24 Sep

Jeff Long on Cheating, Texas A&M & Scheduling Woe from the Wolverines

Jeff Long

Heading into tonight’s game against No. 10 Texas A&M, Arkansas has excelled in close games since last September — to the oint where ESPN now deems the Hogs as the SEC’s  “Drama Kings.” Arkansas has won five of its last six games decided by eight points or fewer, including three straight overtime contests.

It’s been quite a turnaround from the first 25 months of the Bret Bielema era, when the Razorbacks lost nine straight games by eight points or less. And within that stretch no team has stuck in the side of the Hogs’ program more than the Aggies. In 2014, an unranked Arkansas lost 35-28 in overtime to No. 6 Texas A&M.

Heading into last year’s clash, Texas A&M had slid to No. 14 nationally while Arkansas was still unranked. Rinse and repeat on the heartbreak:  the Hogs led 21-13 late in the fourth quarter but eventually lost in overtime 28-21.

Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long knows this year’s go-around, again in Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, is big. The winner, after all, will be in the front seat to challenge Alabama and LSU for the SEC crown.

Below are excerpts from Long’s recent interview on Sports Talk with Bo Mattingly. We start with Long laying out the advantages of playing this series in the DFW metro as opposed to a home-and-home:

 

Jeff Long: It’s a big win for us to play down there, in many many ways.

First of all, we all know the recruiting that goes on down there. For Arkansas to have that place. We also know how important it is to play in the world’s most fabulous stadium, Dallas Cowboys’ stadium. AT&T Stadium. That’s huge for us. It’s also where we go to recruit students. We get a high number, high level, a high quality students. It’s our second largest alumni body outside the state of Arkansas. There are many many reasons why it’s a big positive for Arkansas.

I think we’re very fortunate to have the long term contract down there because it does allow us to do so many things. So much presence for Arkansas in the state of Texas.

Bo Mattingly: We talked about how big the TCU win was. What’s the importance of this game. What does it do if you win the game? What kind of impact is it beating a Top 10 team in that stadium?

Jeff Long: The focus on Top 10, I get it. To me, it’s just beating an SEC team on a neutral site. Again, huge for us. Huge for the conference rights, but also in the eyes of the college football playoff eventually. When we, hopefully, we’ll get to that point where that’ll matter. Playing that game in a true, neutral site, is a even bigger bonus for us.

Bo Mattingly: Where are you on replacing the Michigan game? What happened there? Did they just call you and be like, “Hey, we’re out.

Jeff Long: We had heard some rumors that they might have something going. Kept waiting to hear from them. Heard from a number of other people first. Finally heard from them. Their deal was already done with Notre Dame by the time they let us know and just informed us that they were going to buy out of the contract, which they have a contractual right to do, but it does leave us in a bind. Struggling is a kind word to say. We’re struggling to fill that opening.

Bo Mattingly: As an athletic director, you’ve been approached about other jobs. Did you get a call on the Florida job?

Jeff Long: I’m not sure why people continue to ask me. The last guy had the job for 50 years. Why do you guys think I’m ready to run out of town?

Bo Mattingly: I didn’t ask if you were leaving, I asked you if they called you. Tom, check the phone records.

Jeff Long: We’ll say it for fans because you already know my answer: I don’t comment on searches of other institutions. That wouldn’t be appropriate.

Bo Mattingly: Why have you decided to stay at Arkansas when you could get interest from others? You could seek interest from others. But you’ve, you’re going on your ninth year here. Some people thought you sold your home and maybe you were leaving.

Jeff Long: Seriously, you all know. Some of you have lived here your whole life. Those who’ve been out to other places, this is a very very special place. Northwest Arkansas. University of Arkansas. The natural beauty. The friendliness of the people. It’s a great place. Plus, you know, I think we build our athletic program into one that can compete against anybody.

I’ve said before too, and I hope people don’t take this the wrong way, we are from a small state. We don’t have all the advantages of some of the larger schools or the more populated schools. We don’t have the alumni base. I’m not well with me. I’d respond better as an underdog than I do as the favorite. I’ve always thought of myself as a fighter. I want to fight with Arkansas to win on the highest level. That can be football, basketball, all of our sports.

