Jeff Long has been fired as athletic director of the University of Arkansas.
He’ll be leaving, perhaps for a job at the NCAA, at least in some continuing interim service in the committee that oversees the college football playoffs. He could qualify for a payout of in the neighborhood of $5 million on a contract that runs through June 30,
His last contract amendment set university pay at $750,000, with additional amounts from private sources and the possibility of merit raises. In one of several contract amendments over the years, then-Chancellor David Gearhart said Long would get $1 million a year should his employment be terminated.
I’m attempting to get firm details on the sum of the payout and how much, if any, is paid by the Razorback Foundation and how much by UA.
Long’s departure doesn’t immediately address football coach Bret Bielema’s future, but it is safe to conclude it’s related. Bielema said on a conference call with SEC football coaches this morning that he had no first-hand information about Long. He said he was just preparing for the Mississippi State game Saturday. He also said Long had been “awesome” as a boss.
Long’s tenure began Jan. 1, 2008. He’ll leave behind a stadium expansion worth more than $200 million, counting interest charges, and many other concrete and steel additions to his department, though the stadium project was at the root of some unhappiness on the Board of Trustees. Long came from Pitt and during his tenure at UA chaired the College Football Playoff selection committee. He still serves on the committee and will continue to do so this year, it was announced after his firing.
Chancellor Joseph Steinmetz, who said Long’s contract through mid-2022 would be honored, is quoted:
“The decision to change leadership in our Athletics Department is not an easy one, and was made after great deliberation, discussion and thought, after consultation with the Board of Trustees and President Bobbitt,” said Steinmetz. “Since coming to Fayetteville in 2008, Jeff has led our department with character and integrity and helped move us forward in so many ways. However, over the past year, Jeff has lost the support of many of our fans, alumni, key supporters, and members of the university leadership, support that I believe is critical in our pursuit of excellence. I want to thank Jeff for his commitment and service to our University and to the State of Arkansas and, on behalf of the Razorback Family, I want to wish Jeff and his family all of the best in the future.”
Julie Peoples, currently Associate Vice Chancellor for Athletics and Senior Athletics Director, will serve as interim athletic director while a search for a permanent director is in progress. A search committee will be formed.
The news release made no mention of football coach Bret Bielema.
The first job is choosing a new athletic director. It’s safe to assume Steinmetz has been at work on that already. I don’t have names to offer, but I think candidates almost certainly will include people with Arkansas background of some description (for example, a former Arkansas athletic department official is now
The UA Board’s push to make a change helped Steinmetz, relatively new to the job. Without its backing, he might have been reluctant to act even if he strongly wishes a change. He comes from Ohio State, where mediocrity in athletics, particularly football, isn’t long tolerated. The Board had issues other than football, including an unsuccessful pick as women’s basketball coach and some unhappiness over men’s basketball, too, though Mike Anderson seems off to a good start this year
Nobody is commenting to press. But basketball coach Mike Anderson met reporters to talk about basketball this afternoon and was asked about Long’s firing. He said: “A tremendous thanks to Jeff Long for allowing me to come be the coach at Arkansas. It’s hard for me to wrap my mind around what’s transpired today.”
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette wrote this morning on a Long-related topic but missed the point in a long discussion about ideas from Long for War Memorial Stadium renovations. I think his pitch was more about ending Hog games in Little Rock than a realistic pitch for millions in stadium improvements.
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette today reported in great detail on a
I had reported, and the D-G confirmed, that Athletic Director Long made one-by-one visits not long ago to members of the University of Arkansas Board of Trustees to lay out the reasons — millions of dollars worth of them — that the Razorbacks should no longer play football at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock, including the game scheduled next fall.
As I reported earlier, Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who’s taken on War Memorial as a project, resisted. He has indicated, my sources say, that he could come up with some money for immediate needs at the stadium to wire it for SEC football broadcasts. The D-G article lays out some $10 million in improvements that Long said War Memorial needed, but I’ve been told some key work could be done for $3 million or so. Even the full amount won’t make the stadium competitive with the larger and private suite-endowed Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville for net revenue.
Members of the UA Board have told me the governor’s objections reversed Long’s headlong course to abandon Little Rock, at least in the short term. Realistically, the long-term is dim no matter what upgrades are made given the size and revenue-producing potential of the Fayetteville stadium and the inability to match them in Little Rock. There’s also the shift in the balance of financial power to Northwest Arkansas. The bigshots prefer to attend games closer to home, on campus, the preferred football venue for all other major colleges in the U.S. Little Rock was a big deal to the Delta planters who once contributed so much to Razorback financial support. Times have changed
But now on to other, more immediate dim futures:
The D-G news article and bare references in the sports pages failed to touch on the big news at UA and it wasn’t about where the Hogs play football, though that issue definitely contributed to Jeff Long’s problem with some members of the UA Board. People who make a living counting noses on political votes had told me for more than a week that, even if the Hogs play a game in Little Rock next year (and that’s fixed now), there would be a different head coach on the sideline and a different person in the press box seat reserved for the athletic director.
That was the message delivered at the private University of Arkansas Board of Trustees meeting last Thursday with Chancellor Joseph Steinmetz, as a silent Jeff Long sat outside. Steinmetz, as he once reportedly explained to the AD some months ago, ranks higher on the campus organizational chart than even the man in charge of a $100-million departmental budget.
The UA Board didn’t act publicly. This was so that the decision could be seen as left to the campus chief, Steinmetz. I wrote last Friday that the time and manner of Long’s departure would come and it would be determined by Steinmetz.
This arrangement also allowed time for Long to make arrangements for the future. Five years of mediocre football are at the core of Board unhappiness with Long, but not the only issue. He’s been faulted by various trustees on other coach selections, on high-handed spending, the stadium project and general arrogance.
Long’s departure will now provide a final answer on what his contract might provide, though it remains cloudy at this writing. As I wrote earlier, reading his various contracts and amendments together, it appears he’s guaranteed about $1 million a year for each year remaining on his contract, if terminated for “convenience” of the university. His contract runs through June 30, 2022, about four months short of five years. termination kicks in the
Should Long’s departure lead to an upheaval on the football coaching staff, there’s at least another $5 million or so
This 2015 agreement further clarified Long’s deal with the university.
Fans haven’t been happy. A Facebook page was started calling for Long’s ouster, along with Bielema. Signs popped up in Fort Smith (below) and elsewhere.