State of the Hogs: Jeff Long
In early August of 1978 when I arrived at the Tulsa World to cover college football, my home phone rang. It was Merv Johnson, then offensive line coach at Oklahoma.
"I knew your momma and your daddy at Arkansas," Johnson said. "If ever you need anything, or I can help, call me here at this number."
When Jeff Long was introduced as the next athletic director at Arkansas earlier this week, his ties to the University of Oklahoma jumped off his bio sheet. I recognized immediately as the former senior associate AD at OU he would have worked closely with Johnson, for the last nine years the Director of Football Operations at OU and before that the Sooner offensive line coach from 1979-97.
I opened my old phone book, found that same number for Johnson to check out our new AD. If there is anyone that I'll listen to, it's Johnson. Check Johnson's bio and you'll know why. His offensive lines at Arkansas, Notre Dame and Oklahoma helped produce four national titles.
The other thing that jumps out in his bio, in 2003 the National Football Foundation created the Integrity Award. The first one went to Johnson. The award was then named after him.
My ears perked up when Long said Johnson was the man he asked to provide an introduction to the legendary Frank Broyles. As Board of Trustees member Jim Lindsey and I discussed Tuesday afternoon, if ever there was someone that Broyles would listen to about another man, it would be Johnson. Me, too.
"I did discuss Jeff with Frank," Johnson said. "I was glad to do it because I think a lot of both of them. It should be a good situation. I think Jeff is going to be good for Arkansas and good for Frank.
"I feel like I got to know Jeff when he was here. We sat together in a lot of meeting rooms over those two and a half years. We worked on a lot of things together. We were around each other socially some and I saw that side of him, too. He's very, very good in everything he does. I can't say enough good things about Jeff Long. "He's detail oriented and very organized. Yet, he still seemed to have time to find out about what was going on in your world, too."
Johnson thinks Long has the right skill sets to be the modern AD. He said today's world of college athletics is different. It's not "the time of the old coach in an AD position." He said men like Long and current OU athletic director Joe Castiglione "trained themselves to be ADs." And, they did it well.
"Today, the AD has to be great in marketing and fundraising," he said. "People like Joe and Jeff understand how to surround themselves with the right people in those areas. Additionally, they have great people skills. People really like them. Jeff is perfect in all of those areas.
"I wouldn't think the press conference you saw Tuesday was what Jeff is really like. You need to be around him one-on-one and in smaller settings. People will like him a lot in those settings. He has lots of energy and he knows the importance that the University of Arkansas plays in the community and in the state of Arkansas. He gets the big picture."
The big picture has to do with the big money it takes to get and keep coaches these days.
"He knows it is important to have top coaches," Johnson said. "Arkansas has learned two or three times over the last (25 years) that having top coaches is important. You let a top coach go and you have to pay a whole lot more for the next one.
"It may be true that a lot of coaches make too much money, but you let one of those go and you end up spending more than you were paying to get another good one. Then, you won't know what you've got for four or five years."
Johnson has incredible insight into what Long is getting into at Arkansas. He knows Broyles. Broyles and Johnson remain close friends, as suggested by their phone conversation about Long on Sunday.
"I thought the column (by John Rhode) in The Oklahoman ( newspaper on Thursday) was very much on target," Johnson said. "What happens next at Arkansas is a lot up to Frank. In a perfect world, he can embrace and empower Jeff. It can be a great situation. Frank can help him.
"He wrote how this could be the best thing that could possibly happen at Arkansas and for Frank. But the key will be for Frank to get to know Jeff and get close to him and then help him.
"I know it probably still stings a lot for Frank to have this happen. But to me, it's a win-win for Arkansas. You've got Frank still there and a top-notch man coming in. He is REALLY top-notch. If I was looking for an AD, Jeff would be at the top of my list.
"I just hope Frank can enjoy this and know that he's still in a wonderful place. I hope that's the way this turns out."
If Jeff Long is good enough for Merv Johnson, he ought to be good enough for all of us.
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