Because of those ties, Crowe said Wednesday it made him “very sad” when the axe fell on Petrino following the revelation of personal indiscretions that cost him his coaching job at Arkansas.
It also changed the prevailing sub-plot of that season opener from one of a former coach returning to play against his old team — Crowe coached the Razorbacks from 1990 to 1992 — to something of greater interest for the home team.
“It’s going to put a little bit more drama to the event,” Crowe said. “I don’t have a crystal ball, but you just asking the question means people who understand the dynamic of all this realize it’s going to create more drama around the game.
“Instead of it being an FBS Top 10 (team) against an FCS, let’s stroll out here and see what happens, it’s who’s this new coach, how does he coach, what’s it going to look like after Bobby, how are they going to take this projected first-round draft pick (quarterback Tyler Wilson) and integrate him into the program.
“There’s going to be more drama around this game. I don’t mean negative drama, just a serious look at what’s going to happen around that.”
Petrino was fired Tuesday night following an internal review of an April 1 motorcycle accident that left the coach with multiple injuries. The inquiry revealed details of an clandestine relationship between the coach and the former Arkansas volleyball player half his age he hired for his administrative staff and what athletics director Jeff Long called “a pattern of misleading and manipulative behavior” designed to deceive him and members of the athletic staff.
Petrino issued a lengthy apology, and Crowe said the coach “took all responsibility” when the two spoke recently.
“That’s his side; the other side I didn’t have personal contact with,” Crowe said. “But I think any university has got to protect their brand. If something is going to hurt the brand of the university, they have to do something about it.
“This went beyond Bobby as a football coach, beyond his personal life. It went to the value of the University of Arkansas, you don’t have to say football, you don’t have to say athletics.”
Petrino was 34-17 with the Razorbacks, 21-5 the last two seasons. As far as coaching goes, Crowe said Petrino “may be the best play caller in college football in the last 15 to 20 years” and believes “he will survive this” to coach again.
The Gamecocks are scheduled to open their 2012 season against the Razorbacks Sept. 1 in a half-million-dollar pay game in Fayetteville.
They were looking for two $500,000 games to help them defray the costs on their newly renovated stadium. Crowe sought out Petrino and the ex-Razorbacks coach used his influence to get it done. JSU had previously scheduled Florida for its regular-season finalé. Crowe called the schedule his team is about to face “the toughest anybody in the history of the OVC” may have played.
“Bobby Petrino and my relationship is the only reason we’re playing Arkansas,” Crowe said. “Bobby made considerable personal effort … to be able to play this game. That’s how I’m affected by this (change).
“The guy I wanted to go play and felt was part of accomplishing something for Jacksonville State is not there anymore.”
Assistant head coach Taver Johnson will lead the program through spring practice, which ends with the spring game April 21.
It won’t be the first time JSU has opened the season against an BCS team with a new coach. In 2008, the Gamecocks played Georgia Tech in Paul Johnson’s first game with the Yellow Jackets. That contract was made with former coach Chan Gailey, another of Crowe’s coaching friends.
Crowe agreed “it doesn’t help us” not knowing in advance the offensive and defensive schemes a new Arkansas coaching staff will employ. But how the change may impact his team’s outlook on the game, Crowe said he wants the players to concentration on the task at hand.
“We just need to go block and tackle,” he said.
“Keep it in the context of a football game and players making plays.”
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.