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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Football Scandal at the University of Arkansas Casts An Unflattering Light on UAB

Garrick McGee

A motorcycle crash on April 1 in the Arkansas countryside provides more evidence of the mismanagement that continues to plague Alabama's largest employer.

What does the crash, which led to the firing Tuesday night of University of Arkansas football coach Bobby Petrino, have to do with the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB)? At first glance, the connection is hard to see. After all, UAB is a small-time player in college football, and it's known mostly for a world-class medical center and its status as the largest employer at one location in Alabama.

Petrino's reputation as an offensive mastermind began to take a hit at about the same time he crashed his Harley--while giving a ride to a blonde, 25-year-old former volleyball player named Jessica Dorrell. After trying to cover up that he had a passenger, Petrino admitted that he'd had an "inappropriate relationship" and had recently hired Dorrell to a fundraising job in the football office.

In the span of 12 days, Petrino went from one of the most high-powered coaches in college football to a state of disgrace. And that is where UAB enters the picture.

Last December, UAB hired former Arkansas offensive coordinator Garrick McGee as its new head football coach. In doing so, UAB conveniently ignored McGee's past brushes with the law--an arrest and guilty plea related to a string of burglaries while he was a student at Arizona State and an arrest and guilty plea related to a drunk-driving incident while he was an assistant coach at Northwestern.

Why was UAB willing to overlook serious red flags in Garrick McGee's background? Well, he was a protege of Bobby Petrino, and that apparently was enough to trump McGee's criminal history.

Now, of course, Petrino's reputation is sullied--and UAB is left with a coach who has a record of questionable behavior covering more than two decades.

Some Birmingham sports journalists labeled McGee a "home run hire" back in December, mainly because of his ties to Petrino. Now, the hire looks more like a "foul ball," at best.

Al.com's Kevin Scarbinsky, in so many words, asked in a recent column, "How could anyone have seen this coming?"

Bobby Petrino and Jessica Dorrell
Actually, it was pretty easy to see this coming. President Carol Garrison, and the other UAB honchos who make six-figure public salaries, have no excuse for not seeing this coming.

McGee's criminal history could be found with a simple Web search. Heck, I easily discovered all sorts of material about the burglary and DUI incidents and reported on them the day McGee's hiring was announced. Athletics Director Brian Mackin, Vice President Richard Margison, or Garrison herself could not have done that?

Alarms also should have been going off, in Arkansas and Alabama, about Petrino. Pat Forde, of Yahoo! Sports, covered Petrino's tenure as head coach at the University of Louisville. In a 2007 column for espn.com, Forde wrote that Petrino was "five for five" in looking at other jobs during every season he had been a head coach. While at Louisville, Petrino had discussions about head coaching jobs with officials from Auburn, Notre Dame, Florida, Mississippi, LSU, and the Oakland Raiders.

Louisville finally signed Petrino to a 10-year contract, and five months later, he broke it to take a job with the Atlanta Falcons. He quit 13 games into his first season with the Falcons and bolted for Arkansas. What does Forde think of Petrino's actions? Well, he calls him the "disingenuous drifter." From the 2007 piece:

The disingenuous drifter doesn't love you or any other fan base. He doesn't love any school or any NFL franchise. He loves himself, his playbook and his bank account.

That's it. Don't expect it to change.

Bobby Petrino will return your embrace, Hog fans. But while he's hugging you he'll be looking over your shoulder, scanning the terrain for his next hook-up.

Even in a profession rife with dishonest posturing, Petrino is singularly mercenary. Loyalty, allegiance, commitment and honesty are foreign concepts to him. It must be a sad existence.

Those weren't the only warning signs about Petrino. We addressed others in a post from last December about McGee's hiring at UAB:

What did McGee actually learn under Petrino about the overall management of a college football program? What kind of program does Petrino tend to run?

A Sports Illustrated/CBS News report from March 2011 provides some troubling answers to that question. The six-month investigation showed that one in 14 players at major-college football programs has been in trouble with the law.

The University of Pittsburgh had the most football players with criminal records, according to the SI/CBS report. What two schools were tied for second? The University of Iowa and . . . the University of Arkansas.

Is Bob Petrino running a program filled with thugs at Arkansas? Substantial evidence suggests the answer might be yes. In his previous college stop, at the University of Louisville, Petrino did not leave that program in great shape. Steve Kragthorpe, who followed Petrino at U of L, said he inherited a program that won on the field but was riddled with academic and disciplinary problems. Kragthorpe had come from the University of Tulsa and was stunned by what he found at Louisville.

