Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll.
ARKANSAS DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE SPORTSMAN OF THE YEAR:
All year, Long: AD fires, hires, inspires
In 2012, Arkansas athletics director and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's Sportsman of the Year, Jeff Long, made the difficult decision of firing Bobby Petrino. Eight months later, he hired Bret Bielema, showing his commitment to the Razorbacks' success.
FAYETTEVILLE Athletic Director Jeff Long stood alone on a stage at Bud Walton Arena on the afternoon of April 10, and he stood tall.
Arkansas’ football program was teetering with uncertainty in the aftermath of football Coach Bobby Petrino’s April 1 motorcycle wreck and the release of a State Police accident report that contradicted statements made by a battered-looking Petrino at a news conference two days after the wreck.
A horde of media members and assembled guests were in attendance to hear Long speak, five days after Long suspended Petrino for not being truthful to the athletic department when he failed to reveal relevant and embarrassing details about his accident.
Petrino, as it turned out, did not tell Long about his passenger on the motorcycle, 25-year-old Jessica Dorrell, a former Arkansas volleyballplayer and fundraiser for the Razorback Foundation whom Petrino recently had hired for a position in the football program over more than 100 other applicants.
The story became a national soap opera - successful football coach crashes motorcycle, lies about the presence of mistress on board.
It was as big as big gets at Arkansas, and Long, in his fifth year as AD after taking over for the legendary Frank Broyles, was caught in the middle of it.
Long appeared grim and determined when he approached the microphone, and as soon as he started speaking, it was obvious that the news was not good for Petrino, who was considered so valuable that the athletic department extended his contract by 7 years, raised
his salary to $3.6 million and engaged in an unprecedented mirrored buyout that put the school and the coach on the hook for $18 million for the first two years.
Long’s emotional dismissal of Petrino for cause was met by near-unanimous approval by the national and local media, university administrators, fellow athletic directors and all who yearned for someone in college football to stand on his principles.
Arkansas Chancellor Dave Gearhart saId he thought it was Long’s finest hour.
“I think it’s the hardest thing that Jeff has maybe ever faced,” Gearhart said. “But when he got up there in front of thousands of people that were listening, he did such an incredible job.
“He was direct, precise and he was very sincere. ... I remember talking to him right after it and both of us were pretty emotional, and I told him I had never been more proud of anybody I’ve ever worked with.”
In recognition of Long’s achievements in 2012, which included his handling of the Petrino scandal, two searches for a head football coach and his overall guidance of a football program that is ranked in the 10th in value by Forbes magazine, Long has been selected as the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s Sportsman of the Year.
“I truly am honored by that,” Long said. “... It’s a testament to our program, what we’ve achieved over the last five years, how we achieved on the field, how we’ve achieved in the classroom.”
Long’s work at Arkansas earned him a spot as one of five finalists for the national Athletic Director of the Year for the 2011-2012 school term, as chosen by SportsBusiness Journal andSportsBusiness Daily.
But with college football abuzz over how Long, 53, would handle the Petrino affair, Long showed resolve in delivering a stirring message that pointed out Petrino’s deceit and Long’s beliefthat Petrino acted as though he was bigger than the program.
Praise for Long’s actions included a note from Wisconsin Coach Bret Bielema, who Long hired earlier this month to lead the Razorbacks’ football program.
“There were many letters and e-mails from athletic directors, president and chancellors of other universities,” Long said. “People from around the world. Razorbacks from around the world. E-mails from former Razorback students and alumni around the country, really expressing support. Expressing support for standing up and doing what they believed was right and what I believed was right.
“That was fulfilling. That’s what keeps you working so hard, is you know there are many, many people who really identify with our program and take great pride in it. So that’s why it’s important for me to run our program so those folks that support us take pride in us and that pride stems from more than just wins and losses; it truly does.” Long laid much of the credit for the department’s achievements on the shoulders of his staff. The Democrat-Gazette honor couldn’t have come without their work, he said.
“Like most individual awards, it’s really not about the individual, it’s a reflection of the team around him,” hesaid. “I’m very proud of what we’re doing here.”
Forbes recently listed Arkansas with a value of $83 million, based on figures from the 2011-2012 academic year.
“It started five years ago, when we talked about it and we weren’t shy about it,” Long said. “We talked about how we had to grow that budget. We had to grow revenues in order to compete in the SEC.
“I think when we had a 12-team league, we were maybe ninth or 10th in revenue generation. I think we’re now somewhere around five or six and we’ve added two more teams to our conference. That’s something we consciously set out to do.”
Arkansas’ $35 million-plus football operations center, which helped attract Bielema to campus, is on schedule for a midsummer opening. A study is on the way for potential north end zone expansion at Reynolds Razorback Stadium, and the master plan for athletic facilities continues apace.
Long was rewarded for his work with a raise in salary that could pay him $1 million per year and his contract was extended five more years to 2017.
“It’s something I’m very appreciative of,” Long said. “This is a great place. While I’ve had opportunities at other places, this is where we want to be. ... This state and this university and this program have been very good to my family.”
At a glance JEFF LONG POSITION Athletic Director AGE 53 (Born Sept. 21, 1959) FAMILY Wife, Fanny, daughters Stephanie and Christina HOMETOWN Kettering, Ohio EDUCATION Bachelor’s degree in economics, Ohio Wesleyan, 1983; master’s degree in education, Miami (Ohio) University, 1983 CAREER HISTORY Became Arkansas’ athletic director on Jan. 1, 2008, taking over for Frank Broyles after being hired from Pittsburgh in October of 2007. He had been Pittsburgh’s AD for five years, being hired in May 2003. He previously was associate AD, Oklahoma; associate AD, Virginia Tech; AD, Eastern Kentucky; associate AD, Michigan; coach, administrator, North Carolina State, Duke and Rice.
Sports, Pages 19 on 12/25/2012