April 24, 2012; Fayetteville, AR, USA; Arkansas Razorbacks athletic director Jeff Long speaks during a press conference to announce the hiring of John L. Smith as head football coach at the Broyles Athletic Center. Mandatory Credit: Beth Hall-US PRESSWIRE
On Saturday, the Arkansas Razorbacks suffered their first loss of the 2012 football season. To Louisiana-Monroe.
On Sunday, the Razorbacks dropped from 8th to unranked in the Associated Press weekly poll. The second-most precipitous fall ever.
On Monday, journalists wrote and radio hosts talked about the fallout.
And late Monday evening, Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long stepped out from behind the curtain and addressed the masses. His medium? Twitter. His calming message of perseverance and stoicism? Uh... wear red Saturday?
Jeff Long @jefflongUA We're all disappointed in Sat, none more than S-As & Coaches We will pull together not apart Join us for RedOut to show support for players
I have long been a supporter of Jeff Long. Even when I have disagreed with his opinions or actions, I have respected his ability to devise a plan of action that is thoughtfully constructed, and to communicate said plan in a remarkably persuasive manner. I love words and their power when strung together by a gifted speaker, and I recognize Jeff Long as a master with the spoken word. Through every radio interview and every coaching introduction, and yes, every fundraising speech, I have become further impressed with Jeff Long and the balance he provides in steering the Razorback Athletic Department. The manner in which he handled the impossible situation of dealing with Bobby Petrino's mess elevated his status with me even further.
And, honestly, the tweet calling for a RedOut is pretty benign, but for whatever reason it strikes a sour chord with me. In light of the monumental setbacks suffered by the football program over the past days and its very apparent vacuum of leadership within, for the big boss to step out two days later and address the situation by decreeing a dress code for a football game seems disingenuous. Flimsy. Half-assed.
Not at all the Jeff Long I have come to respect.
The Razorbacks have continued to wander into landmine after landmine over the past nine months, and it seems almost unfair to Long that he is yet again thrust into a program-defining situation. Gravity that most athletic directors are faced with only once or twice in their careers Long has stared down three or four times in 2012 alone. Same as the previous situations, the current predicament appears to trump all predecessors. The Arkansas Razorbacks and its fan base need Jeff Long's guidance and leadership. We need a strong presence reassuring the masses that a tailspin isn't imminent. A leader who, while supportive of the individual student-athletes comprising the team, is angry and disappointed and hurt by the effort displayed, and unwilling to dismiss it without first asserting the unacceptability of a recurrence.
To put it quite simply, Saturday sucked. Hard. And faced with nearly an entire season left of soggy, dashed dreams to slog through, I don't need someone telling me that I need to dress a certain way to support the team (I fully recognize the irony in this statement when juxtaposed with my fashion advice in previous columns). As I responded to Long on Twitter on Monday night, I support the student-athletes with my attendance and my wallet, and instead of concerning himself with my wardrobe, perhaps he should focus on finding the Razorbacks a new football coach.
I'm wearing white, by the way. Not because I'm trying to defy Long's cheap ploy, but because I have planned on wearing white to the Alabama game since before the beginning of the season. Which, as a friend pointed out last night, only legitimizes my feelings over Long's call for a RedOut. I have a right to be angry, my friend said, because it appears that I have spent much more time deciding what to wear to the Alabama game than the coaching staff and football team are spending preparing for their opponents.
I still believe in Jeff Long. I will still be a defender. But Monday evening was not his finest hour. Razorback nation needs leadership right now. We must hear from him again. But much like Nathan Jessup told Daniel Caffey in A Few Good Men that he hoped Danny had brought more than foot lockers and phone records, I too have to hope that our esteemed leader has more in his quiver than a Twitter plea to wear red.
Lead us, Jeff. Just lead us not with the color of your shirt, but with the content of your coaching hire.