Jeff Long, Bobby Petrino Did the Nearly Incredible Together 11 Years after Firing

Bobby Petrino, Jeff Long, Arkansas vs Missouri State
photo credit: Missouri State Athletics / Arkansas Athletics

Things didn’t exactly end on the best of notes for Jeff Long and Bobby Petrino the last time they lived in Arkansas together.

In April 2012, Long fired the most successful head coach the Arkansas football program has had in the SEC era for a laundry list of improprieties. At the top of them was having an affair with an athletic department employee he’d hired and then refusing to come clean about it with Jeff Long, the UA’s former athletic director.

The embarrassing saga had all come to head in the wake of the most infamous motorcycle accident in college sports history.

“Coach Petrino engaged in a pattern of misleading and manipulative behavior designed to deceive me and members of the athletic staff, both before and after the motorcycle accident” in rural Madison County, Long announced on April 10, 2012.

As far as the actual misdeeds that led to the firing for cause, here are Long’s handwritten notes describing some of the more serious ones:

About five and a half years later, Long himself was fired by the UA.

He didn’t find nearly as much success in his next AD job at Kansas, and retired after getting let go from there in 2021. For a couple of years, he and his wife Fanny lived in North Carolina to be near his sister-in-law and her family, Long told Paul Gatling for Talk Business & Politics.

Jeff Long Returns to Arkansas

But in June 2023, the Longs decided to move back for a few months to northwest Arkansas to be near their children and expected first grandchild. In the end, though, they decided to return for good. “We raised our children here,” Long recalled. “When we came, Christina was in the third grade, and Stephanie was in the eighth.”

“Fanny and I always had a goal of being somewhere where we could have our children go through high school and have a home, and we were able to do that in Arkansas. ‘Blessed’ is an overused term, but we feel blessed that we were able to do that in the industry that I worked in because it is so volatile and unpredictable.”

Also unpredictable: in the same year that the Longs moved back to northwest Arkansas, Bobby Petrino decided to do the same thing.

Last November, though, that’s what happened when the stars lined up for a nearly incredible coincidence. Petrino came on board after the end of a disappointing 4-win Arkansas football season to take over the Hogs’ offensive coordinator position. So, as Long cycles on the Razorback Greenway a few times a week, Petrino is in the Fred W. Smith, cycling through ideas on various personnel groupings and potential play packages to give Arkansas the best possible chance of shocking the world come August and September.

“I’ve never carried any ill will towards coach Petrino,” Long told Gatling. “Given the past, for him to return to Arkansas says a lot about him that he was willing to take that position. I think he’s an excellent football coach. I remain a fan of the Razorbacks and watch them at every opportunity. I wish them all the best.”

These days, Long stays in the college athletics game himself by consulting with two companies:

  • Trenchcoat Advisors (based in Washington DC)
  • Independent Sports & Entertainment (based in Los Angeles)

“On one side [Trenchcoat], I’m trying to help athletics directors, athletic departments and universities protect themselves,” Long told Talk Business & Politics. “And on the other side [ISE], we’re trying to make some money that they desperately need given the [House v. NCAA] settlement and all the things coming down with student-athletes and potential employment.”

A “What-If” in Arkansas Football History

The Razorback football program that Long cheers on these days has fallen off quite a bit from where it was in 2010-11.

In hindsight, it’s easy to think Long should have kept Petrino around as head coach. No doubt, the Hogs would have won more games than they did in the following years. But some things are more important than wins.

“It wasn’t the right decision from just a moral perspective, it was a business decision that had wide-ranging legal ramifications,” Nate Olson wrote. “It would have been dangerous ground for the school to be on and Long wisely listened to UA’s legal counsel and canned Petrino. The surly coach tromped on the State of Arkansas Employee handbook and lied to his boss. See ya.” 

“At that point, Petrino could have been the next Bear Bryant (He isn’t), and Long couldn’t keep him… But legal logic was lost on starstruck Petrino supporters who only saw the coach as a ticket to more New Year’s bowl games. And many hung on to that sentiment over the next decade as UA football reached new lows.”

Yes, the Razorbacks took the high road in cutting ties with Petrino at that time, and were able to avoid the kind of reputation tarnishing that SMU incurred in the 1980s or that Texas was able to avoid by cutting ties with Chris Beard.

However, Petrino, to his credit, appears to have learned from his mistakes. He’s apologized multiple times for what he did and whom he hurt on the way out. Yes, we give him a hard time for ditching Barry Odom for Texas A&M a couple off-seasons back but for the most part he’s been a straight arrow in his stints at Western Kentucky, Louisville again, Missouri State and Texas A&M.

In the end, it simply made business sense for current athletic director Hunter Yurachek, UA chancellor Charles Robinson and the UA trustees to give the go-ahead in deciding to bring Petrino back.

He’s given the program the kind of jolt it desperately needed and may just make the difference in a few more wins this season, too.

It’s rare to see two men circle back to the same place after being let go by the same athletic department. In a way, the coincidence of these returns is a testament to just how attractive of a place northwest Arkansas really is.

As much as the metro is growing with new and returning residents alike, it’s also still small enough to randomly bump into familiar folks in public. According to those who know, that’s already happened in the case of Long and Petrino.

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