McCollum’s Column: Currently, more questions than answers about the UA

The short of it is clear.

 

The “Long” of it … hmmm.

Simply, Jeff Long is out as director of athletics at the University of Arkansas. Rumblings of that began getting credence after Long was summoned to a Board of Trustees meeting last week but was not invited into a 3 1/2 hour executive session.

The reasons for the dismissal probably had layers — giving coach Bret Bielema a lucrative buyout after a so-so season and a victory over a “soer-so” Texas team in the Texas Bowl. He spent funds on an expanded staff. He angered some key folks by favoring an imminent end to games in Little Rock. There were logistical issues involving concessions and fan experience at Reynolds Razorback Stadium. He picked what some consider a bad time to try to raise $160 million for improvements in Reynolds Razorback Stadium, which benefitted more the wealthy than the average fan.

Some of those are pile-on issues.

Basically, Long appeared distant from the average Arkansas supporters. He did not have Broyles’ warm, engaging personality.

And, possibly as significant as anything, the football team seems on a downward spiral. The Hogs are having an embarrassing season and Bielema has lost the confidence of fans and major supporters. There is a foregone conclusion that Bielema, a Long hire, is gone.

Also, and significantly, Long was following a legend and a giant shadow (Frank Broyles) in the face of a changing culture in athletics. Trying to follow a legend, an institution, doesn’t often end well.

Part of the statement by chancellor Joseph Steinmetz speaks volumes, “Over the past year, Jeff has lost the support of many of our fans, alumni, key supporters and members of the university leadership, support that I believe is critical in our pursuit of excellence.”

That’s the short and certain details will ooze out in coming days.

But right now, there are more questions than answers.

* The timing is curious and is Bielema really out? A search for an AD usually takes time and any prospective coach worth his salt will want to know the athletic director he will be working for before he makes a commitment to the UA. Will giving Bielema another year with a short leash buy time to possibly find the right fit and will that fly with the many fans and supporters who have lost confidence in the program and are already speculating widely (and wildly) about the next coach?

* With the timing and the urgency concerning stability and the changing national landscape of coaches, do UA officials have a quicker-than-usual hire in the works?

* One major debate among Hog fans is whether to go with someone with Arkansas connections for an AD or conduct a more thorough or widespread search.

* Julie Cromer Peoples, an assistant AD who has worked for the NCAA and has strong NCAA connections, has been appointed interim AD. How much authority will she have on future issues? Will she be in the mix for the permanent post, a revolutionary move for a Power 5 program — but an interesting dynamic)?

* If both Long, whose contract with special benefits extended through 2022, and Bielema go, what is the total cost of the buyouts and transition, speculated in the multi-millions?

* How much infighting and division is there among the higher-ups connected with the UA and even the state?

* Will this create calm or chaos and how damaging will chaos be?

At least, the Razorbacks seemed to have an improved women’s basketball team and possibly a men’s team that could develop into a national power. That could divert attention from turmoil.

Maybe, for awhile.

Maybe?

 

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