Arkansas athletics, politics, and, well, pretty much the entire state has run on tradition for decades.
That’s a nice way of terming it. Some call it the “good ol’ boy network” and while many denounce it the fact of the matter is few outsiders in the history of Razorback athletics have broken through it.
Getting into it is a little like joining a fraternity back in the day. You’re either a legacy (born in the state), do a blood oath-type thing (playing for the Hogs in some sport) … or buy your way in.
When it comes to the Razorbacks, if you come in without playing you better win — a lot — and get along with the boys already in the network. Of course, being a legacy won’t buy you a lifetime job without winning, either. Ask Ken Hatfield or Houston Nutt about that little aspect.
Jeffrey P. Long had little interest in being part of the network in any way, shape, form or fashion. He found out — apparently with little warning — that might not have been the best approach.
In the minds of some, he was — at best — a carpetbagger talking out of both sides of his mouth, saying one thing in interviews and then being completely different in person. Some donors felt the only people he cared about, in order, were million-dollar donors in the luxury suites and ESPN.
The recurring theme from many Arkansas-based donors was Long took a baseball bat to many time-honored traditions. That included what some felt was a lack of civility. He allegedly made disparaging comments about southern people accidentally within earshot of some boosters, who weren’t really happy about it.
Some felt he played favorites in the media. There are some who say he instructed UA personnel that only certain media people would be notified in advance of some breaking stories. That didn’t exactly make a lot of friends and he had little to no support from that corner when things fell apart.
Before anyone accuses me of doing anything on a personal level, I interviewed Long maybe three or four times during his entire tenure. The two or three requests I made of him directly, he obliged. To be honest, it’s doubtful he even knew who I was … or cared. That’s perfectly fine with me.
In the end, it was time for him to move on. He may have done some positive things in his 10 years. The problem was for every positive you heard about him, there were 10 negatives.
Now he’s on to another adventure. A decade ago, we were told by people here and in Pittsburgh he left town as the executioner was sharpening the axe. No telling now if that’s accurate or not and now it doesn’t matter.
Long has a new gig in Kansas, which has fallen to being relevant in just a single sport — college basketball.
With a coach there in Bill Self, that’s the only person on the staff that Long has to get along with. For a university that is the home of James Naismith’s original rules of basketball (after a Kansas graduate purchased them at auction), it’s clear which sport is king.
The Jayhawks also were, at one point in time, as big in track and field as Arkansas now and had some good runs in football with a couple of Orange Bowl appearances. But not a lot lately. It’s even the alma mater of Gale Sayers and John Riggins, two Hall of Famers, but Kansas hasn’t exactly been a hotbed of NFL stars in the last 50 years or so.
Lately, though, well they made the Hogs look like a dominant force in football.
Many are saying Long’s biggest charge is getting football to be respectable. If he can accomplish that, he should make millions if he writes a book about how that transpires.
In the final analysis, Long’s new job in Kansas helps Arkansas by several million dollars. Whether it helps the Jayhawks is anybody’s guess.
Razorback fans can now move on. Long was a hot-button issue with many longtime donors that got extremely emotional at times.
But it’s time to move on. While some were not completely ecstatic with the hiring of Hunter Yurachek to replace Long, many have said they are willing to at least “see how it goes.”
In Arkansas terms, that’s giving him a chance. Time will tell on that one, too, but Hunter likely won’t have a grace period the length of what Long had. By all appearances, he’s handling it very well and understands he was given two ears, two eyes and only one mouth to use in proportion.
Hog fans will have a Long memory. That won’t go away for a few years and it will be a bitter taste for some fans every time they hear the name.
And that may last awhile.