Riff Raff: And then there was karma

by Michael Tilley (mtilley@talkbusiness.net) 782 views 

Probably shouldn’t. But here goes. It was karma that caught up with Jeff Long. Not the good kind. The kind that comes around when your britches get bigger than your brains. The kind that comes around when you get superficial and distant with the folks who built the foundation on which you think you can build a future.

Ain’t saying it’s right. But it is what it is.

Just a few days ago, Long was the University of Arkansas athletic director. Now he’s out the door, probably working with accountants and tax attorneys on how best to collect the estimated $4.5 million he will receive from taxpayers and members of the Razorback Foundation between now and June 2022. For the fortunate few, and in a state in which football is more valued than clean air, clear water and quality schools, karma can deliver a kick in the nuts with a sack of cash. Moneyball, indeed.

Ain’t saying it’s right. But it is what it is.

Prior to his dismissal Long said winning wasn’t everything. But he was win at all cost with the bottom line. When we were chanting Woo Pig Sooie, Long was chanting Woo Pig Deposits. His scoreboard was the monthly bank statement.

His letter following his dismissal has been praised by many. It was gracious, with elements of magnanimity and several helpings of humility. It was full of fans and family and facilities. From a public relations standpoint, it approached “ask not what you can do your football program” status. Would recommend it as a template for any university communications program.

But behind the scenes the right words were few and far between. Modernizing the program was necessary, but so was respecting the pillars of the program. Long’s bevy of lieutenants tried to play hard ball with the hardscrabble folks who financed the program when Jerry Jones was an offensive lineman. Long’s goal was admirable, but the execution was horrible. To transition a program between old school and what’s next, one should cultivate champions in both spaces.

Long had early successes and began to believe his own press releases. That’s trouble brewing. Even in Johnson County, Arkansas, we were taught to not get all caught up in our own bullshit. You might be the big dog, but you best remember who built the kennel.

Ain’t saying it’s right. But it is what it is.

Trends and technologies change. Consumer patterns and business models shift. But relationships don’t. Handshakes and backslaps are necessary, especially in Arkansas, even if it means the program moves forward in 10 years instead of seven years.

The conventional wisdom is that Long’s demise is primarily tied to an unpopular expansion of the north end zone of the football stadium and a disappointing experience with head football coach and over-promiser and under-deliverer Bret Bielema. But the University chancellor and the University of Arkansas Board of Trustees have looked beyond worse.

Arkansas is more culture than corporation. More relationships and handshakes than contracts and balance sheets. One in the position must keep the money flowing, but that person also needs to attend weddings, funerals, birthday parties and be a hail-fellow-well met.

Holding hands with the past and pushing progress is not impossible. It’s also not an indictment of Arkansas or the university’s sports program. Long succeeded the legendary Frank Broyles. Some say that was an impossible transition and it is to Long’s credit he lasted almost 10 years. Disagree. He would still be the AD if he was a little less business and a little more Broyles.

Ain’t saying it’s right. Ain’t saying it’s wrong. It’s just what it is.