When Jeff Long was hired as Athletics Director at Kansas approximately one year ago, no one could have imagined he would have made this big of an impact so quickly.
Long was brought in to hire a competent football coach first and foremost. He’s gone way beyond that in his first year on the job.
Long’s first major move came in November 2018 when he fired maligned former head football coach David Beaty. The move didn’t come as a surprise to most as Beaty went 6-42 during his four seasons at the helm. However, 2018 was his best season at 3-9. Still, the move had to be made as there just wasn’t enough progress on the field to warrant Beaty returning for a fifth season.
His first big test would be determined by who he selected to replace Beaty.
He knocked that out of the park (at least according to several national pundits) when he convinced former national championship-winning head coach Les Miles to take over the revival of the program. Miles has just one losing season as a head coach and the move was applauded by most KU fans.
Additional Support for Football
Back in November, Long said he would invest in the program first and foremost and he has stayed true to his word. He has added the finances necessary for Miles to hire top assistants and hire additional coaching and recruiting positions that didn’t exist prior to his arrival. Now KU is in a position to compete for better talent in recruiting and be more competitive on the field this fall.
Long has also gone to bat for the program with his fellow Big 12 athletic directors to help address KU’s poor scholarship situation that the current staff inherited due to the mishandling of recruits by former coaches Charlie Weis and David Beaty.
As recruiting rules stand currently, Long predicts that it will be four years before KU has a roster with anywhere close to the maximum of 85 scholarships allowed on NCAA rosters, according to a report from Sports Illustrated. So instead of having a 25-player cap each recruiting class, Long has proposed the idea of having a 50-player cap over two years to help Miles get his roster up to par with the rest of the Big 12.
It’s unlikely that the NCAA will make a decision prior to the 2020 recruiting signing period but nonetheless, it’s encouraging to see an athletic director who isn’t afraid to fight for change on behalf of his coaches and programs.
Last week, Long announced that KU would be selling beer and wine at football games this fall. While this may seem like a minor change it is actually pretty significant as KU becomes the sixth Big 12 school and one of just approximately 50 FBS schools who sell alcohol at football games.
“Fans have told us that one of the best ways to enhance their experience at Kansas Athletics events is for them to have the ability to enjoy beer and wine, and we are pleased to provide this opportunity,” said Long in a news release.
Fans have told us…That statement right there shows you that Long has listened to his fan base and provided them with an incentive to attend games this fall. He’s taken real concerns and turned them into actions and that is what a good athletic director does.
Plus, this is just a smart move to get fans in seats. More home game attendance means more support for the team, which means more wins, which means more fundraising for stadium renovations.
Long’s predecessor, Sheahon Zenger, got the indoor practice facility built and upgraded a lot of other areas when it comes to football facilities. He couldn’t do anything with the stadium, however, because there was no way they could raise funds with the team performing so poorly.
This move with adding alcohol at the stadium will help with attendance, add revenue to help fund stadium renovations, and most importantly it shows that Long knows how to listen to fans.
Transparency and Engagement with Fans
Speaking of listening to fans, perhaps the most refreshing aspect of Long’s time since he’s been at KU has been his openness and efforts to engage with fans.
You can see examples of that on Twitter almost daily.
So let’s play ask the AD… be nice and remember… I get to choose which questions I answer… 😁— Jeff Long (@jefflongKU) June 23, 2019
Long also introduced his own version of Hawk Talk with voice of the Jayhawks, Brian Hanni, back in February. The one-hour radio show occurred monthly from February through June and will likely pick back up again next year.
In the past, these radio shows have been designated for Bill Self and whoever the football coach was at the time. So for Long to agree to step up and participate in these it shows his willingness to connect and be open with fans on their teams.
Long has taken this a step further by announcing a new 18-part docuseries premiering on the newly formed Big 12 Now channel on ESPN+. The docuseries will begin airing this month.
The series will provide a behind-the-scenes look at Long and Miles as they work to get the football program back on track. Filming began before Miles was hired and will cover the entire 2019 season from start to finish, according to an ESPN press release. The docuseries will cover fundraising, contract negotiations, and much more.
That kind of access and transparency is unheard of. This also speaks volumes to the type of relationship that Long has built and continues to build on with fans across the country.
It’s moves like this that not many were expecting when Long was hired, but have come to appreciate in what should be considered a near flawless first year on the job.
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