College football is better off this morning than it was the day before. We don't get to say that very often about the dirtiest sport in the country, do we? A century-old rivalry being broken up is quite often the tidiest news we get to wrangle with, and we've learned to parry just about everything, armed with only punch lines. This sport can make anybody crazy.
The Arkansas Razorbacks had a choice. Keep the slimiest coach in the country in the hopes he can still coach a team of young men to a Sugar Bowl, or do the whole To Advance with Truth as our Leader thing. And Jeff Long, with boosters lined up to cut checks if he'd only look the other way, declared Bobby Petrino is not bigger than the Arkansas program. It takes a lot for an administrator to use the word "student-athlete" and not sound like an undead PR genius from 1917, but Long did it. Even if he did hire Petrino in the first place. Nobody's perfect.
By Thursday, our sport will surely be rolling again in uncharted layers of mud, but let's enjoy this for a day, knock on wood. Somebody at some school made the choice to do the right thing. And avoid expensive lawsuits. And take advantage of a conduct clause to avoid paying a buyout. And steer clear of SEC commissioner Mike Slive's hammer. And prevent being laughed at. But still, the right thing! And not just to duck the NCAA, which has no jurisdiction here! This doesn't happen, not in our sport.
There are victims, and they can't be overlooked. Petrino's, Dorrell's and those of the Razorback players. But they're Petrino's victims, not Long's.
The AD's work has only begun, of course. The obvious lists of potential replacements are coming out, with Skip Holtz (son of a former Razorbacks coach), recently departed offensive coordinator Garrick McGee, Arkansas State coach Gus Malzahn, one-time Arkansas target Brent Venables and fired UNC coach Butch Davis the most frequently mentioned. Former players like Ryan Mallett are already lobbying for McGee, who left for UAB just months ago.
If you think Long is going to display Arkansas' "national reputation" by hiring Davis, who presided over the era's most versatile college football scandal, you might also be holding out hope for Jimmy Johnson to leave Key West for Fayetteville. Maybe you like hoping for things that won't happen, and that's fine.
As always, Phil Fulmer is waiting by a phone. And the standard Houston Nutt joke is also more relevant than ever. Sonny Dykes and Art Briles and Mark Hudspeth and anyone else boasting both an active offense and coaching experience anywhere in the Southeast will stir up chatter. Anyone with anything to do with Jimmy Sexton will be driving something shinier next week, and flight trackers are already locked in on Kirby Smart, Manny Diaz, Chad Morris and other top assistants.
These are all fine. Long has a SEC West gig to sell, and the line will wrap around the block.
But recruiting in the talent-thin state of Arkansas remains a concern -- it's getting harder all the time! -- for the new coach, as does the fact that he'll have a tough act to follow on the field. "He" might be an assumption, as one of Petrino's mistresses may have shrewdly extorted her way into the job already. One mustn't assume.
Then again, the new coach will have upgraded facilities and visibility, thanks in large part to Petrino's two successful years and the SEC West's general ascendance. It's a better job than it was four years ago, and Hogs fans should remember Petrino for that. They should also appreciate Long's placing the integrity of the school and the value of its degrees above what appeared to be a stable future for the football program.
For the first time in a long time, Arkansas has expectations. Liberty Bowls aren't good enough. Hogs fans were right to praise Petrino for elevating the program's stature, and they'd also be right to demand a new coach who can both compete for SEC-quality recruits and, like, not bankroll his own womanizing.
It's not a plug-and-play takeover, as the Razorbacks need a major offensive line upgrade and a lasting defensive infusion and a recruiting plan that can occasionally approach LSU and Texas. Petrino's 21 wins in two years were marks of overachievement, to his credit. The next coach could fail and fail hard. That's the risk you take in doing things properly.
With Petrino both unemployed and promising to become a better human, college football will need a new universal villain of a head coach. It's not as easy as it sounds. Nick Saban's a little too obvious there, and Todd Graham just keeps being replaced by upgrades, like he's just a prophet who clears the way, a coach crying out in the wilderness. Who can get mad at that guy?
Not to worry, as someone will surely present himself as the top candidate any minute now. What is Mike Riley hiding? We're onto you, Mike Riley. No, you're cool.
While we're here, let's watch some college football videos from SB Nation's new YouTube channel together: