Arkansas AD Long: We are building a (football) program that will be strong
FAYETTEVILLE - Wednesday's Northwest Arkansas Touchdown Club audience at Mermaid's Restaurant heard Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long address his role as the chairman of the committee overseeing the first NCAA Division 1 football Playoff.
They heard him firmly support Coach Bret Bielema's foundation rebuilding the football program. They heard him cite the improvements in the Razorbacks' academic achievements, particularly enormous improvements over their predecessors in Bielema's football program and Mike Anderson's men's basketball program. They were told about programs educating athletes in the dangers of drug abuse, alcohol abuse and domestic violence.
What they didn't hear in his speech's immediate aftermath was the athletic director's rare meeting with assembled media. Questions ranged from Southern California Athletic Director/Football Playoff Committee member Pat Haden getting reprimanded by the Pac 12 for waging an on-field protest of an official's call during USC's victory over Stanford last week, to Long's April hiring of John L. Smith to coach the 2012 season following the sudden, scandal-compelled firing of Bobby Petrino. It included if Long reevaluates standards of his coaches' conduct following a recent Sports Illustrated article reporting that Petrino's verbally abusive mother of all F-bomb tirades were so frequent that SI reported some Arkansas staffers referred to him with the acronym BMFP.
Regarding Haden, Long said he concurred with a statement College Football Playoff Executive Director Bill Hancock that Haden's passionate outburst during a USC game should not conflict with his ability to assess the top four teams ultimately selected to play in the Rose and Sugar Bowls, this season's quarterfinals leading into the semifinal games feeding into the national championship game.
"My view is very similar," Long said. "You know, we can all get passionate about our teams. I'm passionate about the Arkansas Razorbacks. Matter of fact, I was at the volleyball game last night, and I was excited about some calls. I think that it doesn't affect the way that Pat Haden is going to evaluate teams when we come down to making tough decisions in the selection process. I don't think his actions affect his ability to serve extremely well on the Playoff Committee."
Regarding Smith, the former Michigan State and Louisville head coach and Arkansas assistant (2009-2011) recently hired as Weber State's head coach when Long brought him back as Arkansas' head coach, Long said hindsight of that 4-8 season for a team picked preseason Top 10 off an 11-2 season ultimately proved "it didn't work."
Long said under the circumstances of hiring a coach in April that Smith's proven head coaching experience, three years Razorbacks experience and familiarity with Petrino's system (Petrino was a young assistant to Smith at Idaho, Utah State and Louisville) would "make him a good fit."
"It didn't turn out that way," Long said.
Regarding if he reevaluates the conduct he expects of his coaches post Petrino: Long replied, "I will say that we, as an athletic director and department, we're aware of our coaches' conduct. And we were aware at the time and we handled those situations appropriately. But with Coach Bielema it is certainly a different atmosphere. Different way of engaging the student-athletes in the program."
A followup question: Are you saying you took actions when Petrino was here and how he handled people?
"All I'm saying is that I'm aware of some of the things that have been alleged," Long replied. "I'm not aware of other things that have been alleged."
Another followup: How does Jeff Long handle behavior when it comes to treating other people in a derogatory way?
"I'm going to use the escape, those are personnel issues that I really don't want to get into," Long replied. "But certainly you know Coach Petrino had a way that he conducted the program, and Bret has the way that he conducted the program and the way he interacts with people and staff and student-athletes. I knew that when I hired Bret it would be different."
Given the chaos that Bielema inherited with leftovers off a preseason highly touted senior laden team that crashed 4-8, Bielema's 2013 debut was a 3-9 struggle closed with nine consecutive losses including 0-8 in the SEC.
Now off to an encouraging 21-21 first half in the season opener at nationally fifth-ranked reigning SEC champion Auburn that dissipated into a 45-21 defeat, and last week routing lower division Nicholls State, 73-7 compared to rallying in the second half to overcome lower division Samford last year, how big would winning Saturday's game at Texas Tech be to the Bielema regime?
"This is an important game," Long said. "But as I shared in my comments today, we are building a program. A win or loss Saturday doesn't take our program back. We all want to win now. I want to now. So does every student-athlete on that team and every coach. But no, I don't see it as a significant setback if we weren't to come out victorious. We are building a program that will be strong and consistently strong year after year."