Jeff Long hired as AD at Kansas, tasked with turning around floundering football program

By: Matt Jones
Published: Thursday, July 5, 2018
Arkansas athletics director Jeff Long talks with fans prior to a game against Auburn on Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017, in Fayetteville.
Photo by Ben Goff
Arkansas athletics director Jeff Long talks with fans prior to a game against Auburn on Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017, in Fayetteville.

— Nearly eight months after he was fired for convenience at Arkansas, Jeff Long was hired as athletics director at Kansas on Thursday.

Long will be formally introduced at a news conference next Wednesday in Lawrence, Kan., and will start his new job on Aug. 1, according to a University of Kansas news release. Long signed a five-page term sheet agreement with KU on Wednesday.

Long will be paid $1.5 million annually as part of a five-year guaranteed agreement with Kansas - $200,000 from university funds and $1.3 million from private funds. His annual salary at KU should offset the remaining funds owed to him through the buyout provisions in his terminated contract with Arkansas, which stipulated he was owed monthly payments to total $1.1 million annually through June 2022.

Kevin Trainor, a spokesperson for Arkansas' athletics department, said Long is being paid $83,333.33 per month by the university and had been paid $625,000 in severance as of June 30.

"Based on the guaranteed compensation included in the financial term sheet released by the University of Kansas, the monthly severance payments from the University of Arkansas would be fully mitigated beginning Aug. 1, 2018," Trainor wrote in an email to WholeHogSports on Thursday.

A Kansas news release played up Long's time at Arkansas and his role as a nationally-known athletics director. The release included 14 statements from Long, KU leaders and other prominent individuals in college athletics, such as Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby and SEC commissioner Greg Sankey.

“Jeff Long has tremendous leadership and administrative experience in major college athletics, and he is a terrific fit for Kansas Athletics as we work to ensure our student-athletes succeed on the field and in the classroom,” KU chancellor Douglas Girod said in a statement. “Those who know him describe him as a man of character who cares deeply about higher education and the student-athletes he serves. For all these reasons, we are thrilled to welcome him to the University of Kansas.”

Long, 58, replaces Sheahon Zenger, who was fired in May after seven years at KU. Girod told The Kansas City Star in May that Zenger was fired because of a lack of success in football and fundraising. The Jayhawks' football team has not had a winning season since 2008 and has won three or fewer games each of the past eight seasons.

Fourth-year coach David Beaty has a 3-33 record at Kansas, and enters the 2018 season with losing streaks of 11 games overall, 10 games in the Big 12 and six games at home. The Jayhawks' average home attendance of 26,641 last season was lowest among teams in a Power Five conference and less than 15 teams that compete in non-Power Five conferences or as an independent.

While not at the level of the ones he will inherit, Long had his own football problems at Arkansas. The Razorbacks' program fell off significantly after Long fired Bobby Petrino for cause in April 2012 following Petrino's admission of an extramarital relationship with a football staff member, Jessica Dorrell.

Petrino won 34 games in four seasons at Arkansas, including a 21-5 record over his final two years, which resulted in the Razorbacks' first appearance in a BCS bowl in 2010 and an 11-2 season in 2011 that tied the program record for single-season wins.

Arkansas has failed to make a bowl game in three of the six seasons since Petrino was fired, including 2017 when the team was 4-8 overall and 1-7 in SEC games. The program's best record over the past six seasons was 8-5 overall, 5-3 in the SEC in 2015.

Long was fired on Nov. 15, 2017, less than a week after a lengthy executive session of the UA Board of Trustees to discuss personnel matters - a meeting that resulted in no action at the time.

In a statement announcing his firing, UA chancellor Joseph Steinmetz said Long had "lost the support of many of our fans, alumni, key supporters, and members of the university leadership," and in interviews with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, trustees Ben Hyneman and Cliff Gibson cited lack of football success as reasons for Long's dismissal.

Former Arkansas football coach Bret Bielema was fired 12 days after Long, minutes following a season-ending 48-45 loss to Missouri. Long had voiced support for Bielema during the 2017 season and had extended Bielema's contract following a 2014 season in which Arkansas went 7-6 overall and 2-6 in SEC games.

