Friday, July 6, 2018

Tom Keegan: A report card on Jeff Long’s past football hires

In this Dec. 5, 2012, file photo, Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long, left, presents Bret Bielema with a cap as Bielema is introduced as the school's new head coach during an NCAA college football news conference in Fayetteville, Ark. Kansas named Long its new A.D. on July 5, 2018.  (AP Photo/April L. Brown, File)

In this Dec. 5, 2012, file photo, Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long, left, presents Bret Bielema with a cap as Bielema is introduced as the school's new head coach during an NCAA college football news conference in Fayetteville, Ark. Kansas named Long its new A.D. on July 5, 2018. (AP Photo/April L. Brown, File)


Fundraising, facilities upgrades, running a department in a cost-efficient, classy manner, compliance, hiring coaches in non-revenue sports, those all are important aspects of any athletic director’s job.

But in the end, the way most ADs are remembered is by the performance of the football coaches they hire.

New Kansas athletic director Jeff Long has made three football hires and one interim hire during his 15 years as an athletic director at University of Pittsburgh and Arkansas.

A look at how each went of those hires went for the universities:

Dave Wannstedt (42-31): Long brought the former Chicago Bears and Miami Dolphins head coach back to his alma mater to replace Walt Harris.

Things got off to a shaky start for Wannstedt, whose team did not make it to a bowl game in his first three seasons. Once the majority of the roster was filled with his recruits, the program took off, just after Long had left for Arkansas. Wannstedt rattled off consecutive records of 9-4 and 10-3, generating a great deal of enthusiasm for the 2010 season.

If Long had still been on the job, there is no knowing how long Wannstedt would have stayed or how well the Panthers would have done. He might still be there today, going to bowl games every year.

Long’s successor, Steve Pederson, clashed with the former NFL coach and leapt at his first chance to fire him, letting him go after a 7-5 record and didn’t let him coach the bowl game Pitt won.

Wannstedt, who had heavily recruited local talent, had the Pitt program humming and his firing was difficult to attribute to anything but a personality clash with the AD. Grade: B

Bobby Petrino (34-17): Petrino was purring along like an A+ hire, bringing Arkansas to a level of success it hadn’t experienced in roughly a quarter of a century.

The program steadily grew under his leadership. The Hogs went 5-7, 8-5, 10-3, 11-2 and then it all came crashing down.


Six Aprils ago, Petrino’s motorcycle crashed on an Arkansas highway. When the coach discovered that a police report was going to come out that would reveal that a former All-SEC volleyball player had been riding with him, Petrino amended his original lie that he had been riding alone. Not only that, he revealed that he had been involved in an ongoing extramarital affair with the young woman, then 26, who was working for the football program.

Long conducted an investigation, the outcome of which was Petrino’s firing.

A case could be made that Long should have known he was dealing with a shady character because Petrino left the Atlanta Falcons with three games remaining in the season to take the Arkansas job. OK, but how about giving Long credit for pouncing on a terrific candidate before anyone else had a chance? It sure looked like a great hire until Petrino wasn’t able to control his desires. Then again, perhaps at the time Petrino considered the young woman to be his soulmate, in which case of course, all is forgiven. Not really. It cost him his job. Grade: B

Interim John L. Smith (4-8): Smith served as special teams coach for Petrino and then left to become head coach at his alma mater, Weber State. Then after Petrino lost control of his motorcycle, among other things, Smith returned to Arkansas, four months after he left, to become interim head coach.

The thinking must have been that Petrino had the program in great shape, so the best place to turn for at least a year was to someone who once was Petrino’s boss and then was assistant. It flopped badly and Smith was not retained. Grade: F

Bret Bielema (29-34): The proper formula for judging a hire in any sport requires putting absolutely no weight on winning or losing the press conference and a whole lot of weight on winning or losing football games.

Woo, pig sooie, were those fans excited that Long was able to steal Bret Bielema from Wisconsin, where unbeknownst to many in Arkansas the football coach’s relationship with AD Barry Alvarez had soured.

