LAWRENCE — Bill Self downplayed his role in recruiting Jeff Long to Kansas, politely shrugging off the new athletic director’s claim the Hall of Fame coach “recruited” him here.
That doesn’t, however, mean Self is without an idea or two on what makes a good boss.
Speaking after Long’s introductory news conference Wednesday at Lied Center, Self outlined the top two traits he believes make a good athletic director — and why, after only a few short conversations with Long, he has a hunch he personifies both.
“From my standpoint the biggest things to me would be toughness and loyalty,” Self said. “I really believe that an athletic director, in my opinion, from a coach’s perspective ... (should) give (a coach) the ability to fight through whatever obstacles you have to be successful, and then to also have somebody that believed in you and was loyal to what you were trying to do and not emotional.”
Loyalty appears to be a theme in Long’s past.
Arkansas fired Long as its athletic director last November shortly before it dismissed embattled football coach Bret Bielema. In the final stages of a 10-year tenure with the Razorbacks, Long showed strong loyalty to Bielema, and it is fair to speculate whether he’d still be that program’s athletic director had he dismissed the struggling coach.
Long on Wednesday said he was “incredibly proud” of what Arkansas accomplished and what the athletic department was able to overcome under his watch.
“In this business it’s much easier to fall from the top to down beneath than to crawl up there, so you want to know if the guy’s got patience, if a guy will stand by you if the bad season occurs or something like that,” Self said. “Although we didn’t talk about that directly to that extent, you could definitely tell he would be a coach’s A.D.”
Self said he has already spoken to multiple people from Long’s past, and while he didn’t name names, individuals such as Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, legendary former Michigan football coach Lloyd Carr, College Football Playoff executive director Bill Hancock and former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice were among those lauding KU as part of the school’s news release announcing the hire.
While he made sure to stress his admiration for past athletic directors Sheahon Zenger and Lew Perkins, count Self among that cheering crowd.
“I think this is a great place, and I think our place got better today,” Self said. “I think Jeff will make our place better, and I think people should be very excited about that.”
Come Aug. 1, the first working day of his five-year, $7.5 million contract, Long’s tallest task perhaps will be completing the $350 million “Raise the Chant” fundraising campaign, a project which hopes to allocate $300 million to renovations at David Booth—Kansas Memorial Stadium. Asked what traits make a good fundraiser, Self stressed commanding respect.
Still, the challenges of trying to sell a football program mired in a 15-81 stretch are obvious.
“I’m a big believer that the thing that sells the most is the product,” Self said. “It’d be hard to be a great salesman if you’re pushing a bad product. The understanding that it’s got to be a joint effort — winning, improvement creates momentum. When you have momentum, you certainly want to extend it as much as you possibly can and jump on it.
“He knows we have to create some momentum from a fundraising opportunity, but he also is very optimistic and excited about that and he thinks that’s very doable in the short term to get people excited.”
BABY JAYS PROGRESSING
Self will lead a team next season returning only five upperclassmen — one senior — and with that in mind, one might expect a sharp learning curve for the inexperienced squad.
Through a few weeks of summer practices, Self appears pleased with what he's seen.
“Practice is actually going good,” Self said. “We get four hours a week with the guys so we’ve been splitting that (with) two hours of individual improvement and two hours of team-type things. It’s actually been very good.”
Early returns have the team’s loaded frontcourt — isn’t that odd to read after the last few seasons? — getting the best of the inexperienced backcourt.
“We have a lot of big bodies. Baskets aren’t easy to come by,” Self said. “I’m hoping it’s because we’re challenging shots better and we’re more physical. I hope it’s not just because we’re awful shooters. But it’s been very competitive, far more competitive than it’s been in recent years.”
VICK, SELF MOVING FORWARD
Lagerald Vick, the team’s lone senior, has been back on campus for a little over a week, and Self said he’s “doing fine” and reintegrating with his teammates.
Vick made an unexpected return to the college ranks June 29 after testing the professional waters.
“Whatever the situations were with Lagerald on him exploring, on why he would explore and why I would’ve felt at the time that that would’ve been a wise decision probably for him to explore, those are over,” Self said. “The past is the past. He knows that, I know that. We are definitely right now on the same page. I’ve been real impressed with how hard he’s working.”