Sports Talk Producer Bart Pohlman: Ad Attacking Long’s Tenure Relies on ‘Alternative Facts’
OPINION: Long’s success as Arkansas’ athletic director not up for debate
By Bart Pohlman
You may have missed it Sunday, seeing as it was small, in the corner and looked like any other newspaper advertisement.
But there it was: An ad in Sunday’s edition of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette questioning Jeff Long’s tenure as athletic director at the University of Arkansas, and wondering whether or not it was time to go in a different direction.
The ad harps on Long’s hiring of Bret Bielema and Mike Anderson, and points out the lack of success against the SEC. It states that Long, “…has a well-established history of ‘Unprecedented Failure’ in hiring coaches at the University of Arkansas…” And it encourages fans to voice their displeasure to the governor—yes, the governor—of Arkansas.
The numbers that the ad’s author, a Mr. James Rogers of Memphis, uses are, in fact, accurate. The football program has gone 29-43 in SEC play during Long’s tenure as AD, while the basketball program has gone 73-79 in conference games. But those numbers ignore the back-to-back 10- and 11-win seasons in football, and a 27-win season in basketball.
Rogers points out that neither the football program nor basketball program has come close to winning an SEC or NCAA Championship, and that’s wholly inaccurate. If you recall, in 2011, the Arkansas football team was a win over LSU away from likely landing in the BCS Championship Game. Meanwhile, in 2015, the Hog basketball team finished second in the SEC in both the regular season and the conference tournament.
In addition to being completely inaccurate, whether or not you’ve come close to winning a conference or national title is also a terrible measuring stick to use. How many national championships has Arkansas won in football and basketball? One in each sport. How many different schools have won an SEC football title since Long arrived at Arkansas? Four. How many different schools have won an SEC basketball title in that time? Five. Only six different schools have won national football titles since 2008, while seven have won a national basketball championship. It’s not like someone different is winning a title every year.
What Mr. Rogers also fails to mention is how successful some of the other programs at Arkansas have been during his tenure. The baseball, men’s and women’s track, soccer, men’s and women’s golf, and gymnastics programs have all been nationally competitive throughout the past several years.
To say Long has a history of “unprecedented failure” when it comes to hiring coaches couldn’t be further from the truth. No, not every coach has worked out. But Chris Bucknam led the Arkansas men’s track team to a national championship. Colby Hale has had the soccer team in the NCAA Tournament in three of the past four seasons, and is competitive with the best teams in the country. Bobby Petrino had back-to-back seasons of 10 or more wins—the only time Arkansas has done that since joining the SEC.
And then there’s Bret Bielema and Mike Anderson.
No, neither program has been as successful as fans would like. But to throw those hires into the “unprecedented failure” category isn’t a fair assessment. Both Bielema and Anderson were good, even great, hires at the time. Think about it: If you could hire a football coach who had won three straight conference titles and been to three straight Rose Bowls, wouldn’t you do just that? And if you could hire a basketball coach who had been to a Sweet 16 at one program and brought another program back from the depths to make an Elite 8, you’d pull the trigger, right?
That’s what Jeff Long did. There is no history of “unprecedented failure” when it comes to hiring coaches. In fact, there really haven’t been many failures during Long’s tenure as athletic director. Sure, a couple of hires haven’t worked out, and bringing in John L. Smith as the interim football coach after firing Bobby Petrino proved to be a disaster. But the good far outweighs the bad. Long has kept the athletic department self-sustaining and grown the budget. He saw the need for an indoor baseball practice facility, a basketball practice facility and a student-athlete success center, and accomplished those projects. And he’s been named an Athletic Director of the Year by Sports Business Journal.
“Unprecedented failure”? I think not.