LAWRENCE — The elephant in the room was on vacation.
David Beaty was nowhere to be seen Wednesday when Kansas introduced Jeff Long as its new athletic director. KU’s fourth-year football coach instead was enjoying some last-minute PTO with his family before the season cranks up in earnest with next week’s Big 12 media days.
Now to be fair, we must point out that Beaty skipped Wednesday’s proceedings at the insistence of his new boss, who understands the many demands of coaches and encourages them to spend as much time as possible with loved ones. It also is possible that chancellor Douglas Girod encouraged Beaty to stay away to avoid a circus atmosphere that might have detracted from Long and KU’s historic day.
Still, more than one observer wondered whether Beaty erred by not showing up to support the department’s new leader — especially when it became clear that Long is no more familiar with his grid coach than Beaty is with on-field success.
Long admitted he has yet to visit with Beaty face-to-face. He said the two did speak by phone on a couple occasions, but noted those conversations didn’t include “any detailed discussions about the football program.”
They also apparently didn’t include detailed discussions about personal issues or life experiences.
“I know he’s a coach,” Long said. “I know he’s a good person. I know he works hard.”
I know he’s a coach?
Well, glad we cleared that up. Whether that comment is laughable or tragic is open to interpretation, but it sure seems telling.
Long may not know much about the man leading his football program, but he is familiar with the program itself, mired in a 15-81 slide that now has lasted nearly a decade. He also understands perfectly why he was hired, and made that clear at the end of his opening statement.
“It’s time to break the cycle,” he said.
Long didn’t specify exactly how he would go about doing that — other than to say he needs to assess the program and its facilities, see how Beaty operates and make sure KU is allocating its football resources appropriately.
“I just want to make sure that we have the resources that we currently have committed to the right areas of the football program to help it be successful,” Long said.
This is where we probably should note that $1.6 million of KU’s annual football resources currently are committed to Beaty, a coach with a 3-33 record and one Big 12 victory in three years. Granted, Beaty inherited a mess from Charlie Weis, but it’s clear his clean-up efforts haven’t helped.
So, how much more time should a struggling coach be given to prove he still can provide some polish?
Long didn’t directly address that question, either, but the harsh reality is the Jayhawks' new AD might not need to know his football coach all that well because Beaty might not be around all that long.
Long said his goals are to reach a bowl game and ultimately win a Big 12 championship. Do those sound like reasonable objectives for the program in its current state?
For now, Long is just eagerly awaiting the chance to witness Beaty’s operation firsthand during the preseason and in the season opener against Nicholls State.
“We’ll really start to know the progress Sept. 1 when the season begins,” Long said.
If signs of progress aren’t evident rather quickly, Long won’t be shy about making a change.
He says he looks first and foremost for coaches who are “leaders of young men” and is less concerned with schemes and strategies. “X’s and O’s, trust me, they’re important, and I get it and we have to make sure that they know how to coach the game,” he said, “but I think leaders of young men is most important.”
Long’s past suggests he likely would hire someone you’ve heard of — he lured Dave Wannstedt to Pittsburgh and Bobby Petrino and Bret Bielema to Arkansas. His present suggests those big-name hires and his experience as chairman of the College Football Playoff selection committee made a significant impression on Girod and search leader Drue Jennings.
Girod said KU sought a candidate with a national profile because he expects the Jayhawks to be players on the national stage, and not just in basketball. He gave Long a $7.5 million contract because he and Jennings quickly became convinced Long has the connections, experience and fundraising ability to make KU football relevant again.
“You could tell, like the chancellor, this guy means business,” Jennings said.
Whether Jennings and Girod are right about Long remains to be seen.
That Long didn’t offer many substantive ideas Wednesday might be reason for pause. On many occasions he said only that he needs to assess situations, giving the appearance that he hadn’t done much homework on the team’s roster or staff, the $350 million “Raise The Chant” campaign or plans to renovate Memorial Stadium.
Of course, it’s possible that was all by design, a tactic allowing Long to be deliberately vague and avoid giving away too many details before he assumes the job on Aug. 1.
Either way, for now all we really know about Long’s vision is that he vows to support his student-athletes and coaches, emphasizes honesty and integrity, wants to remove obstacles to success by raising money and developing new revenue streams, and is determined to “compete, compete, compete.” While all those are admirable goals, they’re what you would expect every athletic director to preach.
At some point, Long must show everyone what he showed Girod and Jennings.
He’s here because KU football presents a unique challenge and Girod and Jennings believe he is uniquely qualified to tackle that challenge. He’s here because Jennings looked him in the eye during their first meeting and saw a man who was personable, professional and passionate, someone full of resolve. He’s here because he is seen as a guy who means business, and because KU has been in the business of losing football games for far too long.
Jeff Long’s first order is to change that — with or without the presence of David Beaty.
Tim Bisel is a columnist for The Topeka Capital-Journal.