FAYETTEVILLE — Oh, Bobby.
How else to describe the fall of former Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino?
Yes, Arkansas, all of it — motorcycles, mistresses and smiles — really happened in 2012.
It was a year that won’t be soon forgotten among the Razorbacks faithful, though not for the reasons they had hoped following a Cotton Bowl win over Kansas State in January. That win capped a remarkable 21-5 two-season stretch for Arkansas under Petrino, who finally appeared on his way to rebuilding his tarnished reputation following a mid-season exit from the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons in 2007.
That progress came to a crashing halt following Petrino’s April 1 motorcycle accident about 20 miles southeast of Fayetteville.
The cause of Petrino’s accident was of little consequence initially compared to concern over his well-being. He appeared days later battered and bruised — returning to spring practice as the welcomed ruler of all things Razorbacks.
His welcome didn’t last long.
Days following Petrino’s neck brace-bound news conference, after which he said he was alone during the crash, a state police accident report was released that contradicted the coach. The married father of four, the report said, had in fact not been alone.
Rather, he had been riding with 25-year-old athletic department employee and former Razorbacks volleyball player Jessica Dorrell. The revelation was the first of many that followed over the next few weeks, including Petrino’s "inappropriate relationship" with Dorrell as well as the fact he had hired her over other qualified candidates.
An emotional Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long fired Petrino a week later, scathingly dressing down the coach for hiring his mistress and initially misleading Long about an affair that had crossed the line from infidelity into workplace favoritism.
"He made the decision, a conscious decision, to mislead the public ... and in doing so negatively and adversely affected the reputation of the University of Arkansas and our football program," Long said. "In short, coach Petrino engaged in a pattern of misleading and manipulative behavior designed to deceive me and members of the athletic staff, both before and after the motorcycle accident."
Petrino’s firing trigged a sequence of information released by the university, detailing thousands of text messages and phone calls between Petrino and his mistress leading up to and following the motorcycle crash. That was just the tip of the scandal, which rivaled any daily television drama and kept Petrino out of a job until he finally landed back in the college game at Western Kentucky this month.
"All I have been able to think about is the number of people I’ve let down by making selfish decisions," Petrino said after his firing. "I chose to engage in an improper relationship. I also made several poor decisions following the end of that relationship and in the aftermath of the accident. I accept full responsibility for what has happened."
Arkansas moved on in the form of interim coach John L. Smith, but the former Michigan State and Louisville coach’s tenure opened with an auspicious beginning — in the form of a summer admission of his pending bankruptcy — and things didn’t improve from there.
The Razorbacks, who began the season ranked in the top 10, suffered a stunning September loss to Sun Belt Conference member Louisiana-Monroe and never fully recovered. Quarterback Tyler Wilson did his best to rally the team following a 52-0 loss to No. 1 Alabama, calling out his teammates for their lack of passion, but even the senior’s plea couldn’t halt the collapse.
Arkansas finished the season 4-8, missing a bowl game for the first time since 2008, and Long announced after a season-ending loss to LSU that the personable Smith — who will long be remembered for imploring media members to "smile" after the loss to the Crimson Tide — wouldn’t return for a second go-around.
Long eventually found his long-term answer for a head coach in former Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema, signing the 42-year-old to a five-year, $3.2 million annual contract. The signing was heralded across the country, and the scandal-weary Arkansas fan base praised Bielema — who it is counting on to bring stability back to a program in disarray.
The Razorbacks weren’t the only FBS program to make headlines in 2012.
Arkansas State, led by quarterback Ryan Aplin’s second-straight Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year performance, earned its second straight conference title under first-year coach Gus Malzahn.
However, like his predecessor, Hugh Freeze, Malzahn bolted from the Red Wolves after one season for a job in the Southeastern Conference. Freeze left a year earlier for Mississippi, while the Arkansas native Malzahn returned to become the head coach at Auburn, where he helped lead the Tigers to the national championship two seasons ago as offensive coordinator.
Arkansas State did its best to regroup following Malzahn’s sudden departure, hiring former Texas co-coordinator Bryan Harsin as it prepares for its second straight GoDaddy.com Bowl game. Red Wolves athletic director Terry Mohajir was hopeful Harsin would stabilize a program now on its third coach since parting with former coach Steve Roberts in 2010.
While football dominated discussions across the state in 2012, a pair of women’s teams in the state made headlines of their own. Both the Arkansas and Arkansas-Little Rock women earned NCAA tournament berths, the second straight for the Trojans and coach Joe Foley.
The Arkansas men, meanwhile, missed out on the NCAA tournament for the fourth straight season — the first under coach Mike Anderson. The Razorbacks started quickly under Anderson but they lost nine of their final 12 games to finish 18-14, a mark Anderson is hopeful of improving on his second time around in Fayetteville.
At Oaklawn Park, Bodemeister pulled away for a convincing 9 ½-length victory at the Arkansas Derby. The 3-year-old, trained by Bob Baffert, held off second-place finisher Secret Circle, who had already won the Southwest Stakes and Rebel Stakes.
In high school football, Fayetteville defeated Bentonville to win its second straight Class 7A state championship — led by five members of the Associated Press Super Team, including quarterback Austin Allen. The championship was the third since 2007 for coach Daryl Patton and the Bulldogs, who narrowly finished atop the Arkansas Associated Press poll ahead of Class 6A champion Greenwood.