KU hires Jeff Long as new football-savvy, fundraising-friendly athletic director

By Jesse Newell and Gary Bedore jnewell@kcstar.com gbedore@kcstar.com

Jeff Long will be the new athletic director at the University of Kansas, the school announced in a release Thursday afternoon.

Long, 58, who was previously athletic director at Arkansas from 2008-17, replaces Sheahon Zenger, who was fired on May 21. Long will make $1.5 million per year for five years, according to his contract signed July 4. In all, $1.3 million will be paid by private funds from Kansas Athletics Inc., and $200,000 by the university.

“My family and I are thrilled to join Chancellor (Douglas) Girod’s leadership team at the University of Kansas,” Long said Thursday. “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's contract provides some security in case KU receives NCAA punishment; the document states that if KU is put on probation or has NCAA restrictions in football, volleyball, men's basketball or women's basketball based on events that took place before July 4, 2018, the duration of his deal will be extended "equal to the length of the penalties."

KU men's basketball program has recently been linked to the FBI’s probe into college basketball, with an April indictment alleging that a mother and a guardian of two unidentified KU student-athletes (believed to be Billy Preston and Silvio De Sousa) received illegal payments. The FBI stated that the transactions took place without the knowledge of the university.

Long's contract also has hefty buyout — at least early on — for other colleges who might pursue him. He will have a $3 million buyout if he leaves before the start of Year 3, with that number decreasing to $1.5 million before the start of Year 4 and $1 million ahead of the beginning of Year 5.

Long comes to KU with a strong reputation in the college football community. He was the inaugural College Football Playoff selection chairman in 2014 and 2015 and was selected as the 2015 Athletic Director of the Year by SportsBusiness Journal and Sports Business Daily.

At Arkansas, he was successful with fund-raising. In 2011, Long led a Razorback Athletic Facilities Master Plan that set out to raise $320 million in facility renovations over a 30-year tenure. By 2018, under that plan, he brought in $160 million that was used to renovate the school’s football stadium.

“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 was fired by Arkansas last November after facing criticism for the football team’s on-field struggles. He remained supportive of coach Bret Bielema after a 4-6 start, which included a 1-5 record in SEC games.

“Jeff Long is among the best and most respected athletics directors in the country. He has great experience, a great pedigree, and he knows what it takes to succeed at the highest levels,” KU basketball coach Bill Self said.

“While I’m just getting to know Jeff, I’m impressed that he’s universally described as a high-character guy who will provide strong support for every sport across the entire athletics program. From my perspective, he’s exactly the type of leader we need. Our fans can be excited about the future of Kansas Athletics.”

Several individuals praised Long on Thursday.

“Jeff Long is a skilled administrator and a person of integrity. I was fortunate to serve with him on the College Football Playoff committee. He was our chairman and respected by all,” said Condoleezza Rice, chair of the Commission on College Basketball, member of the College Football Playoff selection committee and former U.S. Secretary of State.

"Jeff cares deeply about student-athletes — and their success in the classroom and on the playing field. The University of Kansas has made a great choice. Good luck to Jeff and the Jayhawks.”

Bill Hancock, executive director of the College Football Playoff said: “KU couldn’t have hired a better person. Jeff has a warm heart, solid judgment and a world of experience. Get ready, everyone, because you will love this guy.”

From Bob Bowlsby, commissioner, Big 12 Conference: “Jeff Long will be an excellent addition to the Big 12. Jeff is a veteran administrator who has achieved at the very highest levels and who understands the components of championship athletics programs.”

An Ohio native, Long previously served on football staffs at Miami (Ohio), Rice, Duke and North Carolina State before starting his college athletic administration career at Michigan. He later became an associate athletic director at Virginia Tech, Eastern Kentucky and Oklahoma before serving as Pitt’s athletic director from 2003-07.

“I am excited to welcome my good friend Jeff Long to the Big 12 Conference,” said Kirby Hocutt, Texas Tech University athletic director and former chair of the College Football Playoff selection committee

“I have known Jeff for more than 20 years, and he has always exemplified the very highest standards of character and integrity in every situation. I enjoyed working alongside Jeff on the College Football Playoff selection committee, and I congratulate Chancellor Girod and the University of Kansas on an excellent decision.”

Noted Lloyd Carr, former head football coach at the University of Michigan: “Jeff Long is very smart and very fair. He is also very tough and very competitive. Kansas got it right. Great choice.”

From Oklahoma AD Joe Castiglione: “Jeff Long is a proven leader and one of the most respected athletics directors throughout the national landscape of intercollegiate athletics. I congratulate Chancellor Girod and KU leadership for making a fantastic hire. Speaking from experience, I know Jeff is a ‘big-picture thinker’ and has always been committed to creating a values-driven culture where student-athletes’ development and success is the focus. To achieve his vision for the overall program, he will reach out and connect with all stakeholders to get them involved in making things happen. I’m excited to work with him in the Big 12, and I know our conference will benefit from his input.”

Greg Sankey, the commissioner of the Southeastern Conference, praised the hiring, too.

“Jeff Long will bring integrity, energy and a relentless work ethic to his new position at KU. He has made meaningful contributions while serving and leading as athletics director at Eastern Kentucky, Pittsburgh and Arkansas, and he was a valued colleague during my transition to the SEC commissioner role. I wish he and Fanny (wife) the best in this new chapter for their family,” Sankey said.

Long, who will be introduced at a press conference at KU on Wednesday, has an upcoming salary of $1.5 million that would have put him fourth in NCAA in compensation last year and No. 1 in the Big 12 (not counting potential bonuses).

“Jeff Long is a seasoned athletics leader who has worked with Hall of Fame executives Bo Schembechler, Joe Castiglione and Frank Beamer, and who succeeded the legendary Frank Broyles at Arkansas,” Korn Ferry executive search director Jed Hughes said in Thursday’s release. KU hired the search firm and also had a search committee led by Drue Jennings.

“He brings more than 16 years of experience in leading Power Five programs. The University of Kansas has the potential, based on its donor base, new chancellor and an elite basketball brand, to make a bold statement on the national landscape under Jeff's leadership. He will ignite the stakeholders and help rally the Jayhawk nation to a highly competitive position within the Power Five conferences. Alumni and fans will see this hire as a strong step toward achieving excellence.”

Noted Jennings: “We are thrilled to have someone of Jeff’s caliber joining the University of Kansas. Jeff has a record of integrity, experience in hiring coaches, ties with other Bowl Championship Series schools, effective fundraising and a willingness to lead on national issues affecting college athletics. We can be proud that he’s joining us at KU, and we can be confident that Kansas Athletics is in good hands under his leadership.”

Long and his wife have two daughters, Stephanie and Christina.


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