Even with serious matters such as the appeal over the NCAA’s recent Silvio De Sousa ruling and the fast-approaching start of Les Miles’ first run with spring football at Kansas, first-year KU Athletic Director Jeff Long is still finding time to connect with KU’s student-athletes in the ways he enjoys the most.
From attending games and events to surprise visits to practices, Long seems to be most in his element when he’s able to connect with KU athletes from all across campus.
Two of the best examples of this came this week alone, when Long roared into the postgame celebration with one KU team and showed up at another’s mid-week practice to deliver his own version of the old pat on the back.
Monday night, after KU’s wild overtime victory at TCU, Long made his way to the Jayhawks’ locker room in Fort Worth, Texas, and immediately sought out sophomore K.J. Lawson, whose shot with 25 seconds to play sent the game to OT and second big bucket midway through overtime put Kansas ahead for good.
What followed appeared to catch most of the KU players by surprise, including Lawson, who was at the center of Long's celebration.
Later in the week, on Wednesday afternoon, Long dropped by the KU swimming and diving practice to personally congratulate KU’s water warriors for setting a KU athletic department record with a 3.70 team GPA for the fall semester.
That mark, which broke the old record of 3.69 set by the women’s cross country team in 2016, helped deliver an even bigger athletic department GPA record of 3.11 by all of KU’s athletic teams for the fall semester.
Baseball, women’s basketball and women’s track and field joining women’s swimming and diving in setting team semester GPA records. And 12 of KU’s 16 team sports finished the fall 2018 semester with GPA’s above 3.0.
Several representatives of each team were honored during an on-court ceremony at Allen Fieldhouse last week, but the swimming and diving team was unable to attend.
So Long took the party to practice and made a memorable splash for everyone who was there.
Wednesday was a big day for the Kansas athletic department.
In introducing Jeff Long as the 11th athletic director in school history, the Jayhawks received a new lease on life in all of their athletic programs, some in need and others not as much.
During my latest appearance on Rock Chalk Sports Talk with Nick Schwerdt, we discussed all of that and more, including general reaction to Long's introductory press conference.
Give it a listen below if you haven't heard it already.
After a week of waiting, we have officially arrived at Jeff Long Day at the University of Kansas.
Today, at 11 a.m. central time, Long, KU's newly hired athletic director, officially will be introduced as the 11th AD in KU history at a joint news conference with KU chancellor Doug Girod and search committee leader Drue Jennings.
Among the dozens of questions Long figures to answer include inquiries about the state of the KU football program, his plans for Memorial Stadium, what he might do with his staff and an explanation of his general philosophy and overall vision for his time at KU.
Beyond that, though, Long figures to dive into some of his backstory, why he wanted the job, why the KU search committee chose him as the man to take it and
Everything I've heard and read about Long, from a dozen or so people who know him well, is that he brings an A-plus personality to the table and is highly intelligent, organized and buttoned up in every aspect of the job.
Those traits got him hired and the challenge now is for Long to put them to good use to serve KU and its athletic department into the future.
We'll have our whole crew over at the Lied Center today for Long's introduction, so be sure to check out KUsports.com throughout the afternoon, as well as in the days to come, for reaction and feedback from the official beginning of the Jeff Long era at Kansas.
It’s now been four days since Jeff Long was announced as the next athletic director at the University of Kansas and we’re just two days away from Long’s official introduction.
But in the time between then and now, Long has slowly but surely made the transition to being KU’s new athletic director.
While it’s not exactly clear what moves he has made to fully prepare for his new job behind closed doors, Long’s social media presence has provided a peek at just how excited he is for his new opportunity.
After first announcing his big news on Twitter just minutes after KU made the hire official with its news release, Long posted a handful of KU-related Tweets in the days that followed that showed that he was already all in as a member of the Jayhawk family.
All of this after quickly changing his Twitter handle to reflect his new role — @jefflongKU — and adding a giant crimson and blue Jayhawk as his header photo.
I’m not saying that any of this should come as a surprise. It makes sense for anyone in Long’s position to be thrilled about the new opportunity — both in terms of the professional challenges it presents and the monetary gains that come with it — and to be eager and excited to share it with those close to them.
But Long has taken it one step farther. And, in doing so, he has proven that he has both feet firmly planted in the modern world, where social media and the Internet are a big part of everyday reality — like it or not — and can be viewed and used as tools to promote yourself and your vision as much as they are a place for people to spit out their opinions and waste a bunch of time.
That’s not to say Long is ever going to hop on Twitter to announce a personnel move or discuss the KU athletic department’s budget. But having a consistent presence and letting people in will go a long way toward bringing a new culture to Kansas Athletics.
This whole concept is not something new for Long, who takes over at KU at age 58. He also was pretty active on Twitter during his time as the AD at Arkansas, posting his own thoughts and comments, ReTweeting pertinent information and even sharing videos of his support of the Razorbacks’ athletic programs from time to time.
That kind of approach will be welcomed at KU and should play at least a small role in helping Long connect with the people he will need to help him along the way.
