he applied for the Arkansas job, Wilkerson was an intern with the LSU football program. Wilkerson, who joined Grambling State as offensive line coach this month, did not want to comment specifically on the Arkansas situation. "I'm ready to just go on," he told SI.com. "Of course I interviewed for the position, but I'd rather not discuss it because of the whole thing ... I'm starting a new job now and that's my focal point."
Polite says he is disappointed that Wilkerson, who is African-American, was apparently the runner-up in an unfair process. There is "a lack of representation of African-American males in player development positions ... hiring is often not based on merit."
Fields, the third finalist, has two master's degrees from Arkansas, one in communication and one in education, and is currently a law school student at the law school. She worked as a tutor at Arkansas for student athletes, and since '09 had been an Arkansas recruiting assistant and helped organize summer football camps -- which is one of the player development coordinator's duties -- recruiting visits, and team travel. Petrino is listed among Fields's references.
Dorrell's resume, unlike the other two, makes no specific mention of the job requirements, but does mention other traits, like "fundraising skills" that are not part of the Arkansas job listing. At the time of her application, according to her resume, the former All-SEC volleyball player was working as the assistant director for women's athletics at the Razorback Foundation, and before that worked as a graduate assistant in the athletic department.
According to the records, Dorrell met with director of football operations Mark Robinson at 9:30 a.m. on March 12. After a second meeting at 10:15 a.m. with members of the football staff, Dorrell met with Petrino at 11. Her final meeting was at 1:30 p.m. with Jason Shumaker, director of high school relations, and Kevin Peoples, defensive tackles coach.
Wilkerson flew in from Baton Rouge and was interviewed on March 13 beginning at 8 a.m. with his last interview starting at 1:15 p.m. Fields, however, was scheduled for just an hour of interviews: a 10:30 a.m. meeting with Robinson, an 11 a.m. with Petrino, and an 11:30 a.m. with the football team's recruiting and video coordinators.
On March 19, Long requested a "variance to the affirmative action hiring process" (requiring the job to be posted for at least 30 days) from Wood, the assistant director of affirmative action, so that a candidate could be hired immediately. "Any delay could result in missing a critical recruiting period," Long wrote in the memo. Included with the request is a letter from Petrino, in which he writes that Fields and Wilkerson did not have enough appropriate experience, and that Dorrell "had the best experience and we felt like she would be the best fit for this position."
Despite being the only candidate with no experience in football, Dorrell's "interview feedback" notes identify her as having "the most overall experience of building relationships that the football program is looking for." The following day, Dorrell received -- and signed -- an offer letter from Long listing a salary of $55,735, as well as four complimentary tickets to home football games and two complimentary tickets to home games in every other sport.