The long search for a new athletic director is over in Lawrence. After relieving Sheahon Zenger of his duties back on May 21st following seven years in the job, Kansas has been searching for a new leader. With assistant AD Sean Lester running the department during the search, Kansas wanted to find an AD that could change the culture, and hopefully, help field a winning football team.
The Jayhawks seem to have found their choice, as today, they announced in a press release that Jeff Long had accepted the position. Kansas chancellor Douglas A. Girod had this to say about the new addition:
“Jeff Long has tremendous leadership and administrative experience in major college athletics, and he is a terrific fit for Kansas Athletics as we work to ensure our student-athletes succeed on the field and in the classroom,” Girod said. “Those who know him describe him as a man of character who cares deeply about higher education and the student-athletes he serves. For all these reasons, we are thrilled to welcome him to the University of Kansas.”
Long is one of the more well-known athletic directors in America. He spent four years at Pitt from 2003-2007, before leaving to take over at Arkansas for the next nine years. During his time at Pitt, he was responsible for hiring Dave Wannstedt to run the football program and Jamie Dixon to take over the Basketball program.
Dixon was the more successful of the two, winning 72% of his games at Pitt and leading the Panthers to 11 NCAA tournaments and three conference titles in 13 seasons. Wannstedt won 57% of his games at Pitt and took the team to two bowls in six years. At Arkansas, Long brought in Bobby Petrino, John L. Smith and Bret Bielema to coach football, while hiring Mike Anderson for basketball.
Petrino was the most successful of the bunch, leading the Razorbacks to a top five finish and a Cotton Bowl win in 2011, as well as a 67% winning percentage overall. Bielema never really got off the ground at Arkansas, as he was consistently mediocre in his five seasons before being fired. John L. Smith went 4-8 in his only season.
Anderson has been one of the better basketball coaches in school history, putting up a 64% winning percentage and taking the program to three NCAA tournaments in seven seasons.
Long is best known by college football fans for his work on the College Football Playoff committee for its first four seasons. He was the chairman in 2014 and 2015, and served on the board until last year. Long had this to say about this decision, and what led him to Lawrence:
“My family and I are thrilled to join Chancellor Girod’s leadership team at the University of Kansas,” Long said. “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. 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 will likely be tasked with hiring a new football coach after this season, as David Beaty is seen as a lame-duck coach, almost certainly destined to be fired unless he has a huge breakout year. History suggests that Long will either look for a former coordinator or a lower level rising star to take over this position, though his time at Arkansas contradicts that a bit. The first name that comes up here would be Bielema, but I don’t see those two works together again.
A popular name in Kansas circles for the football coaching job is Tulane’s Willie Fritz, and I don’t think that changes with this hire. Nothin will happen on this front until at least August 1st, however, as Long doesn’t begin working until then. He’ll be officially introduced at a press conference on July 11th.