One of the things I really like about what I've seen so far from Long on Twitter is that he chimes in on topics outside of KU and college athletics, as well, with posts about Seinfeld, The World Cup and even support for former Arkansas athletic programs — the school that fired him — coming in the past couple of weeks.
Traditionally speaking, at colleges and universities across the country, the bond between an athletic director and the average fan has not always been that strong. There are just too many fans and the worlds they walk in rarely overlap.
But if one Tweet or fun video here and there can bridge the gap and bring the two sides closer together, it’s hard to see that being anything but good news.
Long and his 125,548 Twitter followers get that. In a world where people are hired to run social media accounts for men and women in Long's position, it's clear that the new KU AD sees the value in running the account himself. And it should be interesting to see how well that approach serves him at Kansas and how many more Twitter followers he picks up along the way.
With that in mind, here’s a quick look at Long’s Tweets, in order, from the days since he was hired by KU.
Most of the focus in the University of Kansas’ search for an athletic director has been on what KU is looking for, but it’s every bit as important to consider what questions potential candidates might need answered before they convince themselves it’s a job they want.
None of this process is easy for either side. It takes time. It takes discretion. And it takes a great deal of vetting, both personally and professionally, before any kind of real list can be put together. And after reaching that point, it’s imperative that any interest is mutual.
The powers that be at KU very well might have identified the man or woman they wanted to hire to replace Sheahon Zenger as soon as a week or two into the search. But unless he or she was (a) willing to make the move to Kansas or, perhaps more importantly, (b) willing to leave the job they have, KU Chancellor Doug Girod and the search committee he put together might have been left spinning their wheels a bit.
That’s not to say that happened here. But it is a reminder that putting together a list of candidates is only half of the battle. Search after search, for coaches and athletic directors alike, have proven that to be true. And that’s why this whole thing could have played out in a bit of an unusual manner to this point, with the candidates having more leverage than the place doing the hiring.
With that in mind, it’s worth looking at a couple of questions these candidates might have had during the interview and/or vetting process.
Yes, Girod, Drue Jennings and Jed Hughes, a consultant at Korn Ferry, either did or will do most of the questioning during the interview process.
What is your vision for where this athletic department can go?
Do you have a plan to fix football?
Tell us something about your past that will make us believe you can execute that plan.
Tell us your thoughts on Kansas basketball 10 years from now. Tell us your strategy for our Olympic sports.
What will your staff look like?
How much money do you need for your operating budget?
On and on the questions go, with the search committee seeking the answers it is looking for — both in sound and substance — to identify the person seated before them or on the other end of the phone line as someone they are interested in hiring.
But while those questions are all critical, not to mention common, it could be the committee’s answers that bring KU closer to finding its next A.D.
I recently spoke with a former high-level KU administrator who is no longer working in college athletics for his input on the KU job, the strengths and weaknesses KU has (and how they have changed) and what direction he thinks the school could go in finding a replacement for Zenger. One of the most interesting things that came from that conversation was his insistence that the person KU hires, whomever he or she may be, needs to have complete control in order to succeed.
In order to get that, it must be provided almost immediately the former administrator said, and the groundwork for that has to be put in place during the interview process.
In short, he explained that the best way for KU to find the right person to replace Zenger is for the committee to ask all of those questions listed above (and many more like them) while also being prepared to answer a few of their own.
“The first question I would have for them if I were interviewing for the job is, ‘What is the goal? How do we define success,’” the former administrator told me, noting he had not been contacted and did not have any interest in returning to college athletics.
The second question was even more direct.
Will I have permission or the authority to set up the athletic department the way I see fit?
“I really think that whoever comes in has to get the OK from the chancellor to potentially make major changes on administrative side that fit their philosophy and vision for what the KU athletic department needs to be in today’s college athletics landscape,” the former KU administrator said. “If you don’t have that, what happens is people who were there or people who might have wanted the job tend to work against you from Day 1.”
Regardless of who KU hires — and we’ve reached the point now where an announcement could come just about any day or the search could stretch deep into July — it remains to be seen what the new incarnation of Kansas Athletics looks like, which makes predicting things from structure to staffing to department priorities more than a little difficult.
There are enough good things about the department that make a complete overhaul unlikely. But there are also a handful of big, critical elements that need to be addressed. If there weren’t, we probably would not be talking about finding a Zenger replacement in the first place.
Before the end of our conversation, I asked the former administrator, quickly, to list any other questions he thought would be important for a candidate to ask. He offered one and it covered a broad spectrum and a variety of topics.
“Tell me what I don't know,” he said. “Tell me what's not apparent. What else is there that I need to know before I take this job that I'm going to have to fix? If they don't address the Adidas thing without being prompted, that might tell you something. And you only get one shot to ask these types of questions before your first day on the job so, if you’re truly interested in taking it, you might as well get every single piece of information you can get and not be afraid to ask for it.”
We might not be any closer today to knowing the identity of KU’s next athletic director.
But we are making progress on who it will not be.
In back to back days, two names of potential top-tier candidates for the open athletic director job were removed from the running — if they ever were in it.
