LAWRENCE — Ringing endorsements from a Hall of Fame basketball coach and a former U.S. Secretary of State accompany Kansas’ pick for athletic director to his new gig.
KU has hired Jeff Long for the position, chancellor Douglas Girod announced in a Thursday afternoon news release. Most recently the athletic director at Arkansas, Long also held that position at previous stops Pittsburgh and Eastern Kentucky.
Long will be introduced in a news conference Wednesday and will officially start Aug. 1. He will be paid $1.5 million per year in his five-year KU contract, with $1.3 million paid by private funds from the university's athletic department and the remaining $200,000 paid by the university.
In the release, Girod called Long “a terrific fit” for KU’s athletic department and an administrator with “tremendous leadership.”
“Those who know him describe him as a man of character who cares deeply about higher education and the student-athletes he serves,” Girod said. “For all these reasons, we are thrilled to welcome him to the University of Kansas.”
Long replaces previous athletic director Sheahon Zenger, who held the position from early 2011 until his May 21 firing. Zenger's final base pay at KU was $700,000 in a contract that ran through 2021.
Long’s nearly decade-long tenure with Arkansas ended with his own firing on Nov. 15, 2017, with chancellor Joseph Steinmetz citing Long’s "lost support (from) many of our fans, alumni, key supporters and members of the university leadership” for the decision.
“It was clear from the moment I met with the chancellor and his search committee members, they have a deep love for the university and understand and appreciate the positive role intercollegiate athletics plays in the university community,” Long said. “Through our conversations, it became evident we share a common belief that the student-athlete experience prepares young people for the challenges they will face throughout life. I am excited to work with the student-athletes, coaches, staff, the community of Lawrence and the incredible fan base to build on past success and create a shared vision for the future of Kansas Athletics.”
Long served as athletic director at Eastern Kentucky from 1998-2001 and at Pittsburgh from 2003-07, with other administrative stops at Oklahoma, Michigan, Virginia Tech, Eastern Kentucky and Rice.
KU men’s basketball coach Bill Self called Long “among the best and most respected” athletic directors in the country.
“He has great experience, a great pedigree, and he knows what it takes to succeed at the highest levels,” Self said. “While I’m just getting to know Jeff, I’m impressed that he’s universally described as a high-character guy who will provide strong support for every sport across the entire athletics program. From my perspective, he’s exactly the type of leader we need.
“Our fans can be excited about the future of Kansas Athletics.”
Long also served as chairman of the College Football Playoff selection committee in 2014 and '15 and remained a member of the committee through 2017.
“Jeff Long is a skilled administrator and a person of integrity,” said former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. “I was fortunate to serve with him on the College Football Playoff committee. He was our chairman and respected by all. Jeff cares deeply about student-athletes — and their success in the classroom and on the playing field. The University of Kansas has made a great choice.”
KU alumnus Drue Jennings, who headed the university's seven-week search process, said the athletic department is in "good hands" under Long's leadership.
“Jeff has a record of integrity, experience in hiring coaches, ties with other Bowl Championship Series schools, effective fundraising and a willingness to lead on national issues affecting college athletics,” Jennings said. “We can be proud that he’s joining us at KU.”
KU football coach David Beaty, who has gone 3-33 in three seasons at KU, was not among the 11 individuals who commented on Long's hiring at the end of KU's news release, though he later weighed in via Twitter.
"I am excited to have Jeff Long joining the Jayhawk family," Beaty tweeted. "I have heard many wonderful things about his leadership style and I look forward to working with him."
Should KU be placed under any federal, state, NCAA or conference "restrictions or probation" in football, men's or women's basketball or volleyball for matters occurring prior to Aug. 1, Long's contract "shall be extended equal to the length of the penalties," the agreement states.
Long's tenure at Arkansas could perhaps be best described as a mixed bag.
While Razorback programs won 34 conference championships and advanced to 139 postseasons under Long's watch, the football program struggled to stay competitive in the Southeastern Conference. Arkansas went 29-32 — and 11-27 in SEC play — in five seasons under Long hire Bret Bielema, including a 4-8 mark in a 2017 campaign that cost both men their jobs.
Long came into the national spotlight for his leading role in the firing of former football coach Bobby Petrino in 2012, dismissing the successful coach after a motorcycle accident that was later revealed to also involve a mistress Petrino had hired to a position in the athletic department.
Long also spearheaded a $160 million renovation to Razorback Stadium, Arkansas football’s home facility. KU is in the midst of an ambitious $350-million fundraising effort with renovation efforts primarily focused on Memorial Stadium.
“The University of Kansas has the potential, based on its donor base, new chancellor and an elite basketball brand, to make a bold statement on the national landscape under Jeff's leadership,” said Jed Hughes, who played a key role in Long’s hiring as a consultant with executive search firm Korn Ferry. “He will ignite the stakeholders and help rally the Jayhawk nation to a highly competitive position within the Power Five conferences. Alumni and fans will see this hire as a strong step toward achieving excellence.”