Bo Mattingly: … Does it feel better [to] win in Arkansas than in some other places?

Jeff Long: I think it does. I know for personally, it does me. When we beat Alabama or we beat LSU, we beat Ohio State. These other schools that maybe have more resources or more things going for them in some respects, yeah, it means more to me. Like I said, I’m always felt like I was an underdog. Again, I got to be careful how I say that. I think we built a program that is not really an underdog to very many people, but the fact that we’re in a state than less than 3 million people, and our University has just recently grown to 27,000 [students], we don’t have that huge alumni base to draw from. But we’re growing and we’re getting better.

On one hand, I’m really proud that we built a program that I think can stand toe to toe and compete against the perceived big boys, but there’s still a little chip on our shoulders that we want to get it done. When we do get it done at Arkansas, doing it the right way, it’s a little more special.

Interviewer: Do you ever feel like people aren’t doing it the right way? Does it bug you?

Jeff Long: Absolutely does. Absolutely it bothers me. Yeah.

Interviewer:  What do you tell your staff? What do you tell your coaches when they come up and they go, ‘Hey, so and so school doing this. Look at the success’?

Jeff Long: Turn them in. I’m a big believer, if you’ve got information on people cheating let’s not just talking about it. Of course, there are always rumors. Anybody who has a great recruiting year, they “cheated,” right? So I don’t mean that stuff, that’s coffee talk.

But if you’ve got something on someone doing something inappropriate, I want to know. I’m gonna share it and we’re gonna hopefully get it stopped at that institution…

 

The above excerpt has been lightly edited for clarity 

15 Oct

Arkansas AD Jeff Long on coaching search, John L. bankruptcy and playing in-state competition

Some interesting stuff from Arkansas’ athletic director Jeff Long, who spoke at the Little Rock Touchdown Club today.

He came out in true Jeff Long fashion, not so much with guns a-blazing – more like rumor flame extinguishers a-spraying – with stuff like this:

“Somebody shared with me that somewhere I was quoted as saying I was going to make the next head football coach at the University of Arkansas the highest-paid coach in the country. That’s simply not true. That would be an irresponsible statement to make.”

Here’s more of Long’s insight into the coaching search

HOW FAR INTO THE PROCESS OF SELECTING A NEXT HEAD COACH?

“Just research at this point … You know, in our world unlike the business world, you just don’t pick out a candidate and go and get him. We have some unwritten protocols that we file try to follow. They’re getting blurrier in our profession – what’s appropriate and what isn’t. I’m going to try to walk that line and and not invade or intrude upon a coach who’s a season. That’s important that you do it the right way. Certainly, there are a lot of third that are trying to get us information parties that are out there that are trying to get us information about those who are interested in those who might not be. We’ve got to walk a fine line there.”

ON REACTING TO FANS’ SUGGESTIONS FOR NEXT COACH

“Trying to judge who you all think would be a quality candidate is really, really difficult because I’ve gotten letters and e-mails from everything from high school coaches to retired coaches to NFL head coaches, so there’s everything in between”

ON THE WIDTH OF THE NET HE’S CASTING

“Certainly top assistants are not out of the question. I think if you just look around our own conference and you look at some of the schools that have great tradition, have great resources and maybe reside in a state with great recruiting – they could have gone out and chosen a proven head coach, and they ended up with a top notch coordinator. So, I’m certainly not going limit my head coaching search to only current head coaches. There are a lot of offensive coordinators, defensive coordintors, who make that step like a Bob stoops did 10, 12 years ago when he went from a coordinator at Florida to a national championship in two years.”

WHEN WILL YOU DECIDE?

“I’m hopeful that we will have a decision made within a couple weeks after the end of the regular season.”

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21 Sep

John L. Smith is to Red Skelton as Art Briles is to …

Would a salary in the $5+ million range finally lure Baylor’s Art Briles away from Texas?

Who should Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long decide is the best match as head coach for downcast but still fiercely loyal Arkansas fans, for the world-class facilities they have funded and the enduring expectations of a greatness that keeps slipping away?