“None of you will know how excited I am to stand here before you today to introduce the next head football coach at the University of Arkansas,” Long said near the beginning of Bielema’s introductory press conference.

The numbers Bielema rattled off made it easy to see why he felt that way. In seven years at Wisconsin, Bielema coached his team to five New Years’ Day bowl games, including three Rose Bowls, and had won two Big Ten titles.

Not only that, Bielema grew up on a pig farm.

End of the perfect fit. Beginning of a bad hire badly compounded by an unnecessary extension that ultimately led to Long’s firing at Arkansas.

The signature bad-fit sign for Bielema came in the aftermath of Texas Tech’s 35-24 victory in Fayetteville over the Hogs early in the 2015 season.

Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury didn’t hold back in blasting Bielema: “At the Texas High School Coaches Convention this summer he stood up and said if you don’t play with a fullback, we’ll kick your (behind). If you throw the ball 70 times, we’ll kick your (behind).’ He just got his (behind) kicked twice in a row and probably next week by A&M; as well, so that did feel good.”

Losing the game and getting blasted by the opposing coach wasn’t the primary problem. Mocking the preferred offense of the majority of Texas high school football coaches was the issue. Arkansas is only as good as its Texas recruits.

Bielema had a 10-15 record two seasons into the job and thus had no leverage when Long rewarded him with a two-year contract extension, which led to Arkansas eventually paying Bielema $11.395 million to leave town a couple of weeks after Long was fired.

At the time of the firing, Arkansas chancellor Joe Steinmetz wrote that Long, over his final year on the job, “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. Grade: F

Now Long, who could have stayed at home and been paid $1 million a year from Arkansas through 2022, resets his career at $1.5 million per year.

His connections will come in handy in keeping Kansas in the know on conference-realignment issues. His administrative skills should enable the department to run efficiently.

And if he is able to identify the right fit for Kansas football, once that vacancy is created, money that’s been on the sidelines, waiting to be spent when football shows signs of life, will come pouring in.

Making the right hire is required for that to happen.

Call me an eternal optimist — you always do — but I have a feeling Long and KU are going to get it right this time.


David Robinett 2 years ago

I would not score Bielima at Arkansas an F. Despite the last season long was successful in attracting a coach who had won Big 10 titles.

David Robinett 2 years ago

In fact, I would call it a B. You could make a case that Pitt was a B+ since they were on the verge of nine and 10 win seasons. You could also call Petrino an A, with an asterisk.

Randy Bombardier 2 years ago

Tom, I appreciate what you do but I'm going to grade your grading. Sorry, but I'm going to have to give you a D.

Bill Kackley 2 years ago

Tom, the last thing I would call you is an optimist.

Bryson Stricker 2 years ago

I think Jeff Long is a great hire.

I think the average grades of Tom’s hires is a D.

I think Tom is an idiot.

Bryan Mohr 2 years ago

If a 29-34 Bielema, and 4-8 Smith get an F in the SEC West, I have no concept of a grading scale for Beaty, Weis, and Gill. Bielema is a C. Smith is a D. Long will bring in a good coach. Nowhere to go but up from 3-33.

Brett McCabe 2 years ago

I like this hire more each day, and I agree with others that the grading, especially on Bielema, is harsh. The renewal and the original hire have to be separated, and 29-34 is not a failing grade, under any curve, especially the SEC West which would actually lift the grade and not lower it.

To steal from a poster on an earlier string, "in Dru I trust". I would expect that the renewal for Bielema was discussed in depth during the interview. It seems logical that there must have been a compelling reason for Long to make that move - something we are unaware of.

Aaron Paisley 2 years ago

So finishing in last place in 3 of 5 years in the SEC West isn't a complete failure? Ignore the record and look at where Arkansas actually finished among its competitors. 7th, 7th, t-3rd, t-5th, 7th. Atthe end of his first recruiting cycle when Arkansas should've been building upon their 8-5 and 3rd place finish, Bielema and Arkansas regressed significantly.

