Winning at All Costs



UPDATE: Bobby Petrino was fired today (April 10) by the U of A after it was revealed he paid the 25- year old assistant $20,000 in addition to apparently taking advantage of his position and placing himself above the program. I definitely think the University made the right decision and I’m proud of the way Jeff Long handled it. Here’s the video of the press conference & Petrino’s statement.

I normally don’t write blog posts about current events, but two recent stories in the world of college football have caught my attention. Both situations involve a scandal of some sort that was covered up by a head football coach who eventually got caught. The first coach was Joe Paterno of Penn State University; the second being Bobby Petrino from the University of Arkansas. Being a Razorback fan, the Petrino story hits closer to home, but both stories make a similar point.

Scandal Recaps

First, to quickly summarize what happened with both coaches. In a nutshell, Coach Joe Paterno (aka JoePa) was the head coach of the Penn State Nittany Lions for decades. He was very well-respected in the ranks of college athletic as a man of integrity. In late 2011, it came out that Jerry Sandusky, one of his former assistants, had had inappropriate contact with several underage boys in Penn State athletic facilities. Paterno was apparently made aware of the crimes at the time they happened, but failed to do everything in his power to make sure Sandusky was brought to full justice. Once the Penn State board learned those details, they fired JoePa.

Bobby Petrino’s story is still unfolding. The facts so far are that he was in a motorcycle accident, he told the media that he was alone on the bike in a press conference last Tuesday, and then on Thursday the police report from the accident was released stating Petrino wasn’t alone on the bike. The other passenger was a 25-year old female assistant in the athletic department and left the scene of the motorcycle wreck quickly after it happened. A press conference was held by U of A Athletic Director Jeff Long on Thursday night in which he shared a press release from Petrino stating he wasn’t alone and admitted to having an affair. Petrino has been put on paid administrative leave pending an investigation by the U of A and Arkansas police.

The Cost of Winning

What has really stood out to me in both of these situations is the reactions that some fans have had after the scandal was exposed. In both instances, fans have spoken out in support of the coaches justifying their view by saying, “They were hired to win football games, not to be Mr. Morality. Just look at what they’ve done for our school’s football program.”

While that is a true statement, these fans must also realize the implications of a morally compromised leader. At lunch yesterday, one of my roommates pointed out that if a coach like Petrino is left in leadership, how can he now go to a player that is arrested for DUI or something else and kick him off the team when Petrino was not only caught lying to his boss, but also in an affair. If that student-athlete was given a scholarship (aka “hired”) to help win football games, but commits a moral wrong (DUI, drug possession, academic dishonesty, etc), how is he any different than his coach?

The real question that these two scandals raise is this: “At what cost are we willing to win?” Is a university willing to have a coach that can win games and raise money knowing that he could be potentially lying to his superiors and has a damaged character? Or should the school take a risk and fire the coach in question, taking the moral high ground with the possibility of not winning as many games next season?

Penn State decided to go with the latter option. What was the reaction? Students and fans took to the streets in protest of the firing, leading to riots. Razorback fans have also organized a march in support of Petrino, though his future at the U of A is still pending. The final decision that Jeff Long and the U of A make regarding Petrino will reveal a lot about what they care more about: winning games or promoting character.

(What are your thoughts on the Paterno and Petrino situations? Did Penn State make the right choice? How should the U of A handle Petrino’s dishonesty? Share your thoughts in the Comments Section below.)

A Lesson for Leaders

Like Paterno, Petrino, and their respective Universities, we each face the same question: “What is more important to me: succeeding or integrity?” If given the opportunity to get a raise or pass a test if you have to cover up something, would you take it? Or would you be content to stay at your pay level or do poorly on a test you didn’t study for if it means you can maintain your character? How you respond to this question reveals a lot about who you are as an individual. My hope is that you would realize that, in the grand scheme of things, money will come and go, one bad grade doesn’t really matter, and an athletic victory will be quickly forgotten, but a good reputation takes a lifetime to build and minutes to destroy. Choose integrity.

Learn It. Love It. Live It.

[image credit: Jeremy Brooks on Flickr]


About Lawson Hembree
Lawson is an entrepreneur, ministry leader, and outdoors enthusiast who also enjoys blogging about business, ideas, and theology. Want to continue the discussion or write a guest post? Let's Connect!

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