Arkansas hasn’t won a national title since 1964, and the previous head coach put a mistress before the goal of leading the program to another. There are plenty candidates,  some of whom could find potential openings at Tennessee and Auburn more attractive. Let’s get this out of the way: the next coach shouldn’t be Bobby Petrino again. And it certainly shouldn’t be someone whose demeanor inspires way more comparisons to Red Skelton* than Red Auerbach.

It should be someone who brings these attributes to the table:

1)  Genuinely inspires players – Before the Alabama game, I asked Knile Davis and Cobi Hamilton if they planned to step up in Wilson’ absence. Both said they would – “I have to will this team to victory,” Davis said. “Of course,” Hamilton said. Not just with “playmaking ability but also just being a leader, vocally. Because Tyler was really the guy as far as vocally rallying the troops together and taking charge in the huddle.”

Wilson, of course, called his teammates out after the Alabama game for not playing as hard in the second half. But it’s not the job of Arkansas’ best players to also be its best leaders. The next coach should realize this, and embrace it. Naturally, someone who really cares about his players will also most inspire them. As much as some people are clamoring for a hire of West Virginia’s Dana Holgorsen, his reputation for drunken cavorting should remove him from Long’s final list. Former UNC coach Butch Davis has plenty Arkansas connections attractive to boosters, but I believe his legal entanglement in the wake of a recruiting scandal should – and will – prevent him from landing the job.

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10 Apr

Going All Emperor Commodus On Bobby Petrino’s Legacy

This isn't the role Jeff Long wanted. But he's had to play it during the last five tumultuous days.

UPDATE: Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long made two revelations on Tuesday night that made Petrino’s firing a no-brainer. Still, before those discoveries were made, there would have been much deliberation…

Battered, bloodied, bruised.

Bobby Petrino’s reputation took quite a tumble last week in the tangled aftermath of his motorcycle’s crash 20 miles southeast of Fayetteville. For a few days it looked as if the Sunday wipe-out could actually help raise the tough guy image of Arkansas’ head football coach.

On Tuesday, Petrino showed up at a press conference looking like he had just gotten into a brawl with his entire offensive line. Wearing a neck brace, and likely a little dopey on pain meds, he emphasized it’s still all about creating a winner out there on the spring practice field while sneaking in some banter about avoiding brain damage despite failing to wear a bike helmet. Then, a couple days later, the world was introduced to a 25-year-old University of Arkansas employee named Jessica Dorrell.

And the bottom fell out, and didn’t stop until Tuesday night, when it was announced Petrino’s Arkansas coaching days were over. It was a decision the majority of  Sync magazine voters supported.

Obviously, he damage from this scandal extended far beyond Petrino’s cracked neck vertebra and four broken ribs, far beyond the pain he inflicted on his own wife and four children, or Dorrell’s fiance. It became a public matter on March 28 when Dorrell was hired as student-athlete development coordinator for the football program, moreso when Petrino forgot to tell his boss, Jeff Long, she’d joined him on his Harley-Davidson for a Sunday evening joyride. University policies usually don’t smile on supervisors promoting mistresses. Nor do employers typically take to an employee’s lying.

Long, the athletic director, has determined Petrino’s ultimate fate at Arkansas. He must go. There’s has been much to weigh, and Long will get flak from many Arkansas fans for making this final call. The 51-year-old Petrino has built a complex legacy – has a college head coach ever been forced out on as much of a  high note (as far as on-field success goes)? For every plus Petrino had, there seemed to be a minus. To wit:

A previous version of this column ran in Sync magazine.

04 Nov

Dead Horse A-Twitchin’: Arkansas State’s success breathes new life into old debate, Part 2

 

In Part 1, we rehashed some of the latest attacks on the University of Arkansas’ long-standing policy of not playing other in-state colleges. The main reasons for those seeking to maintain this policy haven’t changed much through the decades, but the lines of argument for changing the policy have evolved.
And Arkansas State’s football success this season adds new weight to some of these arguments.

To start with, let’s cast naivete aside:  No way Arkansas plays Arkansas State simply because it would be fun for fans, or because playing in-state competition would theoretically pour more money into the state government’s coffers, which would benefit all public universities in Arkansas.