Dane Pratt 2 years ago

Sounds like you're saying you would have been disappointed if KU had not hired Bielema had the opportunity presented itself. That would have put you in extremely rare company.

Aaron Paisley 2 years ago

Had KU hired Bielema away from Wisconsin in 2013, I would've been excited. That's not the current reality though. The current reality is the Bret Bielema is not that coach anymore. Zenger got crucified here for extending Veaty after two last place finishes. Jeff Long did the same thing with Bielema. Bielema got an extension after finishing last in the SEC west in his first two seasons.

I don't want to hear anything about hindsight because hindsight says there was something wrong with Jeff Long's ability to evaluate head coach candidates.

Brett McCabe 2 years ago

Not even remotely close to the same thing. Beaty has one P5 win in his entire coaching resume. Don't try to compare Beaty to anyone other than the worst coaches in football history, because that's exactly where he is right now.

Aaron Paisley 2 years ago

Just because Bielema didn't fail to level that Beaty has failed, doesn't mean that Bielema didn't fail pretty miserably at Arkansas because he did. The situations are comparable no matter how much you don't want them to be.

Brett McCabe 2 years ago

I'd take Bielema tomorrow as our coach. He went to multiple New Year's Day bowls at Wisconsin and I believe he could make us a winner. His record at Bucky is just as valid as the one at Arkansas. He's won. He knows how to win. He's been humbled. I think he'd be great for our program.

Dane Pratt 2 years ago

I would take his 29-34 record with 3 bowls in 5 seasons in a heartbeat.

Aaron Paisley 2 years ago

So you would take Bret Bielema right now. Let me ask you this question from a PR standpoint. You know your new boss was fired from his previous job. He comes to his new job and announces he is going to hire the guy at his new job that got him fired from his previous job. Does that really sound like something that's going to over well when trying to convince people to give you hundreds of millions of dollars for a massive renovation project?

Brett McCabe 2 years ago

I never said that I think it will happen, or that the fan base would respond to it. I just said that I'd be happy to have him. And I'd donate. And I'd renew my now cancelled season tickets.

Dane Pratt 2 years ago

I don’t think Jeff Long is the best AD but he might very well be the best AD we can hire. Who else was available and would be willing to accept the position without throwing a boat load of money at him?

Aaron Paisley 2 years ago

KU did throw a boatload of money at Long. He's the second highest paid AD in the B12 now. $1.5 mil/year could've gotten someone who wasn't recently fired for the same reasons Zenger was fired.

Dane Pratt 2 years ago

Like who? And please don't say Joe Parker.

Len Shaffer 2 years ago

Who says we DIDN'T through a boatload of money at Long??? The money KU will be paying Long will make him one of the highest-paid ADs in the country.

That being said, I'm not positive or negative about the hire at the moment. It's for me to get too excited about anything these days when it comes to KU football, so I'm taking a wait-and-see attitude.

Len Shaffer 2 years ago

Aaron, I guess great minds think alike, LOL.

Brett McCabe 2 years ago

One way to gauge whether you've made a good move is to check the reaction of your competitors. Kevin Kietzman (Tom, you deserve a raise for being willing to speak with that buffoon on the radio each week) spent the past two days complaining about how much Long is being paid. Not about whether he's a good get, but about the terms of his contract. As if that matters in any way.

Kietzman's rantings suggest that he's scared, bewildered, concerned and is trying to make sense of the fact that KU is going to get a real coach and real program just as Grandpa Bill retires.

Long's hiring history looks very strong and the best predictor of the near future is the recent past. Notably, his big three hires were all big personalities, guys with big reputations and proven excellence in coaching. Compare that with Gill, Weis and Beaty. So, if you are a fan of The Pirate or Les Miles then you've got to like your chances.

Hiring at KU won't be as easy as Arkansas or Pitt, and that's the point. We needed a guy like Long to make a big move in football. I'm looking forward to the press conference on Wednesday.

Robert Brock 2 years ago

KU has had very little success in football EVER. It will be fascinating to see if Long can breathe some life into this sorry football program.

