LARENCE, Kan. — Jeff Long didn’t waste time making clear his focus as Kansas’ new athletic director.
“I’d like to say one message to the KU family specifically about our football team,” Long said. “It’s time to break the cycle.”
Long was introduced as the Jayhawks’ new leader nearly two months after chancellor Doug Girod fired Sheahon Zenger , who had served in the role for more than seven years. At the time, Girod called the school’s failure to find progress in football “elusive” in a letter to campus staff.
That progress will now be the focus for Long, who comes from a campus at Arkansas focused on keeping up with the other members of the football juggernaut known as the Southeastern Conference.
Long comes to one in severe need of change on the gridiron in Lawrence. And he understands the task ahead of him, to inject life into a program that has mustered just three wins in three seasons under coach David Beaty.
But even though he may be starting at the bottom, Long’s sights for the program rest far higher.
“Our goal is set to reach a bowl game,” Long said. “So we’ll strive to reach a bowl game, and once we reach that level, we won’t stop there. Then we’ll move on to more games, and then ultimately … someday down the road we’re going to win the Big 12 championship. We’ve done it here at Kansas in the past, and it’s something we’re certainly going to work every day and night to do.”
On paper, Long seems to fit the bill of Kansas’ football savior. His resume includes stops at tradition-tied schools such as Arkansas, Oklahoma and Michigan, and he was the chairman of the College Football Playoff committee.
That experience pulled Girod to Long, who, despite what was stressed to be a far-reaching and all-encompassing search, stood out above any other candidates.
“One name kind of surfaced almost immediately, and it was this gentleman to my left,” Girod said.
Long will not only be tasked with fixing the on-field product, however. He is also handed the departed Zenger’s $300-million plan to renovate the decaying Memorial Stadium and other athletic facilities across campus. He’ll certainly have to do some fundraising, but he’s already backed by a pledge of $50 million from university donor David Booth.
Long is determined to see the renovation through, but as he begins to transition into the role he will formally assume on August 1, he’s planning to take careful action in determining how he will truly make Zenger’s plans his own.
“I know we have a tremendous initial gift that is really going to help get this program off the ground, and it already has,” Long said. “But I need to understand more about that. I’m looking forward to understanding, behind the scenes, the rollout and what they hope to accomplish with the $300-million campaign.”
A losing football culture has settled itself firmly into the Kansas athletic culture by now, but potential problems with its coveted basketball program are on the horizon as well. Yahoo Sports reported Tuesday that the university has been subpoenaed by the federal government in an investigation tied to its connections with Adidas.
Long’s contract reportedly includes a clause that will extend his deal equal to the length of any investigation of Kansas’ men’s basketball, women’s basketball, football or volleyball programs prior to his taking office.
That didn’t come at Long’s demand, however; the university added that language to the contract to double down on their insistence that the school isn’t in danger of penalties.
“We wanted to demonstrate our confidence in where we were with this … it was a way to reassure him that we are confident as well about where we are,” Girod said.
That feeling has rubbed off on Long.
“I’m very confident that Kansas, we’re going to work through this process and we’re going to be just fine,” Long said. “I think that was something I certainly considered as I decided to take the job, so I’m very confident that we’re going to work through this.”
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