Razorbacks Appreciate AD's Willingness To Speak, Listen Following Petrino Dismissal

by Chris Bahn  on Friday, Apr. 20, 2012 3:00 pm  

Jeff Long pauses during comments at the podium on the night he fired Bobby Petrino. (Photo by Ryan Miller)

This story is from the archives of ArkansasSports360.com.

It has not been unusual over the last 4 1/2 years to see Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long on the football field during practice or before games. Long was often among the first outside the locker room to congratulate the Razorbacks on big football victories. Some players even refer to him as "Coach Long."

But Long's interaction with the football team in the nearly two weeks since he fired Bobby Petrino has grown deeper than any of that. Long’s experience as a former college football coach seems to have come in handy.

No, Long isn’t drawing up plays he would like to see in Saturday’s Red-White game. He isn’t breaking down film as the Razorbacks evaluate personnel at linebacker and on the offensive line.

But Long, whose bio details time on the football staffs at Rice, Duke and North Carolina State before he got into athletic administration, has addressed Arkansas players and assistant coaches multiple times since April 10, the day he fired Petrino. Those meetings have included words of encouragement and limited updates on where the search process is headed.

Like a coach would, Long has worked to get the team focused and unified as distractions mount.

Razorbacks seem to appreciate the athletic director’s willingness to speak — and listen. Quarterback Tyler Wilson said Long has helped set the tone in the locker room as the team adjusts to not having its head coach.

“He acted like he was the man in charge, and he is,” Wilson said. “I appreciate that from him. He’s an athletic director, not a football coach, but he has been [a coach] in the past. I think that’s great. I’m proud of the leadership he’s displayed. Absolutely.”

Long’s last public comments on the search came the night he announced Petrino’s firing. He said current acting head coach Taver Johnson, offensive coordinator Paul Petrino and defensive coordinator Paul Haynes would be given consideration if he went the interim route. While there has been push for recruiting coordinator/running backs coach Tim Horton, Long has never publicly mentioned the former Razorback as a possibility for the interim tag.

Individual meetings with coaches and support staff are also on Long’s agenda. Long has had plenty on his plate the last week, including a Thursday trip to the Cotton Bowl Hall of Fame induction in Dallas, but has made time to keep those most impacted by the change informed.

“I talked to them about the fact that I hoped that they would carry on,” Long said.

Until a full-time hire is made, Long said the staff indicated a willingness to face 2012 without a head coach. Naming an interim, keeping the staff together is their preference.

Wilson, running back Knile Davis and select players met with Long to express a desire to keep the current staff intact. Opinions are mixed on which coaches the players would like to see as interim, but all seem to agree keeping the current coaches in place would be best for 2012.

When recalling his initial meetings with players following the Petrino firing, Long grew emotional. He had to step away from the podium several times to gather his thoughts and keep from breaking down. Long's first interaction with the Razorbacks came less than an hour after the delivered the news to Petrino, who guided the team to a 21-5 record and pair of Top 10 finishes the past two seasons.

“I shared with them … shared with them my disappointment in having to make a difficult decision,” Long said, his voice cracking. “I asked them to try to remain focused on their academics and finishing spring practice. … I’m committed to providing them with the leadership, leadership …”

Long is searching for someone to provide leadership to the team on a more permanent basis. He fired Petrino for not being forthcoming about an extramarital affair with a member of his football staff. Petrino and Jessica Dorrell exchanged 7,288 texts and 324 phone calls from March 2011 until April 2012.

Dorrell and Petrino were involved in an April 1 motorcycle accident that brought their relationship to light. Dorrell, who resigned her post as student-athlete development coordinator, was announced as the newest member of Petrino’s football staff on March 28.

Providing leadership in the absence of Petrino is something Long expressed a desire to do until a coach was named.

"Coach Petrino was the leader of their football program. I think that they are a little bit confused at this point. Concerned," Long said in his last public appearance. "I'm sure they're running the human emotions that many young persons of that age would have. At the same time, they know that they have got a pretty special football team and teammates and are looking forward to the coming year."



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