- LONG: Trying on big shoes.
While politicians cry for change in Washington, change has already come to Fayetteville. A new University of Arkansas chancellor took office July 1, a new athletic director six months earlier. It will be awhile before most people make up their minds about the new chancellor. Judgment of the new AD starts the end of this month.
Jeff Long is the successor to Frank Broyles, and in the world of University of Arkansas athletics that's like succeeding Babe Ruth. Nobody, probably not Long himself, expects he'll match Broyles' accomplishments. The hope is he can come reasonably close. Long's first big assignment, about as big an assignment as a UA athletic director ever gets, was to hire a new football coach. He hired a big name, Bobby Petrino, away from an NFL team. So far, so good. The accomplishment, the coach and the AD will look better or worse after the Razorbacks play their first game, Aug. 30 against Western Illinois.
For what it's worth, Long seems chipper, undaunted by the challenges of his job. And young. At 48 he's not really a kid, but he's 35 years younger than his predecessor — who still has an office, and who is still raising money for Razorback athletics. Long says he doesn't feel Broyles looking over his shoulder — “He's been nothing but supportive of me.” (He's not in a position to be otherwise, really. Because of age and declining influence with UA decision-makers, and a “What have you done for me lately” attitude among some fans, Broyles was forced into retirement. With the sometime exception of Bill Clinton, he had been for years the most criticized man in Arkansas. Long probably could accept similar criticism if he has similar success and enjoys similar long-term job security.)
Long grew up in Ohio and came to UA from the University of Pittsburgh, but this is not his first venture into the South. He's held jobs at Oklahoma, Kentucky, North Carolina and Rice, among other institutions.
UA is considerably smaller than many of the schools in the Southeastern Conference. Asked if the Razorbacks can realistically expect to compete with bigger and richer schools year in and year out. Long said:
“We're always going to have to do more with less resources, less money. But the size of the student body doesn't really affect us in competition, and it may be an advantage. We can offer all the courses that the other schools do, but we have a smaller campus and smaller classrooms. That appeals to a lot of people. There's no reason we can't compete at the top level of the SEC year in and year out. And when you can do that, you can compete at the top level nationally.”
He's been busy. Besides the usual out-with-the-old, in-with-the-new personnel changes that a new department head makes, he's hired two other head coaches — in track and volleyball — and has overseen a reorganization of the Athletic Department. Once divided into men's and women's divisions, with separate athletic directors, the department is now unified. All the athletes are Razorbacks; there are no more Ladybacks. Former Chancellor John White had decided on the merger before he hired Long, but left the details to the new AD. Asked about Title IX, the federal law requiring equal athletic opportunity for women, Long said “It's had a positive impact from my point of view.” Broyles was skeptical of Title IX.
Long has learned the questions that must be handled especially carefully, such as “Do you plan to move all the Razorback football games to Fayetteville?”
“We have a contract with War Memorial Stadium through 2014,” he said. “We'll play two games at Little Rock some seasons, and three games some seasons until then.” As to whether the contract might be renewed, and on what terms, “I haven't really studied that yet.”