Originally published September 1, 2010 at 12:00a.m., updated September 1, 2010 at 09:16a.m.
Grandparents tend only to see the good in their offspring’s offspring, yet for Kansas University offensive coordinator Chuck Long, one day 28 Septembers ago even his grandmother couldn’t think of anything more encouraging to tell him than to suggest quitting.
Long can laugh now about a messy-in-every way college starting debut in his red-shirt freshman season in 1982.
Legendary Iowa football coach Hayden Fry inherited a program that had 17 consecutive losing seasons, a number that grew to 19 when Fry turned it around in 1981 with an 8-4 record, the biggest victory a 10-7 upset of Nebraska in Iowa City.
Looking back, Long called that “Hayden Fry’s signature win to get Iowa off and running.”
The next season, Long’s collegiate debut came against the revenge-driven Cornhuskers in Lincoln. The Huskers had Long’s current boss, Turner Gill, at quarterback.
Long said it was 110 degrees on the field and “you could see waves of heat,” coming off of the Astroturf.
“I thought I needed a lot of energy for that game so I ate everything in the pregame meal,” he said. “I ate everything in sight, just to store up some food and some energy to get me through that hot day. Middle of the fourth quarter, we’re getting beat, 42-7, Nebraska’s pounding us pretty good. I’ve been sacked a bunch of times. I’ve been hit all over the place and I call timeout because I’m not so well.”
Long said Fry always wore white shoes and white pants on the sidelines, “kind of a good-luck outfit.”
“I call timeout and he’s upset with me,” Long said. “He wants to get the clock rolling. I go over there and throw up all over his white pants and all over his shoes and he benched me right on the spot: ‘Get out. Go sit the bench.’ I often tell quarterbacks that story. Hey, nowhere to go but up.”
Gill rushed for 40 yards and threw for 144 yards and two touchdowns. Long had negative-yardage rushing totals, threw for 31 yards and was sacked three times.
Oh well, at least Long’s family was on hand for the debut to support him.
“I came out and my grandmother said, ‘Hey, Chuck, you don’t have to play this game anymore. You don’t have to do this.’ I said, ‘Hey, Gram, this is only my first game.’ They were all so upset they didn’t want me to play anymore,” Long said, laughing.
No fool, Fry forgave the guy who went on to become the best quarterback in Iowa history, throwing 22 consecutive completions in one game and six touchdowns in another as a junior and finishing second to Bo Jackson in the Heisman Trophy balloting as a senior.
Unlike Long, KU redshirt sophomore Kale Pick won’t be facing one of the nation’s top teams when he makes his first college start. He’ll face Division I-AA foe North Dakota State. Still, with Georgia Tech on the schedule in Week 2, Pick has the potential to suffer growing pains early and he won’t have to look far to know things can get a great deal better.
Long remembers when he was young, but he can’t claim to have experience coaching so much youth.
“Probably as young as I’ve been with in my years of coaching in overall experience on the offensive side,” Long said.