John Fitzgerald 2 years ago

Long’s next football coach hire will be the most important of his job. People have mentioned he’s friends with Les Miles but I find it hard to believe Miles would want anything to do with this program. I’ve also heard people say he could hire Bielema. While Bielema did a great job at Wisconsin he failed miserably at Arkansas. And I can’t imagine he’d treat Kansas any better. Either way I’ll be curious how long he keeps Beaty around. We need a guy with Mangino’s mind set. Just listen to my podcast with him. The guy knew what he was doing.

Dane Pratt 2 years ago

Good analysis but I would take exception with the grading. If you’re going to give Long a B for hiring Petrino then Al Bohl’s hiring of Mangino would have to be below a B, certainly no higher.

Waylon Cook 2 years ago

Tom really knows football, he went to Marquette.

Dane Pratt 2 years ago

Unless there is something in Jeff Long’s background that raises a red flag in terms academic improprieties, recruiting violations or NCAA violations that have led to sanctions I’m totally okay with this hire. We are after all the school that fired who is arguably the most successful coach in its history and subsequently hired three coaches who in eight seasons have won a total of 15 games, six of which were against D2 teams and have managed to come in last place all but one year. I’ll take his football hiring prowess over our predecessors any day of the week.

Joe Ross 2 years ago

RE: "A case could be made that Long should have known he was dealing with a shady character because Petrino left the Atlanta Falcons with three games remaining in the season to take the Arkansas job. OK, but how about giving Long credit for pouncing on a terrific candidate before anyone else had a chance? It sure looked like a great hire until Petrino wasn’t able to control his desires. Then again, perhaps at the time Petrino considered the young woman to be his soulmate, in which case of course, all is forgiven. Not really. It cost him his job."

I VEHEMENTLY disagree that one can project ANYTHING about one's propensity towards an inappropriate sexual relationship using the fact that he left a job under inauspicious circumstances as a basis. HOW CAN ANYBODY EVEN SUGGEST THAT!?!?!? I mean REALLY! HOW? There is a whole lot of cynicism that must be read into the situation to be able to construe such a connection. As said elsewhere, there might have been something which could have been distilled from his leaving the Falcons early--like maybe he would bolt on your program, too--but AN INAPPROPRIATE SEXUAL RELATIONSHIP???

Well guess what. As it turns out, Petrino DIDN'T bolt on Arkansas in the manner which he did the Falcons, which leaves us pondering the obvious: the relationship could not have been foreseen. Does this have to be explained?

REALLY, Tom...

Aaron Paisley 2 years ago

The way Petrino left the Falcons may not have been a red light to his cheating on his wife, but it did strongly indicate someone who's character was not the highest and that any other low character moves that followed shouldn't have been a surprise to anyone.

Blake Brown 2 years ago

A close friend and former Razorback who lives in NW Arkansas and is a box season ticket holder tells me the football record over the last 5 years is the worst in Arkansas history. Not a good testament to upgrading the #10 team in the league that would be #12 if the Big Xll had 12 teams.

Dane Pratt 2 years ago

I think your friend might be overstating things. Arkansas went 38-51-2 from 1990 to 1997, which is worse than Bielema who went to three bowl games and lays claim to two of Arkansas’s 15 bowl wins. They have yet to win a conference title since joining the SEC. They have a good football program but by no means a great one.

Brad Watson 2 years ago

The decision has been lets all get behind Mr. Long....Good luck sir and WELCOME!.....Now...get on the phone and call Gene Chizik....and be ready to bring him in right away....he needs a opportunity to get back into coaching...and we need someone of his ilk to restore a belief and bring toughness and enthusiasm that we all need ..... players...... coaches...administrators ....alumni and fans!....Again welcome to Lawrence Jeff and Good Luck to you!

Brad Watson 2 years ago

I've never been a big fan of Mr. Keegan....but I think he is a good writer and his article on the basketball back in March was award winning and I am sure that having a beer with him and talking sports would be enjoyable and I could educate him on many things about KU that he doesn't know.

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