Despite a season that has not lived up to expectations, Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long is still confident he is going to hire a next level head coach soon after the end of the 2012 season.
"Hopeful to have a decision on a new head coach shortly after the end of the regular season," Long said while the guest speaker Monday at the weekly meeting of the Little Rock Touchdown Club.
He is happy that a season that began 1-4 has taken a turn upward with two wins in the last two weeks heading into a open date this Saturday.
"We didn't fold our tent," Long said. "We didn't take our ball and go home…We stood and turned this negative into a positive."
Where is Long at in the search?
"Just research at this point," Long said. "We've still got 6-7 weeks of the season left. In our world, unlike the business world, you don't just pick out a candidate and go get him. We have some unwritten protocols that you try to follow. They're getting, to be honest with you, blurrier in our profession – what is appropriate and what isn't.
"But I'm going to try to walk that line and not try to invade or intrude upon a coach coaching a season," Long added. "That is important to me to do it the right way. Certainly there are a number of third parties out there trying to get information to us about those who might be interested and might not be. But we've got to walk a fine line there. It's really just research at this point."
The fact there will be other head coaching openings at the end of the season muddles the pool.
"That's certainly one of those complicating factors," Long said. "No question. There's going to be openings at the end of the season. Those are certainly; you try to prepare yourself for. That does add to the difficult. It's a very difficult process."
Long was asked if he ever thought of firing head coach John L. Smith and he said there was no consideration of doing that.
"I made a commitment in April to our student-athletes, to our coaches, to John L. Smith," Long said. "That would not be sending the right messages to our student-athletes. Certainly it would not have been sending the right message to our student body, our young people at the University of Arkansas and I think it certainly would not be sending the right messages to coaches and people across the country as we set out to hire a new coach in December.
"So, absolutely none," Long added. "I know there was lots of speculation, which is unfounded, but no, there was no consideration."
In that same vein, Long would not rule out Smith as a candidate with Arkansas having won its last two games.
"We've both said very clearly at the end of the season we will know very clearly if he is a candidate or not," Long said. "We're not at the end of the season. I think it will become very clear. It will be very clear to both of us if he's a candidate at the end of the season."
Long was asked if he would go after an offensive coach or a defensive one.
"No, I've not said we're going after this type coach or that type of coach," Long said. "First of all, you're looking at going after a leader, a leader of young men. We've all seen, you can look across college football right now and see an awful lot of different philosophies — offense and defense — that are being successful.
"But I think it starts with the head coach," Long said. "I think it starts with them as a leader and a person and whether that's defense or offense…I haven't said we're only looking at an offensive coach to come in and take advantage of maybe the perceived offensive talent we have."
Long says it is tough to figure out what coaches are truly interested and which ones are just trying to get a raise from their current school.
"I don't have examples," Long said. "You all know as many as I do. So, I don't need to answer that question for you. You've seen that play out with coaches who have gone to the alter and backed out. No, I don't have anybody to offer in that regard."
He does not think Arkansas' early struggles will reduce the pool of candidates.
"I don't think so," Long said. " I think coaches coach. Coaches believe that they'll be able to coach their young men and get them to perform at a high, high level. So, I don't think this season has a negative impact on those candidates. Again, I think they're going to be coming in to build their program. They're going to take the pieces of this program that fit their philosophies and improve upon that. They're going to bring their program to the University of Arkansas."
That's in large part because of what Arkansas has done in the last five years per Long.
"No question I think from five years ago we have a tremendous amount to sell," Long said. "First thing people think of is facilities. Yes, we've improved our facilities. The football center will be one of the best, if not the best, in the country. Certainly the centralized location of all of our operations, there will be very few that have that.
"…But I think what we've done too, more important, we've built the infrastructure behind the coach - what he needs to be successful," Long continued. "Academic support. Certainly with the changes in NCAA rules, continuing eligibility, the graduation APR. You have to have that infrastructure. Coaches are looking for that. We have that now.
"We'll eventually have a facility as we move forward on building our student-athlete success center," Long continued. "But we've dealt with personnel, people first. We've got people interested in helping student athletes progress and get their degree and that is very important.
"Also I mentioned too, athletic training, sports medicine, team physicians, strength and conditioning, facilities and people," Long added. "We've invested in those things. And I think when coaches have a chance to look at us and what we have to offer, they're going to see, if they're interested in a challenge, if they're a competitor, if they want to play and beat the very best, we've got a lot to offer. We've got the resources and the facilities around them and the team around them to be successful."
The Search Continues
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