On Thursday, Dan Wolken, of USA Today, Tweeted that sources had told him that SMU AD Rick Hart was staying put and would not pursue the Kansas job.
A source with information about the thought process of the search committee told the Journal-World early in the process that Hart was a name to watch and it appears that there was at least some interest in Hart by Kansas.
Friday, less than 24 hours after Wolken’s Tweet about Hart, University of Central Florida AD Danny White, who surfaced as a possible candidate almost immediately after Zenger was fired, took to Twitter himself to announce that he was not going anywhere.
“Unfortunately, I am compelled to comment on another institution’s search,” White wrote. “Disappointed that @SBNation stated that I met with another school about their AD position. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. There’s no reason for me to do that. UCF is the best AD job in America!”
The report that White was referencing came from the Rock Chalk Talk blog and it was a bit of a reach to begin with.
In passing along the information, the writer first set up a couple of outs and then even went as far as to claim that the information he obtained came third-hand.
Still, when something like that is put out there in the public eye — good or bad, right or wrong, with good intentions or bad — it often gets legs very quickly and, clearly, White felt the need to address it, regardless of where the report or information came from.
I have not been able to run down whether White was involved in the search or not. He says in that Tweet that he did not meet with KU, but that does not mean that there was not contact at some point and it’s possible that he or his representatives communicated with Kansas in some manner, even if it was just to say, “Thanks, but no thanks,” if KU did reach out.
On the surface, White, to me, appeared to be a spectacular candidate, even if he would have been hard to pull away from UCF. Speculating beyond that, without any new information, would be a waste of everyone’s time since we now know definitively that White isn’t getting the job.
So who is getting it? That remains anyone’s guess and some of the candidates who were kicked around early on still appear to be viable options, while a handful of other new names have emerged, as well, with former Louisville AD Tom Jurich being the most intriguing of them all.
Jurich, you might remember, was fired by Louisville last October in the wake of the initial findings in the FBI’s investigation into corruption in college basketball. In May, Jurich reached a $4.5 million settlement with the school after disputing that he was fired with cause.
Reports indicated that Jurich considered suing the school, which later chose to dub his departure as “retirement” after reaching the settlement.
Earlier this week, KU Chancellor Doug Girod indicated to reporters after a regularly scheduled Athletics Board meeting that KU was entering the home stretch of its search to find a replacement for Zenger.
After first saying he expected to have good news by the end of the summer, Girod was asked more specifically about a two-week timeline he recently gave a room full of boosters and he confirmed that such a time frame was a possibility.
The search, which has been led by Drue Jennings in conjunction with Jed Hughes, a consultant for the Korn Ferry search firm, has been very tight-lipped and largely conducted out of the public eye.
One source with knowledge of KU’s search to find Zenger seven years ago, said the school elected to use Korn Ferry this time around to ensure the search be conducted in as private a manner as possible for the benefit of all parties involved.
While it’s still too soon to consider any kind of announcement imminent, it would not be a bad idea to clean out your ears and turn the attention dial up a notch heading into next week.
The Kansas University athletic department finished the past year ranked 23rd nationally in total revenue earned, this despite continuing to field a football program that severely limits the earning potential of the department.
According to numbers published by USA Today on Friday, Kansas, led primarily by its elite men's basketball program, finished just shy of the $100,000,000 mark in total revenue, pulling in $97,681,066. That total put Kansas fourth in the Big 12 behind Texas (2nd, $161 million), Oklahoma (7th, $129 million) and Oklahoma State (11th, $118 million).
The next closest Big 12 school to Kansas was West Virginia, which pulled in $78 million during the past year and placed 35th nationally.
It's still a ways down the road and far from a guarantee. But imagine for a second if new football coach David Beaty and his staff can get things going again and have Memorial Stadium close to full on a weekly basis year after year. With that kind of financial impact, KU easily could jump into the Top 10, especially if the Big 12 dollars continue to grow.
Speaking of those, the USA Today numbers were released on the same day that Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby revealed that the Big 12 institutions pulled in roughly $25.6 million apiece from a $252 million pie as a part of the conference's revenue distribution from TV deals. That number is for the eight full-share members of the conference. Newbies TCU and West Virginia each pulled in about $23 million as outlined in the agreement they signed when they joined the conference a couple of years ago.
Thanks to ever-increasing television contracts and the continued attractiveness of the Big 12 market, those numbers are higher than the conference was able to dish out a year ago and Bowlsby said that trend is expected to continue in the future. Big 12 officials believe that the payout could reach as high as $44 million per school by the end of the current TV contracts.
Football may be costing KU in a lot of ways, but the financial health of the athletic department certainly looks better than many believe. That's not to say it's smooth sailing up there, but it's also not complete chaos either. And a big chunk of the credit for that goes to athletic director Sheahon Zenger, his vision and his philosophies on spending and not writing checks that your butt can't cash, along with the dedication and commitment to those areas by his entire staff.
Of course, even Zenger himself would tell you that the incredible earning potential of the men's hoops program is the department's golden egg and that one of his main focuses since taking over the job was to make sure that program had everything it needed to continue to function as a national power and world-wide brand.