Arkansas Team News

Twitter exchange with fan shows Jeff Long won’t sacrifice integrity for wins at Arkansas

Jeff Long Austin Allen
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY Sports

Bret Bielema is two games into his fifth season as Arkansas coach. He holds a 26-27 overall record and a 10-22 mark in the SEC. That’s well below the expectations of most Razorbacks fans for the football program.

Numbers like that may lead you to believe Bielema is on a coaching hot seat.

He’s not. A recent Twitter exchange between Bielema’s boss, athletic director Jeff Long, and a disgruntled Razorbacks fan prove that.

Good for Long.

As someone who spent four years working with a head coach who possessed zero integrity, Bobby Petrino, Long has lived the downside associated with a win at all costs mentality. Despite Petrino’s outstanding 34-17 overall record and 17-15 SEC record, Long admits hiring Petrino was a mistake.

Without integrity, and Petrino had none, corners are cut. Academic corners are cut. Corners are cut with character and accountability.

Staff members are abused. The working environment inside the entire athletic department becomes toxic. Factions form.

Jeff Long wouldn’t trade five victories over Alabama to go through another “motorcycle-gate,” a national humiliation for him and his athletic department and a scandal which easily could have put the entire university in grave legal jeopardy.

I spent an afternoon with Long in the fall of 2016. We talked very little about football.

We spoke a great deal about academics. We spoke about the total student-athlete experience. We spoke about his admiration for the way Bret Bielema handles his business – on and off the field. He praised Bielema repeatedly for the improvements he’s made to the football team’s performance in the classroom, in the community, and the finer caliber of young man Bielema was recruiting when compared to Petrino.

While Long’s tweet surprised some in the national college football media, it did not surprise me.

Our experiences shape our decisions. Long has worked with one of the most unscrupulous men to ever walk a college football sideline and suffered greatly as the result. He’s learned from that. He’s not going to repeat that mistake and he’s not going to rush to dump a coach who does so much right.

Arkansas is coming off an ugly, 28-7 home loss to TCU. At some point – soon – Bielema’s results on the field must improve. Long is a patient man who values character and integrity and academics, but the job of the football coach is also to win. Bielema hasn’t been winning enough.

That doesn’t put him on a hot seat in 2017, but I think it does – and should – in 2018 if returns don’t improve.

RELATED: Up close and personal in Arkansas with Bret Bielema

(You can follow Chadd Scott on Twitter @ChaddScott)

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