When Bobby Petrino walked out on the Falcons to coach Arkansas in 2007, he did so in a fashion that had his players feeling betrayed. It turns out that the circumstances that led to his departure from Arkansas this week involved betraying one of the players on that Falcons team as well.
Petrino was fired because, among other things, he hired a woman he had an affair with, Jessica Dorrell, for the position of player development coordinator for the Arkansas football program. Dorrell was fast-tracked for the job and was the first person interviewed even though she wasn’t qualified for it, and she ultimately was chosen over the second person interviewed: Ben Wilkerson, who played for Petrino on the Falcons in 2007. It’s now clear that Wilkerson’s interview was a sham designed to hide the fact that Petrino’s sole objective in the hiring process was to get his mistress a job.
Sports Illustrated has detailed the bogus job search that Arkansas conducted prior to hiring Dorrell, and there’s no way to look at it and not conclude that Petrino wasted Wilkerson’s time with an interview because he wanted to make it look like Arkansas was considering other applicants. Wilkerson was obviously more qualified than Dorrell for the job, but Wilkerson didn’t have the advantage of sleeping with Petrino.
One of the “minimum qualifications” for the player development coordinator position was “two years of prior experience within a football program.” Dorrell had no experience within a football program at all. Wilkerson was a four-year starter at LSU, a first-team All-American on a team that won the national championship, and an NFL player who went back to LSU and worked with the football program after his playing career ended. Another qualification listed for the position was “master’s degree in related field.” Dorrell does not have a master’s degree in a related field; Wilkerson has a master’s degree in sports management from LSU.
Wilkerson wasn’t the only applicant who got passed over; 159 people applied for the job and the Sports Illustrated investigation found that many were obviously more qualified than Dorrell. The third person Arkansas claimed was a finalist for the job that Dorrell was going to get all along, a woman named Tiffany Fields, was significantly more qualified than Dorrell as well. Fields has two master’s degrees from Arkansas and has previously worked for the football program as a tutor, and she has also helped Arkansas organize summer football camps, which is one of the player development coordinator’s duties.
After Wilkerson was passed over at Arkansas he accepted a job as Grambling’s offensive line coach, and he said this week that he doesn’t want to talk about the experience of interviewing at Arkansas.
“I’m ready to just go on,” he said. “Of course I interviewed for the position, but I’d rather not discuss it because of the whole thing . . . I’m starting a new job now and that’s my focal point.”
When Petrino left the Falcons, he was described by others in the locker room as “classless” and “a gutless bastard.” Wilkerson is taking the high road publicly, but privately he could be forgiven if he has even stronger words than that for Petrino.