Anyone wondering if Chuck Long will be a valuable asset to Turner Gill’s football coaching staff at Kansas University need look no further than Long’s sterling resume as both a player and assistant coach.
Monday morning, at his introductory news conference, Gill unveiled Long as his offensive coordinator. The move to share the spotlight with an assistant coach was almost unprecedented, but Long said it spoke volumes about the kind of person — and coach — that Gill seems to be.
A deeper look at Long’s connections, both to Kansas and to Gill, make the move seem a little less random and might breed a bit of familiarity for Kansas fans wondering just who the new man behind the offensive headset will be.
Long’s Kansas connections
In addition to joining former KU coach Terry Allen as a finalist for the vacant University of Iowa head coaching job in 1998, Long was a part of Bob Stoops’ Oklahoma University football staff that included former Kansas coach Mark Mangino. In fact, after Mangino left OU to become the head coach at Kansas in 2002, it was Long, then OU’s quarterbacks coach, who replaced him as the Sooners’ offensive coordinator.
During their time together at Oklahoma, Long, Stoops and the OU offense lit up college football, leading the Sooners to a national title in 2000 and several offensive records along the way.
“We all appreciate the fine job that Chuck did here at Oklahoma, and I am sure he will continue to be that kind of contributor at Kansas,” Stoops said. “He’s a good friend. We want to see good things happen for him. I know he is excited about the opportunity, and I am sure the people there will come to appreciate him as much as we do.”
The Chuck Long resume
Long comes to Kansas with extensive experience, both as a player and a coach.
The 6-4, 211-pound former quarterback was a bona fide star at the University of Iowa. He played — and later coached — for Hall of Famer Hayden Fry, was the runner-up to Auburn running back Bo Jackson in the 1985 Heisman Trophy voting and, after four years as a starter for the Hawkeyes, enjoyed a five-year playing career in the NFL, with the Detroit Lions and Los Angeles Rams.
Long retired from professional football after the 1991 season and, four years later, returned to his alma mater, where he coached alongside Fry for three seasons. He remained at Iowa for one year after Fry retired in 1998 and returned to his native Oklahoma to join Stoops’ staff at OU, where he stayed from 2000-05.
Long made the leap to the head coaching level in 2006, when he was hired to lead the Aztecs of San Diego State University. But a 9-27 record in three seasons with SDSU led to his dismissal. Long spent the past year out of football but under contract with the Aztecs.
To this day, Long remains a legend in Iowa City, a sort of Todd Reesing in black and gold, as he left as the owner of every Iowa passing record except one (passes attempted in a game). He finished his playing career with a 35-13-1 overall record, 10,461 yards, 74 total touchdowns and 782 completions. His 1985 season — in which he threw for 3,297 yards and 27 TDs, won the Maxwell (top player) and O’Brien (top quarterback) awards and was an All-American and the Big Ten player of the year — is widely regarded by Hawkeye fans as one of the greatest in college football history.
“Productivity — it’s all about productivity. Chuck won a lot of football games and he’s a guy that could win a game for you,” said former Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez on the Big Ten Network’s special on the conference’s top quarterbacks of the 1980s.
Added former Michigan quarterback Jim Harbaugh, who finished No. 2 on that list: “Chuck Long had the stature, the accuracy, the poise, the leadership, all those things that make him one of the greatest Big Ten passers in the history of the conference.”
Long’s magical season recently has been brought back to life thanks to Alabama running back Mark Ingram’s narrow, 28-point victory over Stanford’s Toby Gerhart in this year’s Heisman voting. Until this season, Jackson’s 45-point margin of victory over Long represented the closest Heisman vote in history.
Long was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1999.
Paths have crossed before
According to Gill, Long’s resume as a coach matched that of his exceptional ability as a player, and the two combined made the former Hawkeye an obvious choice to take the reins for Gill’s offense at KU.
“I knew if I had an opportunity at another institution, he was definitely on my radar screen as a top guy,” Gill said. “Our coaching staff needs to have a proven record on and off the field. As I put the staff together, that’s what it’s going to stand for.”
