The historic account of his time at the University of Kansas forever will show that Jeff Long’s first comments as the KU athletic director were about basketball.
But it was not praise for Kansas coach Bill Self, the 14 consecutive Big 12 titles or Long’s future plans or promises for the program that crossed his lips. Instead, the 58-year-old Long on Wednesday made it clear to Self that, while he hopes to bring a lot to the KU athletic department, athletic prowess is not on the list.
“I don't think Coach Self is going to like my vertical jump,” joked Long, referencing a comment made moments earlier by search committee leader Drue Jennings, who said Long checked all the boxes the committee was looking for including “the ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound.” “Coach, I don't think I can help you there.”
On a day when Long made a point of singling out KU’s football problem and discussed football three times as much as he referenced Kansas basketball, there was still time for Long to fit in a comment or two about Self’s program.
“I saw firsthand why Bill Self is such a great recruiter because, I'll be candid, he recruited me here, and I'm proud of that and that meant a lot to me,” Long explained.
Self later sheepishly called that claim “an exaggeration,” saying, “the place recruited him.”
But it was clear during the 20 minutes that Self met with reporters following Long’s introduction that Self was impressed with his new boss’s resume, personality and professionalism almost immediately.
“I had a chance to talk to Jeff a few times throughout the process,” Self said Wednesday. “I think our first conversation was 44 minutes or something like that. He had questions and I had a chance to share with him some things, but you could tell right from the get-go that he was very interested in the position. You could also tell that he was very measured and handled it in a mature, experienced way, which I thought was also very important.”
Throughout Long’s introduction and the question-and-answer session that followed, the former Arkansas AD, who will take over the same role at KU on Aug. 1, expressed his overall philosophy about college athletics and how it relates to student-athletes, coaches, academics and more.
Self said all of that came through crystal clear during his conversations with Long, whom Self said seemed like “a coach’s AD.”
“From my standpoint, the biggest thing would be toughness and loyalty,” said Self when asked what he hoped to learn from his phone conversations with Long during the search. “I really believe that an athletic director, from a coach’s perspective, is (supposed) to do what he just shared — to give you the ability to fight through whatever obstacles you have to be successful. And then, also, to have somebody that believed in you and was loyal to what you were trying to do.”
Whether or how Long fills that role — and many others — during his time at Kansas remains to be seen. But Self was outwardly optimistic that Long’s experience, reputation and approach to the taking on of the challenge would benefit Kansas Athletics during the years ahead.
“The one thing I have found out in my time here was how good this place can be,” said Self, who is entering his 16th season in charge of the KU men’s basketball program. “I thought it was a good place before I got here, and it’s five times better now. And it’s going to be a lot better moving forward. Because of past peoples’ efforts, there are some things in place — facilities, housing, food — that we didn’t have 15 years ago. It doesn’t make (the AD) job easier, but it can (put) the focus on things that bring more success and can carry a department.
“I think this is a great place. And I think our place got better today. I think Jeff will make our place better, and I think people should be very excited about that.”