FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas chancellor David Gearhart isn’t surprised other schools are interested in athletic director Jeff Long because of his work with the program.
But Gearhart said Friday morning, hours after a late-night report indicated Stanford had reached out to Long about its opening, he was confident the athletic director still had plenty to accomplish at Arkansas. He was right.
Long issued a statement Friday regarding Stanford’s reported interest in trying to lure him away from the Razorbacks to replace Bob Bowlsby, who was named Big 12 commissioner this month. Long didn’t specify whether he had been in contact with Stanford about the position, but expressed his commitment to the Razorbacks.
"Although I can’t be responsible for what others are saying or thinking, I do know that I am not interested in leaving the University of Arkansas," Long said. "My interest and commitment continues to be providing leadership to the University of Arkansas and to Razorback athletics at this critical time in our program’s history."
Long has been in charge of Arkansas athletics in an official capacity since January 2008, when he replaced long-time athletic director Frank Broyles. He spent the first several months blending Arkansas’ men’s and women’s athletic departments into one, while also hiring football coach Bobby Petrino to replace Houston Nutt.
Long earned plenty of notoriety around the country for the way he handled Petrino’s departure last month. The coach was fired on April 10 for having an inappropriate relationship with employee Jessica Dorrell and failing to reveal it to his boss. Long then hired John L. Smith to guide the program through the 2012 season, while his search for a full-time replacement continues.
"I think his profile has been high for a long time," Gearhart said of Long. "But certainly the way he handled the whole situation with our coaching problem, I think, spoke volumes about him as a person and his leadership."
Gearhart said Friday losing that leadership during a delicate situation would be challenging. But Gearhart also said he had no reason to believe Long is going elsewhere.
"It’s a critical time in the university’s history in our athletics program," Gearhart said. "We’ve got these major projects going and the search for a coach. Obviously, it would be a very difficult issue for us. But I think that’s just speculation that he’s going anywhere. I don’t think he’s planning on going anywhere. He and I have talked about his situation here and I think he’s very happy."
Long earns a base salary of $450,000 at Arkansas with a chance to make as much as $450,000 more in incentives.
Long’s contract currently runs through June 30, 2015. If he were to leave Arkansas before June 30, 2013, which was the end date of his original five-year term with the university, Long would have to repay the university a pro-rated salary figure, according to his contract.
Gearhart said he spoke to Long on Thursday night shortly after the KNWA report surfaced. Gearhart said Long told him "there was nothing to it and he has no interest."
"I have to say it’s not the first time we’ve had people wanting him to leave and it won’t be the last," Gearhart said about Long. "My hope is that we can do what we need to do to keep him. That’s certainly our intent. What he has said to me is he’s happy here, he’s pleased."
Long became the second athletic director in as many days to deny interest in the Stanford opening. West Virginia’s Oliver Luck, who is the father of former Stanford and new Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, also said he had no plans to leave the Mountaineers on Thursday.
"I think his name is going to come up and it’s going to continue to because he really is good," Gearhart said of Long. "It’s a rare combination to find somebody that is a good speaker, a good out front person, but is also a good leader and manager. He’s all of that. ... I think he likes it here and we believe we have one of the best programs in the country. I think he can make it even better."