As for UAB, it's stuck with a Bobby Petrino protege, and I'm guessing that won't end well. According to some press reports, Arkansas might take a problem off UAB's hands by hiring McGee as its new head coach. Would Arkansas actually replace a disgraced leader with one who has been arrested multiple times? Hey, this is "higher education" and big-time sports . . . anything can happen.

A university administration thinking about hiring Garrick McGee should have a listen to his interview with Birmingham-based, sports-talk host Paul Finebaum. (See video below.) Under unusually gentle questioning from Finebaum, McGee could not get his story straight about the DUI arrest, which happened only five years earlier. Anyone familiar with published reports about the incident could conclude that McGee was horribly confused--or he was flat-out lying to Finebaum.

Here is my guess: Garrick McGee already has brought embarrassment to two universities--Arizona State and Northwestern. I'm guessing he will embarrass a third institution of higher learning someday, whether it's UAB, Arkansas, or "other."

UAB message boards are aflutter with fans who are worried that Arkansas is going to steal their coach. I'd say the Blazers would be lucky if Arkansas takes McGee, and his ties to Bobby Petrino, off their hands.

Here is a key portion of the Finebaum interview with Garrick McGee. If you take a listen, you might find yourself asking, "Is this guy telling the whole story?"

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

UAB knew every bit of McGee's past when they hired him. This article is a lazy and uninformed attempt at investigative journalism. I imagine the author is simply preparing himself for the time when another institution, actually capable of supporting a good coach, comes and takes McGee away from UAB.

This author reminds me of the fat-acne riddled high schooler that can't find a prom date, and when the opportunity arises to go with someone falls through, they find a meager reason to save face.

UAB is lucky to have McGee. With fans like the author, they'll likely run off the best chance they have at winning football in no time.

Good luck with mediocrity.

legalschnauzer said...

The article doesn't say, one way or another, whether UAB knew about McGee's background. If it did, and hired him anyway, it's certainly the university's right to make that decision. It's also the public's right to ask, "Was that a wise decision? What does it take to disqualify someone from being hired for one of the most high-profile positions at UAB?" The key point of the post is this: UAB overlooked McGee's past because of his ties to Bobby Petrino. Those ties don't look so good at the moment, in my view.

Anonymous said...

I believe the color of his skin made UAB look the other way, more so than his connection with Petrino.

legalschnauzer said...

You make an interesting point about race. As I recall, UAB and City of Bham were working on some land swaps related to Railroad Park at the time, and it appeared the city maybe was pushing for a black coach. It's possible that UAB turned toward the city then because I think the UA board had just rejected the on-campus stadium idea. That UAB apparently never seriously considered John Neal, asst from Oregon, is a sign that skin color was a factor. I suspect McGee knows his football stuff and might produce a winner pretty quickly here. If I'm a UAB big dog, though, I'm worried that another misstep--a DUI or some such--could be in McGee's future. As far as a black coach, I wonder why UAB didn't look hard at Rodney Garner, now at UGA. He's a Bham guy, with experience at three big-time SEC schools.

James Greek said...

Roger,

Remember what happened in Auburn a year or so ago with those football players who broke into the trailer. While the resident was on spring break? Well, the resident happens to be a friend of mine.

Also, I wish UAB would break away from the UA system as well as Huntsville and the UA Board of Trustees can focus on UA Tuscaloosa and UAT only. Because that's what they seem to be doing. It's like parents focusing on one child when they have three kids. Hell, a real bear would have been an improvement over Little Bear Bryant! haha.

David said...

Apparently the folks at UAB spent about as much time checking out Garrick McGee as they did Carol Garrison.

Anonymous should know that Legal Schnauzer is uniquely qaulified to write this piece, given his years on the sports desk at the Birmingham Post Herald and as the publication editor at UAB.

James Greek said...

David:

They should have spent more time checking out Ann Reynolds too. Ann Reynolds is the Murphy Brown of College administrators. She couldn't keep a secretary and she was noted for causing uproars. UAB finally let her go and as a result she sued them for sexual harrassment. They now have Carol Garrison and have had her for ten years and they were forced to keep her as a result. In 1997, The other finalist considered for the job is Bernard Machen who is now president of University of Florida.

James Greek said...

As long as Cubby Bryant is on the board they are going to hire a sorry excuse for a football coach. Little Bear is killing UAB's football program to please his late father.

Lilly Lorren said...

And you call it footbal, please he needs help!

jeffrey spruill said...

The disingenuous drifter doesn't love you or any other fan base. He doesn't love any school or any NFL franchise. He loves himself, his playbook and his bank account.

Didn't Forde mean grifter?

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pengobatan said...

I believe the color of his skin made UAB look the other way, more so than his connection with Petrino.

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