The tactic may be slightly different, but Kansas has tried this approach before.
If we’ve learned anything during the past nine years, it’s that the Jayhawks aren’t afraid to throw money at their football problem.
KU first did it in December 2009, when athletic director Lew Perkins gave Turner Gill a five-year, $10 million contract to replace the ousted Mark Mangino. Two years later, Perkins’ replacement, Sheahon Zenger, handed Charlie Weis a five-year deal of his own, this one worth $12.5 million. Zenger then pulled out the checkbook again in December 2016, doubling current coach David Beaty’s salary to $1.6 million and guaranteeing him annual raises of $100,000 through the 2021 campaign.
Pretty good deals, if you ask me, for three coaches with combined records of 14-74 and 3-60 in the Big 12.
Now, after seeing such depressing returns on its head coaching investments, KU is putting its money where its athletic director is. The university on Thursday hired Jeff Long for five years and $7.5 million, or $1.5 million annually. That makes Long, fired by Arkansas in November 2017, one of the highest-paid ADs in the country.
And let’s not forget this: The life of Long’s KU contract could grow. If football, men’s basketball, women’s basketball or volleyball is placed on probation for any infraction that occurred before Long’s watch, he is guaranteed an extension equal to the length of the reprimand.
The bottom line to all this is simple: KU is banking — quite literally — on Long to finally fix a program in complete disrepair. Long was hired because chancellor Douglas Girod and search aide Drue Jennings believe his connections will help the Jayhawks revive a unit that is 3-33 overall and 1-26 in the Big 12 under Beaty.
Girod and Jennings also believe Long's track record as a fundraiser and proven administrator — he oversaw a $160 million renovation to Razorback Stadium and substantially increased revenue during his nearly 10-year tenure at Arkansas — is evidence he can breathe life into the $350 million "Raise The Chant" campaign.
"We can be proud that he's joining us at KU, and we can be confident that Kansas Athletics is in good hands under his leadership,” Jennings said of Long in the university’s news release.
That confidence stems in part from Long's association with the College Football Playoff selection committee. He was the committee's chairman during its first two years of existence, 2014 and 2015, and continued to serve on the panel through 2017.
Long's CFP relationships could serve him well when the time comes to replace Beaty, whenever that may be.
But for all of Long's football experiences and all the assurances from Girod, Jennings and others, his resume might not instill confidence in everyone. Consider this: During Long's times as athletic director at Eastern Kentucky (1998-01), Pittsburgh (2003-07) and Arkansas (2008-17), his football teams combined to go 126-101 overall and 65-75 in conference play.
While those records might prompt Jayhawk fans to deify their new athletic director, they’re average by most standards.
Long's three most notable football coaching hires — Dave Wannstedt at Pitt, Bobby Petrino and Bret Bielema at Arkansas — also might be viewed as underwhelming.
• Wannstedt, 82-87 in 11 NFL seasons with the Chicago Bears and Miami Dolphins during the 1990s and 2000s, went 42-31 in six years at Pitt, including 16-19 in three seasons while Long was his boss. Wannstedt did lead the Panthers to bowls during each of his final three seasons, but he resigned under pressure following an indifferent 7-5 showing in 2010.
• Petrino was highly successful on the field at Arkansas (34-17 overall and 17-15 in the SEC) but made bigger headlines for having an extramarital affair with a younger woman who was working in his program. The unseemly situation prompted Long to fire Petrino in 2012.
• Bielema came to Arkansas amid great hype after winning three Big Ten championships at Wisconsin, but he was mostly a flop in Fayetteville. In five seasons, he went 29-34 overall and 11-29 in the conference, the worst record of any Arkansas coach with at least five years of service.
Again, all those records, even Bielema’s, would be welcome sights at KU. But do they leave you certain — absolutely certain — that Long can find the right man at KU, a place where Perkins and Zenger couldn’t?
Maybe Long, who clearly has demonstrated a knack for luring well-known coaches, can convince someone like former LSU national champion Les Miles to tackle the Jayhawks’ massive challenge. Perhaps he can entice an up-and-comer (Troy's Neal Brown, for instance) or active coach with ties to the area (think North Carolina State's Dave Doeren) to orchestrate the overhaul.
The possibilities are numerous for a guy with Long’s football connections.
And that’s exactly what KU is banking on. If Long finds the right man to resurrect the Jayhawks’ moribund football situation, he’ll be worth every penny of his $7.5 million contract.
And if he doesn’t? Well, he’ll just be the latest example of KU throwing good money at a bad situation.