During his introductory news conference last week, new Kansas athletic director Jeff Long made it crystal clear that the struggling Kansas football culture, coach and program would have his full attention when he officially takes over on Aug. 1.
But don’t mistake that for Long jumping into his new job with tunnel vision.
“Sometimes I get labeled as a football guy and certainly we have football work to do at Kansas,” Long told the Journal-World in a phone interview a day after his introduction. “But I’m an all-sports guy and basketball has been a pretty special part of my personal history, as well.”
While Long has never been the AD when the school at which he worked qualified for a Final Four, the veteran athletic director with more than two decades worth of major college experience has been around winning basketball programs, which should make the step up from Arkansas to Kansas a little more familiar than it might appear on paper.
And the opportunity to get involved again with college hoops at the highest level was as much a part of what inspired Long to accept the Kansas job as the challenge of getting things going on the football side.
“The opportunity to have a championship-caliber basketball program is very exciting to an athletic director,” Long explained. “And the opportunity to work with Bill Self is very exciting to me, with his level of success and the respect he has across the country.”
During Long’s 10 years as an assistant/associate AD at Michigan from 1988-98, the Wolverines qualified for three Final Fours, including back-to-back in 1992 and 1993. Those teams were led by Michigan’s famed Fab Five recruiting class headlined by Chris Webber, Jalen Rose and Juwan Howard.
Four years after leaving Michigan — with a one-year stop at Virginia Tech and three-year run as the top dog at Eastern Kentucky squeezed in between — Long found himself experiencing yet another Final Four when Kelvin Sampson led the Oklahoma Sooners to the 2002 Final Four.
During his time as the AD at Pittsburgh from 2003-07, Long stepped into a situation on the mend — the Panthers had made back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances after a 10-year absence — and made sure to build on it, watching Pitt reach the NCAA Tournament for four consecutive season and twice enjoying a run to the Sweet 16.
From there, Long went to Arkansas, where he spent 11 years and brought Mike Anderson to town. Anderson won 22 games or better during four of the seven seasons he worked with Long and turned that into three NCAA Tournament appearances.
While appearances were the goal at Long’s most recent stops, they are merely a given at Kansas. The new KU AD knows that and he believes he knows why. The standard that Self has set for the program for the past 15 seasons is something at which Long has marveled from a distance. And now that he has had the opportunity to interact with Self, he sees even more clearly why Kansas has enjoyed such consistence excellence.
“He’s a great guy,” Long said. “Everybody that knows him better than me just raves about what a quality guy he is and I found that and experienced that first-hand. He and his wife, Cindy, are just lovely people and I certainly enjoyed the chance to talk with him about KU. It was brief, but I found him to be what people described him to be.”
Self’s reputation that preceded him and Long’s discovery that it was not overhyped inspired Long to get even more excited about jumping on board with Kansas. His candid discussions with Self and KU chancellor Douglas Girod about the ongoing FBI investigation into college basketball led him to believe that KU, as he said at his introductory press conference, was “going to be just fine.”
And his base knowledge of the situation as a whole led him to believe he would have an opportunity to be a part of some kind of reform that brings better days to college basketball.
“I’m excited to work and dig into some more of that as we get in and start having some time to work on all of these things,” Long told the Journal-World. “I think there are levels of change that we need to make, absolutely. But what people need to understand is that it’s not as simple as it sometimes appears on the surface. Each change has multiple levels of impact in our organization, in the NCAA. So it’s not just as simple as clicking your fingers. You have to do all that background work to make all the adjustments in rules and such along the way.
“Those changes will come. I think we’re criticized sometimes for how slow things move, but it (the NCAA) is a big organization and there are lots of checks and balances, with faculty athletics committees and ADs and presidents and chancellors. So there’s a lot of work to be done to make those, somewhat-simple-appearing changes lead to real change.”