Some troubling news came out of Moscow on Wednesday as Idaho Vandals head coach Paul Petrino became irate at a local reporter for noting that UI's passing attack was still a work in progress. According to Michael-Shawn Dugar, the reporter in question, Petrino had to be physically restrained as he approached Dugar. He also banned local media from all future Idaho practices.
At the end of Wednesday's practice, Petrino turned to the sideline and asked me and a reporter from the Lewiston Tribune, "Did you guys see enough deep balls today?" He was referring to my story in Wednesday's paper discussing the team's work-in-progress vertical passing attack.
I thought he was being sarcastic, so I responded accordingly.
"A couple," I replied.
"Yeah, there were a bunch," the other reporter answered.
Petrino wasn't just sarcastic; he was very much upset. He went on to immediately ban the media from today's practice, yelling, "If all you're going to write is negative (expletive) then none of you need to be here!"
That wasn't all, of course.
But moments later, Petrino walked up to me and the Tribune reporter just outside the practice field and began to scream in my face, loudly informing us how many deep balls the team completed Wednesday. He then went on to chide us for our inaccurate criticisms of quarterback Matt Linehan and our lack of football knowledge, walking away saying, "You don't even know what the (expletive) you're talking about! Do your (expletive) job!"
Then he turned back and started to move toward me, still angrily shouting expletives about my writing and my professionalism while being physically restrained by one of his assistants, approaching me as if he had plans to do something other than verbally express his concerns.
As Dugar points out in his article, we don't necessarily know if Petrino would've actually come to blows with him or not, but it does raise questions about his professionalism and self-awareness.
According to people who have covered Idaho football in the past, this outburst from Petrino isn't anything new.
Being in that situation long enough to know, I believe every word of this story. Petrino is one angry little man. http://t.co/Iq7sl4ldF3— Troy Warzocha (@TroyWarzocha) August 20, 2015
While I wasn't present at practice yesterday, I've personally experienced behavior like this in the past - http://t.co/9RY5lWkxJe— Sean Kramer (@SKramerWrites) August 20, 2015
Petrino once screamed at me for asking if Chalich taking hits wore him down in games. I asked because Chaloch wasn't allowed to avoid hits— Sean Kramer (@SKramerWrites) August 20, 2015
If you believe Warzocha, Petrino's behavior also appears to be enabled by Idaho's Sports Information Director. His tweet insinuates that she would rather go after reporters than facilitate calm and professional relations between Petrino and the media.
.@MikeDugar You better watch yourself young buck, you might end up getting a stern one-sentence email from everyone's favorite SID.— Troy Warzocha (@TroyWarzocha) August 20, 2015
In addition to the local Idaho media's claims of Petrino's hot-headed nature, there are some nearby residents who have also noticed the coach's temper. Our Washington State blog CougCenter was, well, more than happy to produce GIFs of the many angry moments of Paul Petrino during WSU's drubbing of their nearby rivals.
That game, of course, culminated with the somewhat famous "f--- you" exchange between Petrino and Mike Leach.
Fresno State University head coach Tim DeRuyter also accused Petrino of telling his players to commit late hits on FSU players, including star quarterback Derek Carr, back in 2013.
Here's the reality: Petrino doesn't necessarily need to play nice with local media or with members of the coaching fraternity. Idaho needs someone with a fiery passion for winning and who won't take smack from anyone. But having to be restrained from going after a reporter and looking like a sore loser on live television against a nearby rival crosses the line from passionate to unprofessional. Those incidents also raise questions about his ability to keep his emotions in check when his job requires him to keep a cool head.
His athletic department may be enabling his behavior now, but Petrino would be wise to remember the case of Mark Mangino at Kansas. Despite taking the Jayhawks to an Orange Bowl victory and producing the longest run of success at KU since the 1960's, he was unceremoniously dumped after a soul-crushing 5-7 season. Allegations of player abuse played a role in his dismissal, but arguably the biggest reason (no pun intended) Mangino was let go was because he was considered such a difficult person to deal with by big donors and his athletic director as well as the media. When he stopped winning, he got canned.
Petrino has never come close to reaching Mangino's level of success, as his record in two years at Idaho is 2-21. Nothing is permanent in the coaching business. If Petrino keeps going down his current path, he may find himself with very few friends when his job is truly on the line in a year or two.
UPDATE #1 (5:30 PM CST): Petrino and Idaho athletic director Rob Spear held a press conference to give their side of the events.
Idaho spokesperson says Spear and Petrino will only make statements and will not take any questions.— Dugar, Michael-Shawn (@MikeDugar) August 20, 2015
Rob Spear says "at no point was coach Petrino restrained"— Dugar, Michael-Shawn (@MikeDugar) August 20, 2015
Petrino: "I apologize for my language and looking back, I wish that I had handled it differently."— Dugar, Michael-Shawn (@MikeDugar) August 20, 2015
Petrino: " I never threatened Mr. Dugar and I was never physically restrained from approaching him"— Dugar, Michael-Shawn (@MikeDugar) August 20, 2015
Petrino (continued): "any other characterization of the events yesterday is simply not true."— Dugar, Michael-Shawn (@MikeDugar) August 20, 2015
Idaho spokesperson says fall practices will be "back to normal," starting Friday, meaning they are opened to the public.— Dugar, Michael-Shawn (@MikeDugar) August 20, 2015
Cloaked within the apology is Petrino and Spear openly calling Dugar a liar. Dugar stuck to his guns later Thursday evening.
I will say this about those statements today: I stand by every word of my column. It's 100% accurate. There will be no retraction/apology.— Dugar, Michael-Shawn (@MikeDugar) August 20, 2015
UPDATE #2 (11:30 PM CST): Lewiston Tribune columnist Theo Lawson gave his eyewitness account of the events in question:
Minutes later [after the initial outburst], after an interview with D-line coach Kenny Holmes, Petrino approached us for a more intimate outburst. He stood approximately 3-5 yards away.
Eventually, a member of his staff intervened. While I can't say I recall the staff member tugging at Petrino as if to physically detach him from us, he certainly felt the need to remove Petrino from the situation.
The incident most definitely fell under the category of a verbal attack, though I can't say at any point I expected it to escalate into a physical altercation, nor did I feel threatened by Petrino.
After a few words with the sports information director, both Dugar and I left the facility.
Emphasis mine. Yet regardless of whether Dugar misinterpreted or aggrandized the scope of Petrino's hostile intentions or not, it's still fairly clear that the head coach needs to get his emotions under control.