Jeffrey P. Long has been conspicuous by his absence lately.
Of course, he does have obligations to the College Football Playoff committee he serves on. It officially starts in a couple of weeks, but he does have to keep up now. Watching Arkansas football these days might throw off the depth perception, so to speak, for choosing the four best teams at the end of the year.
As the Razorbacks’ football train continued to careen further off course, Jeffrey hasn’t bothered to be seen a lot around Razorback Stadium.
Saturday night’s debacle at the stadium was a disjointed mess. High winds apparently prevented the parachute landings (or else they tried and ended up in Rogers). There was supposed to be a flyover, but that didn’t happen, either. Those have been messed up due to the construction cranes in the north end zone.
And, yet, Jeffrey stays in the background and silent. He says publicly not winning hurts and nobody wants to win more than he does.
Apparently not. Oh, I’m sure he WANTS to win, but he’s made it clear it’s not a priority.
In case you’re wondering, some on the board of trustees have noticed.
Some on Saturday night were placing the blame squarely in Jeffrey’s lap. Oh, it was probably the heat of the moment so we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.
After all, they are the ones who let things get this far out of shape.
The Hogs are 27-31 just past the halfway point of the Bret Bielema Era and 10-26 in the SEC. This is fast becoming the worst tenure in Razorback football in the last 60 years.
Maybe that’s what Bielema keeps referring to when he says they “are close” to something nobody can figure out.
We’ve already spelled out that Jeffrey should have seen this coming. Anybody who did more than look at Bielema’s won-loss record at Wisconsin could have seen this coming.
As I said in 2012, this was not a home run hire. The national media folks saying that weren’t looking behind the record and doing any in-depth thought, which is normally the case.
Bielema was a band-aid, at best.
Most would have had questions after a two-year record of 10-15 and 2-14 in the SEC. Instead, Bielema got a raise and an extension. After year three, he was 18-23 overall and 7-17 in the league.
Charlie Strong got fired at Texas with the same overall winning percentage his first three years and a better winning percentage in his league.
But that’s at Texas, where winning football games is important.
What hasn’t been pointed out to anyone is that all those Director’s Cup points (whatever in the world that means) doesn’t, well, generate the cash that a winning football team does.
Especially in the Southeastern Conference.
Ask Alabama. Nick Saban gets paid $11 million a year because revenues and enrollment at the University have leaped into the stratosphere and most of the credit has been given to the increased publicity of the football team.
Greg Byrne, the athletics director at Alabama, is all about winning. He was at Mississippi State and fired Sylvester Croom as the coach, who had about the exact same winning percentage as Bielema in the SEC.
At nearly every other school in the league, winning is important.
When Jeffrey tries to sell folks that an athletic department is more than the football team, he’s seriously — hilariously — wrong when you’re in the SEC. Unless you’re Kentucky that counters that with a national basketball program, but they will fire a coach that doesn’t win football games.
All the babbling he does about academics and overall sports teams improving is what he’s good at — yammering on and saying nothing of substance. Actually, it’s risen just about everywhere because of new NCAA mandates. It’s not just Arkansas.
In the SEC, your athletic department is as good as your football team (or basketball team at Kentucky). It affects your new enrollments, it affects the bottom line of the entire university.
At Arkansas, apparently no one seems to grasp that concept. Instead, they focus on making it easier and more affordable for Texas kids to go to the University of Arkansas than schools in their own state.
The citizens of Arkansas are told enrollment is up, things are great and all is well.
Jeffrey stood in front of a crowd at the Little Rock Touchdown Club and said so many absurdly ridiculous things it was impossible to list them all. But he did say Arkansas is not a “win at all cost” program.
Which is obviously true. Some took that to mean violating NCAA rules. Jeffrey allowed that perception to stand, but the guess here is he was telling the truth and he wasn’t talking about NCAA rules.
No, he was talking about devoting the resources to allow coaches to win at the big time level. The Hogs simply don’t have as many support personnel in football or other sports as teams competing for championships.
Which now is the root cause for Jeffrey’s mess.
How — and when — he cleans up this mess will speak volumes about an athletics director that has proven to be less of a leader than concerned about his glorified title of something called vice chancellor or whatever.
He has said he doesn’t like to make midseason changes. That made sense until the NCAA put in an early signing period for football that starts this December.
If it had been in place in 2012, Bielema would have had 10 days before that early signing period.
Which makes things ticklish as Jeffrey tries to figure out how to clean up his mess. There’s no data to work with.
The fair thing to the players, whom Jeffrey says are the most important part of his job, is to not have them commit to a coach that’s going to be fired before signing day. That creates an optic that could backfire.
But it’s something he’s got to work through. He can say what he wants about waiting to see how the season plays out, but all that’s going to do is increase the noise around him.
Well, that’s assuming he says ANYTHING.
He hasn’t in awhile.