Nope, if Jeff Long’s gonna entertain even the slightest sliver of this possibility, he’d better believe the game would help the UA’s athletic program bottom line now and in the future. This fall, he unveiled plans for a shining football palace which is part of a $320 million plan. This project isn’t touted as a luxury, though. Taking a long view, Arkansas’ AD understands that keeping up with the Jones in the SEC means financing expensive stuff to attract the nation’s best coaches, trainers and players.


Could replacing Troy or North Texas with ASU  on the football schedule help the UA achieve this faster?

Without developing additional streams of revenue and fundraising, Arkansas can’t afford to keep up with far bigger SEC rivals like LSU and Alabama.

Arkansas leaves money on the table every time it plays any Sun Belt team not named Arkansas State. Here’s why:

1) Arkansas paid $900,000 to play a Sun Belt team, Troy, earlier this season in a “rent-a-win”, or guarantee game. Meanwhile, in a similar David vs. Goliath type setup, Illinois paid ASU $850,000. It stands to reason that UA would have the financial upper hand in multiple ways if negotiating a contract to play ASU, including the actual guarantee game fee. It’s likely UA possible could get away with paying ASU even less than what Illinois would pay them. Either way, UA could save $50,000 to $100,000 by playing ASU.

2) No matter how good Arkansas or Arkansas State are playing, an early-season match-up between the programs would sell out the 72,000 seats of Fayetteville’s Razorback Stadium, where the game would likely be played every time. If necessary, the stadium’s seating could be expanded to nearly 80,000 and this would be needed for at least the first time the game was played. A solid Sun Belt team like Troy usually brings around 70,000 people but another 10,000 helps the bottom line, especially if each of the tickets are sold for more than usual. Which, for this game, would make sense.
General admission tickets could be sold at an elevated price ($100, as suggested on a local sports talk show) and if UA fans hesitated to pay that amount, ASU fans would certainly make up the difference.

3) At least for the first couple of times the programs played, there would be a veritable trough-ful of licensing and merchandising opportunities for UA athletics to wallow in. Just conjure up a nice “Natural State Showdown” logo involving the helmets or mascots of both programs, then milk that sucker for all its worth through T-shirts, cakes, commemorative videos, calendars, key-chains – whatever you can stamp. There’s no doubt this stuff would fly off the racks for at least the first couple games.

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02 Nov

Dead Horse A-twitchin’: Arkansas State’s success breathes new life into old debate, Part 1

You probably don’t want to look.
That poor horse, dead as doornail, flat on its back in a fog of speculation.

It’s been lying there since 1946, you know – ever since John Barnhill arrived in Fayetteville as Arkansas’ coach and athletic director and instituted a policy of not playing in-state school in any sports.
At the time, the likes of LSU and Alabama were swooping into his state and snatching its best high school players. There was no way to compete with this if Arkansas was fractured into multiple programs of similar size.
Nope, there had to be one program dominating the market,he thought. Let’s cultivate fervent loyalty to stretch into future generations whose best players wouldn’t think twice about declining LSU or Alabama’s overtures to play for their home-state favorites.
Now, why shouldn’t that program be the Arkansas Razorbacks?

Look closely at the horse. It’s been there an awful long time, yet it’s hardly decayed.
Behold! On closer inspection, the damn thing appears to have twitched a time or two.
Impossible. It’s been dead so long, right?

Many Razorbacks fans prefer to roll their eyes when the question of whether Arkansas should play Arkansas State arises. This horse has been beaten a million times, they’ll say, and though plenty reasons have been thrown out as to why Barnhill’s policy has endured through the decades, there’s one common argument used most frequently:

“It’s as simple as this: Win, and no one is impressed because you were supposed to win to begin with”, Hogville poster JamesWParks wrote in 2007.
“Lose, and your [sic] a laughing stock.”

And so it has been for generations. First, longtime UA athletic director Frank Broyles upheld Barnhill’s decree. Since 2008, current UA atheletic director Jeff Long has done the same.

But while the major reasons for keeping the UA from sweating with its in-state brethren have remained the same for decades, reasons to reconsider that policy are evolving. That process, it appears, is speeding up.

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