HELENA, Mont. -- Bobby Petrino, speaking for the first time since being fired in April by the University of Arkansas following a motorcycle accident and subsequent revelation of an affair with a woman who worked for him, said he wakes up each morning wondering why he did what he did.
Breaking down several times during an interview with ESPN near his childhood home where his parents still reside, Petrino opened up about the fallout from his relationship with a 25-year-old former Arkansas athlete he hired into the football office.
The former coach was emotional while discussing a conversation with his parents, Robert and Patricia.
"How could I put what we had in jeopardy?" Petrino said. "This is what I wake up early every morning thinking about, what I lay in bed thinking about. Why?"
He added, with tears in his eyes, "I just don't understand how I could do it. You put energy into the people that love you, that count on you."
Petrino lost $21 million in potential earnings and what he called his "dream job." But worse, Petrino said, was having put the relationship with his wife and children in jeopardy. The hardest moment, he said, was sitting down with his wife, Becky, and admitting he had been unfaithful.
"Looking at the look in her eyes," Petrino said. "How I could possibly do something like this, to hurt her? The anger. The feeling of, 'How could you possibly do this to me?'"
He then told his four children.
"It's hard for them to understand how I could do this, how I could hurt their mother," he said.
Jessica Dorrell, the former volleyball player-turned-football recruiting organizer who is half Petrino's age, was on the back of that motorcycle, the one Petrino put into a ditch alongside an Arkansas road. It was early on a Sunday evening in April and Petrino lost control -- of the bike and his life.
"I've gone over it a number of times in my mind," Petrino said. "How did I end up off the road? I'm still not exactly sure. I don't know how I ended up in that ditch."
Petrino said that in the moments after the crash, he knew his world would eventually come crashing down on him and that sooner or later he would be forced to admit his sins.
"I had an affair," Petrino said. "I cheated on my wife. I knew there were consequences that were going to happen. I knew that I had this facing me. That I had to tell my wife, I had to tell my boss."
Petrino said that all along he intended to tell his wife and Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long. Petrino said at first he was too injured and incoherent to do so. He said he intended to tell them three days after the crash, but Long sent Petrino a text that morning to say he was leaving town for a while.
Petrino said he thought he would talk to the two Friday morning but that a police report listing Dorrell as a passenger was released a day earlier than he had been told, forcing him to have a conversation with Long by phone. He also briefed his wife shortly before Dorrell's name became public.
"I really wanted to do it in the right order and in person, but the timeline just got away," he said.
Petrino said a university-issued statement that cited no other individuals involved in the crash was crafted by the school after consultation with his agents.
"I had nothing to do with that statement," he said.
On all other accounts, Petrino accepted responsibility. For example, he did not dispute how wrong it was to recommend Dorrell be hired into his office -- over scores of other applicants -- when they had been in a relationship.
"There is no justification," Petrino said. "There is no excuse for having her in the interview pool, hiring her, having her on the back of the motorcycle. I look back on it and there is no good answer. I wasn't thinking and I wasn't acting correctly.
"That's not how I was raised. That's not how I raised my children. I take responsibility for it and I am really sorry. I have played it over and over in my head a million times. How could I do this? How could this happen? And not just the hiring. Or that day. But my actions, my behavior -- for months it was just wrong."
Petrino said he and Becky are in counseling.
"I'm working hard to save my marriage," he said. "I'm working one day at a time. I want to stay married. That's my main priority right now. Making things right with my family."
Petrino said that time to think has also led him to believe he would approach certain aspects of coaching differently, given the opportunity.
"I've made mistakes and I'm going to be a better person for it," he said. "I'm going to keep my life in better balance. And I really feel I'll be a better coach because this happened, because now I know that I'm going to coach the person as much as the player and help the person who has made mistakes, help him understand that he is not going to be defined by the mistakes he has made but how he reacts to it and overcomes it."
Petrino said he regretted not being able to say goodbye to his Arkansas players. In a phone call, running back Knile Davis told Petrino, "Don't be so hard on yourself."
Petrino became emotional when relaying this conversation. Portrayed at times as unfeeling, he now appears more capable of expressing emotion, sometimes at unpredictable moments.
"I never got a chance to apologize to the team," he said. "I never got a chance to tell them how sorry I am. I broke one of our cardinal rules, which was to know the difference between right and wrong and to choose to do what's right."
Petrino is not naïve to the perception that he has been disloyal and untrustworthy in his previous jobs. He covertly interviewed for the Auburn job while still the coach at Louisville and he left the NFL's Falcons for the Arkansas job in 2007 before his first season in Atlanta was complete.
But while Petrino might point to extenuating or unknown circumstances in those situations, he did not when it came to how his Arkansas tenure ended.
"It's hard for me to say what other people think of me," Petrino said. "I do know that the Atlanta and Louisville situations are completely different than this. I was at Arkansas for four years and I felt like I was going to finish my career there. This one is all on me. This is something that I did. I made the mistakes and unfortunately I have to be able to live with the consequences."
Those consequences include not coaching a Razorbacks team considered a legitimate national championship contender entering this season. Arkansas was 21-5 over the past two seasons.
"It's going to be really hard this fall," Petrino said. "It's going to be a really painful reminder of the consequences for my actions when I have to watch the Razorbacks play on TV, the guys I recruited and helped develop. Instead of standing on the sideline with them, I'm going to be sitting on the living room couch, watching them. And I just can't believe I screwed up so bad."
During a portion of the interview on the field at Carroll College, where his father coached and where he played quarterback and began his own coaching career, Petrino said it has occurred to him that while he might attend a few college games this season -- not likely at Arkansas -- he won't be on any field during games.
"I'm going to miss so much about it," he said. "The preparation. The camaraderie. The chemistry that you try to build as a team. Watching the players smile. And the look in their eyes when they do well. It's going to be really tough, really different."
Petrino has a proven record as a head coach, playcaller, quarterback developer and offensive mastermind. He has won 74 percent of his games as a college head coach, a better showing than Nick Saban, Les Miles, Steve Spurrier and Mack Brown.
Petrino's offense was among the top three in the SEC in each of the past three years. And his offense at Louisville was among the top 10 in the nation for four consecutive years. And yet he said he understands that there are no guarantees he'll ever get to run another program.
Does he need to coach again? "I think I do," he said.
Does he think he'll ever coach in a high-profile situation again? "I don't know that right now," he said.
Since being dismissed by Arkansas, schools such as Cal and NFL teams such as the Tennessee Titans have asked him to visit with their coaching staffs. He has done so and might continue.
Petrino won't coach this season but he said he hopes someone gives him at least one more chance.
"I would like to be able to explain the mistakes that I made," he said. "I think I've got to take this one day at a time, continue to improve as a person and as a husband. I'm also going to continue to work on football. And I just hope and pray that I get that opportunity again."