Long Addresses Arkansas Issues

Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long gave a speech to the Northwest Arkansas Touchdown Club on Wednesday and then addressed a group of media on hand. He talked about the handling of the Bobby Petrino incident, the failed hiring of John L. Smith, his hopes for current football coach Bret Bielema and what he expects from head basketball coach Mike Anderson's program in year four.

Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long met with a group of media members after Wednesday's speech at the Northwest Arkansas Touchdown Club on Wednesday and addressed some topics regarding both the football and basketball programs.

That's ahead of the Razorbacks (1-1) visiting Texas Tech (2-0) Saturday at 2:30 - a game that comes after a 10-game losing streak ended with a 73-7 pasting of Nicholls, an FCS team.

“It is important because we want to win them all,” Long said. “This is an important game. 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 are building the program. And again, we all want to win now. I want to win now. I want to win that game on Saturday. 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 and one that will be strong and consistently strong year after year.”

Long, who was hired seven years ago this week, admitted it was nice to finally shed the losing streak even if it was against an over-matched foe.

“I think we saw some really good things against Auburn that first half," Long said. " I think we stood toe to toe. We faded in the second half for a number of different reasons that the coach has addressed. You know what - we didn't struggle to beat a lesser opponent and there have been times when Arkansas teams have done that in the past. But we didn't struggle. I think that is a good sign and we are making progress. I do think this game will give us a better indication of where we stand against like teams.”

He thinks Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema is the right guy for the job.

"You could see it with Coach Bielema," Long said. "He's generally an optimistic, upbeat person and I think that carries through his staff and carries through his players. I think that's something that Coach Bielema has a gift for. He does have an energy, an enthusiasm, a positiveness about him that I think his staff and his players feed off of. To be honest with you, the staff feeds off of it. I feed off of it.

"I made the comment at the kickoff luncheon that he's made football fun again," Long added. "Some people took that to mean that 'Oh, Jeff Long likes the 3-9.' They knew that's not what I meant. I love the way Bret Bielema is a players coach but has discipline, accountability, high expectations for their student athletes and they're buying in and you can see that throughout their conduct, through their academic performance, and you're gonna see it in their athletic performance as we build the program."

Long said there were a few simple reasons he thinks he has hired the right guy.

"Because I think on the successful teams I've been around, those things have been in place," Long said. "The performance off the field, the discipline, the conduct, knowing who they represented, how they represent. Taking care of business off the field translates to taking care of business on the field. So if you've got a student-athlete who is attentive to his tutor appointments, his academics, his weight lifting, all those things, that translates to success.

"It takes a little bit of time," Long added. "And again it is changing the culture. But I'm very confident that Bret is doing it the right way and building a strong program. I really believe that."

Long said that he was well aware of attendance being just 63,108 for the Arkansas-Nicholls game and that only one thing would kick it back in the right direction.

“Certainly success has direct impact on fans in the stands, we know that,” Long said. “We had a great student turnout at the game on Saturday. I think fan support will grow with success. We were on a streak there that people were aware of because they were reminded of it often. I think our fans will be in the stadium as we show more success."

Any concerns about the budget due to the lagging attendance?

“No, we’ve budgeted very well and while we might have a dip in attendance we’ve had up in other areas," Long said. " So we’ve not gone backwards. If you look at our budgets it’s increased each of the last, gosh, three, four, five, maybe over the last seven years it’s increased every year, I believe. No, we budget differently. And we budget strategically like we always would. But no, we’re not seeing a negative in our operation of our program and what we’re doing in our program because of that.”

Long also admitted that hiring John L. Smith as an interim coach to follow Bobby Petrino turned out to be a bad decision - albeit one he would make again.

"I assess that it didn't work," Long said. "I think at the time, with the information that I had that I thought the John L. hire would be a good fit. I thought that I had strong offensive and defensive coordinators (Paul Petrino and Paul Haynes) that could lead their sides of the ball.

"It didn't turn out that way," Long added. "You know, I'm comfortable enough with who I am and the job I do to understand that was not a good decision - in hindsight... While I won't share with you the other options, I think still at that time it was the best option. It didn't turn out that way."

Long was then asked about how he dealt with the volatile nature of Petrino, the former Arkansas and current Louisville head coach.

"Well, I will say that we, as an athletic director and department, we’re aware of our coaches’ conduct," Long said. "And we were aware at the time and we handled those situations appropriately. But with Coach Bielema, it’s certainly a different atmosphere. Different approach to the game, different philosophy. Different way of engaging the student-athletes in the program. Again, you can see that in off the field conduct. You can see that in the academic performance. You can see that in their involvement in community service and community learning situations. So, yeah, there’s a difference in philosophy, certainly. And I knew that when I hired Bret that there would be.”

Are you saying there were actions you took 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 said. "I’m not aware of other things that have been alleged.”

Long would not go any deeper.

“Those are, I’m going to use the escape, those are personnel issues that I really don’t want to get into," Long said. "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. And they’re different and I knew that when I hired Bret it would be different.”

Long was also asked if he talked with Auburn or the SEC about Elevator-gate - when the Razorback coaches in the press box got stuck in an elevator during halftime of the season opener and were not able to meet with the players.

"Certainly we're disappointed that the situation occurred for our football coaches," Long said. "You know...I don't think it had an impact on the ultimate outcome of the game. I don't believe that. Now, I think maybe we could have made some halftime adjustments. That's my point of view. Ultimately I don't think it affected the outcome of the game. Auburn's aware. They have responded appropriately and I'm sure they won't have a problem with that going forward."

• • • 

Long also talked about where he though the Razorback basketball program is as Anderson heads into his fourth year without an NCAA Tournament berth to this point.

“I think we’re right there. I think we’re a program and a team that Mike has built the right way," Long said. "You know, Mike had a lot of APR issues to deal with. Those who don’t understand that process, there’s a lot of work to do there. It means a lot of things that you can’t do to manage your roster. And Mike has done that admirably and he has never complained one time. Again, when we met and said let’s build it the right way, one that will be consistently successful and last. Mike has done that.

"He’s further ahead than Coach Bielema because he’s been here longer. But I think our team is ready to take that step. I’m excited about this basketball season. And I know his student athletes and I know his coaching staff are because I think they believe they can be very successful this year.”

 • • •

Long talked about some of the academic successes the school has had during his time at Arkansas.

• Anderson's basketball program will have a spring APR of 1,000 - up from 872 since he arrived. He had six graduates last season. Seven years ago, six players finished their eligibility and none of them graduated per Long.

• The cumulative Arkansas student-athlete GPA has gone from 2.8 to 3.2. The football program has gone from 2.3 to 2.7 under Coach Bielema.

• There were 34 football players under a 2.0 grade point average when Bielema arrived. There are zero now.

• There were 112 student athletes that graduated last spring - up from 62 just seven years ago. That's an 81 percent increase per Long.


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