Q&A With Arkansas AD Jeff Long


Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long was the guest speaker at the Little Rock Touchdown Club meeting today.

There is considerable interest, obviously, with the Razorbacks looking for a permanent head coach for 2013. Long spoke about it in his message to the club, fielded a few questions at the end of his time at the podium and then met with the media to close the day.

Below is the transcript of his Q&A with the media, where LONG addresses how much Arkansas knew about the extent of John L. Smith's financial problems, if he ever considered reassigning Smith because of the early-season struggles, and what the next couple months will be like as he searches for Arkansas' next coach.

One important note: The questions below are not word-for-word. Long's answers are, however:

Did you expect such a difficult transition?

"Well, no. Obviously I had no idea, no expectation of the way things have unfolded. Certainly I don’t think anybody in this room did. But you know what? Every season is a challenge. Every season is different. Behind the scenes there were a lot of adjustments that had to be made. Not only the head football coach, offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator, changes in defense coaches – defensive line, linebackers, the corners, the safeties. So there was a lot of things going on behind the scenes. Again, that’s not to make excuses, but there were lots of adjustments that had to be made, certainly in philosophy and delivery of messages and certainly from the head coach. But also from assistant coaches working with new positions."

Was there any thought to going a different direction after the Texas A&M game?

"Absolutely not. I made a commitment in April to our student-athletes, to our coaches, to John L. Smith. 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. I know there was lots of speculation, which is unfounded. But no, there was no consideration."

Are you concerned with the attention John L. Smith’s bankruptcy has generated? Are you concerned how much time he’s spending on it?

"I’m actually not because I think he has dealt with much of this many years ago as he has been dealing with this situation for a number of years. I think when he shared that - I think it was close to July - when he shared that bankruptcy was becoming more of an option. I think when we spoke back in April when we hired him it was still a hope of his that he would avoid bankruptcy and he would work through the season and thought maybe it would be a couple years down the road before he’d have to make a difficult decision on bankruptcy. I know it’s not something he wanted to do, but I think as it has played out he had to make a decision. His financial advisors helped him make that decision. Again, anybody’s personal finances are their own business and he had to make a decision that was in his family’s best interest.

Is it a distraction to the program?

"I don’t think so. I don’t’ think there’s a student athlete that ever went to practice, ever went to class, that ever went to a meeting that had any thoughts of coach Smith’s financial situation in their minds."

Did you know the extent of the financial trouble? $25-50 million?

"No. No. Certainly, because I don’t think Coach Smith knew the depth of it. Again, it might seem odd to us to think how do you not know how much debt you’re in? Certainly that’s not a world I play in, but when you’re in that investment world we’ve all seen people have gotten in over their head with financial decisions and the number ends up being the number. No. I’m not shirking responsibility, but I didn’t know the depth. And I don’t think Coach Smith did either until it got very close to the time when he made the decision and his financial advisors made the decision to declare bankruptcy."

"I do want to clear up one thing because I did hear this: There was absolutely zero efforts by the University of Arkansas, Razorback athletics, the Razorback Foundation to assist coach Smith with hiding assets from bankruptcy court. I’ve learned through this process that’s not something we could do, even if we wanted to do. Certainly we were not doing that. Certainly you have to recall we were dealing with a 63-year old coach that was getting a 10-month contract. That coach was interested in his retirement. So working with his financial advisors, not unlike we’ve done with Coach Petrino’s advisors, I’m sure Coach Nutt’s even though I wasn’t here. In any of those situations you work with those financial advisors to decide to structure a package that’s to their benefit and the University’s benefit. So, I just want to be very clear about it. That does bother me that they said we were trying to assist … that is absolutely not true. I think the facts have borne that out."

What phase are you in the coaching search?

"Just research at this point. 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 during a season. 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."

Do other schools having difficult seasons complicate your search?

"That’s certainly one of those complicating factors. No question. There’s going to be openings at the end of the season. Those are certainly … You try to prepare yourself for it. That does add to the difficult. It’s a very difficult process."

Is John L. still a candidate?

