Editorial: KU makes smart AD hire
photo by: Journal-World Photo Illustration
The hiring of Jeff Long to serve as athletic director for the University of Kansas is a big step forward for KU.
Long is the most experienced athletic director that Kansas has hired in the modern era. He has been an athletic director for 18 years, including 15 years at Pittsburgh and Arkansas, both major Power 5 conference schools.
And he will be paid like it — Long’s contract includes a $1.5 million salary, which places him among the highest paid athletic directors in the Big 12 along with Kirby Hocutt of Texas Tech and Joe Castiglione of Oklahoma.
“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,” Girod said in a KU news release.
During Long’s tenure at Arkansas, Razorback teams captured 34 conference championships and advanced to 139 postseason competitions, including national titles at the 2013 NCAA Men’s Indoor and 2015 NCAA Women’s Indoor Track and Field Championships, as well as the 2016 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships.
In 2016-17, Arkansas finished No. 20 in the Learfield Directors’ Cup, which measures universities’ success across all sports, marking the university’s eighth top-25 finish in the previous 10 years. In the classroom, the Razorbacks posted a school record student-athlete GPA and exceeded the national APR multiyear rate in all 19 sports, including posting the school’s highest program average ever.
But make no mistake; Long will be judged at Kansas by his ability to fix the university’s woeful football program. Athletic department expenses have begun outpacing revenues as football attendance has lagged during a run of 12-72 during previous athletic director Sheahon Zenger’s tenure. The two football coaches Zenger hired — Charlie Weis and current coach David Beaty — have combined to go 9-55 and football ticket sales are a third of what they were a decade ago.
Long’s mission is to fix those trends by putting fans back in the seats at Memorial Stadium and getting donors excited about $350 million in facility renovations, most of which are dedicated to football. At Arkansas, Long led a successful $160 million football stadium renovation.
Very quickly, Long must assess whether Beaty is the right man to lead the Jayhawk football program. If Long decides a change is in order, the good news is he has a history of hiring football coaches with proven track records such as Dave Wannstedt at Pitt and Bobby Petrino and Bret Bielema at Arkansas.
All three hires had success, though it wasn’t always smooth sailing. Long had to fire Petrino for off-the-field issues, and fan dissatisfaction with the football program under Bielema led to Long’s firing in November 2017. The firing is the biggest knock against Long.
Still, Girod made the right hire. Given the state of the athletics department, KU needed an experienced athletic director with a proven track record in football. Long appears to fit that bill better than any candidate available.