Petrino: Contract? What contract?

By Darrell Laurant  |   Thursday, December 13, 2007  |  Comments( 2 )

Atlanta Falcons
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What if San Diego Chargers star LaDainian Tomlinson, despite a long-term contract, were to tell the team owners, "I need to be closer to my family in Texas, so I'm quitting to go play for the Houston Texans"?

Or what if Donovan McNabb just decided one day that he'd like to play for his hometown Chicago Bears?

They couldn't do that, obviously. If you're an NFL player, there are a lot of hoops to jump through when you're tied down by a contract.

So how come coaches can jump ship with apparent impunity? Doesn't the term "contract" mean anything anymore?

A story this week in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution provided some inside information on how Bobby Petrino bailed on the Atlanta Falcons. If it's true, it's deplorable.

According to the article, team owner Arthur Blank called Petrino into his office a few hours before the Monday Night game with New Orleans and asked if he was in it for the long haul. Michael Vick had just been sentenced to 23 months in jail, and it seemed like a pertinent question to ask.

"You've got a football coach," Blank said Petrino told him.

Soon, that will be true. It just won't be Petrino, even though he was signed to a five-year, $24 million contract.

Blank knew that Petrino was shaky, because the University of Arkansas (through Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, an alum) had called asking for permission to talk to Petrino. Blank told Jones no. Then, he asked Petrino for reassurance, and received it.

Tuesday night, after yet another Falcons loss, Petrino was at a press conference announcing himself as the new coach of the Razorbacks.

Why does a different standard apply to coaches and players? If the coach has a bad year and gets fired, his contract has to be honored. If he has a good year and bolts for greener pastures, it's tough luck for the team that hired him.

If technology firms can make new hires sign a pledge that they won't take a job with a competing firm within five years after they leave, why can't football teams demand the same commitment? It's true that Petrino cut and ran to the college ranks, not another NFL team, but it seems the same principal should apply.

When Petrino was hired, nobody knew that Vick was going to wind up in the doghouse and that the Falcons would have to make do with Joey Harrington and Byron Leftwich at quarterback.

But those are the breaks. And what should Petrino's rapid exit from the current Falcon mess have told Arkansas about the sort of coach he would make? Would he have left Fayetteville this year if Darren McFadden had broken his leg?

If any NFL team ever offers Petrino another job, they're crazy. Beyond that, though, there has to be some accountability. People accuse players of being opportunistic and disloyal, but where is their example to the contrary?
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