"We’ve said from the very beginning about Coach Smith that I wasn’t going to analyze his performance each week of the season. We’ve both said very clearly at the end of the season we will know very clearly if he is a candidate or not. 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.”

How different is the hiring situation you’re in than the one you inherited in 2007?

"It’s different just because you have a lot of time to do a lot of research. … As we look forward, there is still going to be a window there that a lot of things will have to take place very quickly to secure that coach. Certainly you’ll go in with a lot more background knowledge, but, as I shared at the podium, you don’t’ know which people are truly interested and which are interested based on helping their current situation."

What you have to sell. How much different is the Arkansas job now than 2007?

"No question I think from five years ago we have a tremendous amount to sell. 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. 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. 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. 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.”

Will you consider the current talent in place on campus in your choice? A lean toward the offense or have you looked at needing to start over with a completely different philosophy?

"No, I’ve not said we’re going after this type coach or that type of coach.  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. I think it starts with them as a leader and a person and whether that’s defense or offense. No, 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. No, I haven’t put those on. I think in college the leader matters. The coach matters. The teacher. The motivator. All those things matter, especially in college. Saying it’s going to be offense or defense would be limiting us at this point. I want a quality leader for our program."

Does this job require somebody with proven experience?

"Well, I will tell you that certainly top assistants are not out of the question. I think if you just look around our own conference, look at some of the schools with great tradition, great resources, maybe reside in a state with great recruiting, they could have gone out and chose a proven head coach and they ended up with a top-notch coordinator. So I’m certainly not going to limit my head coaching search to sitting head coaches. There are a lot of offensive coordinators, defensive coordinators that may be ready to make that step like a Bob Stoops did 10-12 years ago when he went from a coordinator at Florida to a national championship in two years. There’s other examples, but that’s one I am somewhat familiar with. There are a lot of examples. The longer answer to your question is: there’s a lot of different ways to select a leader. There’s a lot of different types of people that can fill this job and be very successful."

Does the way the team has played so far concern you in your search?

"No. I don’t think so. 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."

Besides the research, what are you using the nine-month head start advantage to do?

"I’m not sure there is an advantage. In the end it becomes who is interested in us. Even though I have had quite a long time to look at and research coaches I don’t know who is truly interested in us. We won’t know that really until almost the end game because we’ve all seen other searches within this conference and out where they’ve ended up with their second and third choice so to speak. So it’s hard to know who's really interested in your program. Again, we have lots to offer. We will get a quality coach to lead our program, but at this point it’s, I’m not sure I have an advantage this much, this far in advance."

Paul Finebaum says this is the most important hire of your tenure, the biggest decision in Arkansas history?

"Well, that’s radio sports talk drama. Obviously. Of course it’s a big decision. It was a big decision five years ago when we made it. You know what? This coach won’t be the last coach that ever coaches at the University of Arkansas in football. So when that person is hired it will be the biggest. Of course it’s big. But it’s not, it doesn’t need to be dramatized any more than that. It’s a big decision. We’ll go about our efforts to hire the best person. Obviously coach Broyles hired a number of them through his career. You know what? They’re big searches at the time. We’ll work extremely hard to get the best person here at the university of Arkansas."

How much did you learn five years ago about hiring a football coach?

"Well, it wasn’t that much different. Other than the … Well, I’ll say the process wasn’t much different than what I’d done at Pittsburgh or when I wasn’t the AD, but assisted in searches before. The process is not that different. The intensity of the interest was certainly something that I learned about. And it’s one of those things you think you know about here in Arkansas. But until you live it you realize … We have a passionate fan base. We have an interested media that want to know. Certainly understand why they want to know. Certainly am glad they’re passionate about wanting to know. But you have to manage that in the search process as well. You don’t want that to keep you from getting the best candidate for the University of Arkansas."

You mention coaches looking for raises. Do you have good examples?

"I can’t. I couldn’t do that."

Without using names?

"No. I don’t have examples. 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."

But you have experienced that before?

"I think anybody that has done a head coaching search, whether it’s volleyball, soccer, baseball, football, that is something that you are working to guard against. Honesty is an important thing. You’re looking for honesty in these candidates. You won’t know until the end."