The attraction between Long and Gill was far from one-sided. Long, who can remember playing against Gill twice during his days at Iowa, has been a long-time admirer of the Jayhawks’ new head coach, and their careers have crossed paths often as they’ve made their way up through the coaching ranks.
“Turner and I go way back,” Long said. “We played against each other in college a couple of times, when I was at Iowa and he was at Nebraska. So I’ve followed his career. In our business, professionally, you look at the work that you do against each other. I think that has a lot to do with it, as opposed to someone you don’t know a thing about on either coast. And that’s kept us in touch with each other for the most part.”
Long continued: “The combination of going with coach Gill and coming to the University of Kansas for me was a no-brainer. It was an easy decision. I had some other interviews, but I was in a rare situation where I could go somewhere that was the right place and the right fit. Not every coach is able to do that. It gave me a chance to step back and say, ‘Hey, I need to go with the right person and the right fit.’ And the combination of both Kansas and Turner Gill, easy decision.”
In addition to their showdowns as players, Long and Gill have experience coaching against each other as assistants, as well. The most notable of their coaching clashes came in October of 2000, when No. 1 Nebraska traveled to No. 2 Oklahoma during the Sooners’ national championship season.
Behind prized-Gill-pupil Eric Crouch (a future Heisman winner), the Cornhuskers jumped to a 14-0 first-quarter lead. But Long and the Sooners stormed back, scoring 24 points in the second quarter en route to a 31-14 victory. The Sooners finished 13-0 that year and knocked off high-powered Florida State, 13-2, in the national title game.
“I’ve known Turner for a long time. I’ve admired his work,” Long said. “We overlapped in the Big 12 when he was at Nebraska and I was at Oklahoma. We had some epic battles against each other during that time. I have Midwest roots, Big 12 roots. I’m back in the Big 12 and I’m excited to be here.”
The job begins immediately
On all fronts, Long’s work began right away. In addition to his introduction to the media, Long joined Gill in meeting his new players Monday night, all with one eye fixed on making up for lost time in the recruiting game.
“Transition is never easy,” Long said. “And I know they have gone through some tough transition, so we’re going to try to smooth that situation as quickly as possible. We’re anxious to meet everybody and see everybody. Like (coach Gill) said about recruiting, we only have one more week before the dead period starts, so we need to get to all of those commitments and start there. I’m sure we’ll be watching a lot of recruiting tape the next few days, but we’re going to be at it right away.”
Although the Jayhawks are losing some of the most prolific offensive players in school history — quarterback Todd Reesing and wide receivers Dezmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier — Long said the natural transition from that group to the next could benefit Gill and his staff as they begin to introduce their offensive philosophies.
“Sure, it does in a way,” Long said. “We don’t want to completely start over. You try to do things that they’re familiar with and, to be honest with you guys, there are base packages that everybody runs in college football, that’s just the way it is. It’s how you dress it up and how you work it and how you call it, that’s the difference. So there’s going to be a lot of familiar schemes that they’ll recognize and go, ‘Oh yeah, we know that, that’s been around 100 years.’ But, at the same time, change is inevitable in life, in anything, and this is part of it. One of the things we’ll talk about is you have to adapt to that change quickly or you’ll get left behind.”
Although KU loses several high-profile offensive pieces from this year’s team, the locker room will not be left empty. In 2010, the Jayhawks will return their entire offensive line, standout running back Toben Opurum, wide receivers Bradley McDougald and Johnathan Wilson, tight end Tim Biere and back-up quarterback Kale Pick. Gill said he hoped to build upon Kansas’ recent tradition of offensive explosiveness and said he believed that Long was the man to help him get it done.
“You want to know what we’re going to do offensively,” Gill said. “We’re going to run some spread offense, but we’re also going to incorporate a fullback into the game and do some two-backs occasionally. So we’re going to do some of the same things you’ve seen here, but we’re also going to do some things differently.
“If we can be consistent every day and go out and do the best job we can do, there will be some excellent things that will take place here.”