LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long is looking forward to the challenge of selecting the coach to lead his football program in 2013.
But Long admitted Monday that the lengthy journey isn’t exactly fun.
“I can tell you … No one enjoys doing a high profile search for a football coach or a basketball coach,” Long said. “They’re not enjoyable processes. They’re enjoyable when they’re done and you’ve hired the right person. But it’s a grueling process.”
Long, who was the guest speaker at the Little Rock Touchdown Club meeting on Monday, provided some insight into his search for Arkansas’ next football coach during his appearance. Long maintained his stance that he remains in the research phase of his coaching search, but hopes to have the process wrapped and a new coach in place by mid-December.
Arkansas plays its final regular season game against LSU on Nov. 23.
Who Long tabs remains unknown, of course. While he acknowledged there are third-party conversations taking place, he has not spoken with a coach about the Arkansas job. He doesn’t plan to until after the regular season ends, either.
“In our world, unlike the business world you don’t just pick out a candidate and go get him,” Long said. “We have some unwritten protocols 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. That is important to me to do it the right way.”
Until then, Long said he’ll continue to sort through potential candidates to target who he believes is the best fit for the Razorbacks. He said there’s no doubt the program is in better shape then Dec. 2007, when he hired Bobby Petrino to replace Houston Nutt and believes Arkansas has resources to attract top coaches.
“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,” Long said. “We’ve got the resources and the facilities and the team around them to be successful.”
Long wouldn’t comment on specific candidates, but outlined some qualities he’s looking for in Arkansas’ next coach Monday. He wants to hire someone who won’t shy away from the challenge of competing in the Southeastern Conference, prides himself on discipline and accountability, and leads with integrity off the field.
Long also didn’t rule out current coach John L. Smith. But the 63-year-old, who is working under a 10-month contract, isn’t expected to figure into the long-term plans after Arkansas’ rocky start and his personal financial struggles.
“We’ve both said very clearly at the end of the season will know very clearly if he is a candidate or not,” Long said. “We’re not at the end of the season.”
But Long understands “the coach matters” in college football and is looking to find the “quality leader.” He said Arkansas is much closer to reaching its goal of winning a national title now than it was five years ago, so his task has been sifting through the list of candidates to determine which coach is capable of helping the Razorbacks get there.
And, even more important to a “grueling” process, which coaches are serious about the position and which are using the Arkansas opening as leverage for raises.
“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,” Long said. “Honesty is an important thing. You’re looking for honesty in these candidates. You won’t know until the end.”