The contract extension, which gave Bielema a $15.4 million buyout for the following three years, came at a time when Bielema's two-year record with the Razorbacks was 10-15, his SEC record was 2-14 and he had four seasons remaining on his original contract that was signed 18 months earlier.

Bielema, who was hired away from Wisconsin after winning three Big Ten championships, finished his five seasons at Arkansas with a 29-34 overall record and 11-29 record in SEC games. He and The Razorback Foundation, a third-party guarantor, settled on a buyout earlier this year of $11.935 million in monthly installments through December 2020, subject to mitigation.

The Razorbacks hired Hunter Yurachek away from Houston as athletics director and Chad Morris away from SMU as football coach over a two-day span last December.

Long, who was hired away from Pittsburgh to replace Frank Broyles in 2008, implemented a number of changes to modernize the Razorbacks program, including signing longterm contracts with multimedia and apparel giants IMG College Sports (formerly ISP) and Nike early in his tenure, a change from previous agreements with Little Rock-based TV station KATV and Adidas.

Those moves, coupled with the launch of the SEC Network in 2014, made Arkansas one of the highest-earning athletics programs in the NCAA. According to USA Today, Arkansas had an annual athletics revenue exceeding $129.6 million in the 2016-17 academic year, up from $65.4 million in the final full year before Long arrived on campus.

When adjusted for inflation, that annual revenue increase was roughly 68 percent.

The increased revenue allowed Arkansas to significantly raise salaries for head and assistant coaches, grow the number of athletics department staffers and build or overhaul several facilities. The soon-to-be-finished $160 million renovation to Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium is the eighth building project that was listed in a 2011 facilities master plan commissioned by Long. Other projects have included the construction of practice facilities for basketball, baseball and golf, an academic center for athletes and the $40 million Fred W. Smith Center that houses offices and a locker room for the football team.

Last summer, Long's predecessor at Kansas, Zenger, detailed plans for a $300 million renovation to the Jayhawks' football facilities over three to five years. The renovation has not begun.

Petrino, Bielema and men's basketball coach Mike Anderson, who was hired away from Missouri in 2011, were Long's most notable hires at Arkansas. He developed a national profile for his four-year term on the College Football Playoff Selection Committee, including two years as its chairman, and was named the national AD of the year by his peers in 2013.

The KU release noted Long's department-wide improvement in academics during his decade at Arkansas. The Razorbacks' average multiyear Academic Progress Rate score was 953 with three teams below the NCAA benchmark score of 925 the year before Long arrived, but 984 with all teams exceeding the current benchmark of 930 in the latest reporting period.

The Graduation Success Rate of athletes improved from 66 percent in the reporting period the year before Long arrived, to 80 percent in the latest reporting period. The GSR is a calculation of six-year graduation rates, meaning Long's full impact on the score will not be evident for another five to six years.

“Jeff has a record of integrity, experience in hiring coaches, ties with other Bowl Championship Series schools, effective fundraising and a willingness to lead on national issues affecting college athletics," said Drue Jennings, the former CEO of Kansas City Power & Light who led the search that resulted in Long's hiring. "We can be proud that he’s joining us at KU, and we can be confident that Kansas Athletics is in good hands under his leadership.”

Jennings, a former interim athletics director at Kansas, previously led searches for a chancellor and basketball coach at KU. He hired Bill Self in 2003 to take over the Jayhawks' storied basketball program.

Self, who has won or shared 14 consecutive Big 12 championships and is coming off his third trip to the Final Four, said in a statement that Long is "one of the best and most respected" athletics directors in the country.

"While I’m just getting to know Jeff, I’m impressed that he’s universally described as a high-character guy who will provide strong support for every sport across the entire athletics program," Self said. "From my perspective, he’s exactly the type of leader we need."

Last month, Long had been identified as a candidate for an opening at South Florida by the Tampa Bay Times. South Florida filled its vacancy by hiring Michael Kelly, a former chief operating officer for the College Football Playoff, last Monday.

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