The Influencers: Jeff Long of the University of Arkansas

by Marty Cook  on Monday, Mar. 20, 2017 12:00 am  

Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long is a driven man, so it’s a bit of a surprise when his voice catches while talking about how much sports mean to him.

Sports took Long away from an otherwise factory-destined life in Kettering, Ohio, to the pinnacle of his career field at Arkansas. Long has won national awards for his work as an athletic director, and he was the first chairman of the prestigious College Football Playoff Selection Committee.

None of his career would have happened if athletics hadn’t given Long a chance at a college education at Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware, Ohio.

“I get chills talking about — I’m a first-generation college graduate,” said Long, who pauses to take a drink of water after his voice breaks. “Sports, even at the Division III level, got me to college; otherwise, I would have gone to the General Motors factory and gone to work like my father did.

“I get emotional talking about it. Sports gave me that access.”

Cynics roll their eyes when big-time college administrators and coaches talk about the importance of developing student-athletes. Sports, especially at SEC schools such as Arkansas, are about winning and making money.

That is true, Long readily admits, but not at the expense of what he believes is a college’s mission. It’s the same mission that Ohio Wesleyan fulfilled for Long.

“Through that experience, I understood the value of education,” Long said. “Today, when I see young people — many of them first-generation — and they get to have that awakening, that enlightenment, even though they came here because they were going pro — there is something inspirational and magical when you see the light come on with an individual.

“The essence of what we do at Razorbacks athletics, that’s the core of it. Yes, we want to win games, and yes, we want to compete and win championships, but we know that the experience and education the young people are getting [is most important].”

Self-Confidence No Problem
Long exudes a level of self-confidence that is apparent after 10 seconds, but that was not always the case.

Long was a typical unfocused high school sophomore when his football coach, Rusty Clifford, himself a young man who had just recently graduated from college, stoked Long’s ambition and drive.

Clifford demanded hard work and accountability from his players, and Long soon became a full-fledged convert.

 

 

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