With two games left in the Razorback football season, University of Arkansas Vice Chancellor and Director of Athletics Jeff Long has been let go effective immediately.
The move comes a week after a lengthy meeting of the university’s Board of Trustees where no action was taken against Long. Chancellor Joseph Steinmetz announced Long’s firing in a press release Wednesday.
“Since coming to Fayetteville in 2008, Jeff has led our department with character and integrity and helped move us forward in so many ways,” Steinmetz said. “However, 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.”
The news comes during a difficult season for the Razorback football team, with four wins and six losses so far. Sports historian and author Evin Demirel said the team’s record coupled with lagging ticket sales factored in to the chancellor’s decision.
“As much as Jeff Long has accomplished, and [Razorback football coach] Bret Bielema for that matter, when it comes to salvaging the reputation and boosting the reputation of the program from an academic standpoint, if you can’t win enough and you don’t put enough butts in seats, then you can’t sustain the program from an economic standpoint,” Demirel said.
Long has served as athletic director since 2008 after the retirement of longtime director Frank Broyles, who passed away in August. Demirel said Long was a driving force behind a $160 million expansion to Fayetteville’s Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
“That matters especially when he has helmed a project to expand that Razorback Stadium,” Demirel said. “To tack on a few thousand very pricey corporate-type seats, and when there’s little demand for those seats at all, and you can’t even fill up barely half the stadium for a Coastal Carolina game, that signals some serious economic troubles on the horizon for the program.”
Aside from facilities upgrades, Long stressed academic achievement for student athletes during his tenure as Athletic Director. Demirel said that this focus away from athletics could have turned Razorback fans against Long, especially during a lackluster season.
“There was, among a certain contingent of Arkansas fans, a little bit of a distaste for what they perceived as Jeff Long’s desire to make Arkansas athletics more in the mold of Vanderbilt, in terms of stressing the ‘student’ part of student athlete as opposed to Alabama, which is obviously a dominant athletic program especially in football,” Demirel said. “So I think they want someone who can come in and really not be okay with Arkansas winning roughly half of its SEC games.”
Long previously headed the Athletic Department at the University of Pittsburgh. At Arkansas, he oversaw the hiring of current football coach Bret Bielema, as well as former coach Bobby Petrino and current basketball coach Mike Anderson.
Amid speculation of Bielema’s fate as head of Razorback football, Demirel said fans want to see a local figure as head of athletics.
“There is a strong desire for someone in the athletic director’s seat with a connection to the U of A. Whether they grew up in Arkansas, they went to the U of A, they worked for the U of A in the past, they coached there, they want someone who understands the culture of Arkansas, how important Razorback football is,” Demirel said. “Not to say Jeff Long didn’t understand that, I think he did, but they want someone who doesn’t have that learning curve from the beginning.”
The university will honor the provisions of Long’s contract, which runs until June of 2022. Long will also remain a member of the College Football Playoff selection committee, according to a statement from CFP Executive Director Bill Hancock.
Associate Vice Chancellor for Athletics and Senior Associate Athletics Director Julie Cromer Peoples will serve as interim director of athletics while the university forms a search committee for Long’s replacement.