FAYETTEVILLE--Most college head football coaches will tell you that the relationship they have with their immediate boss is high up on the list of factors that keeps them in place or motivates them to look elsewhere. University of Arkansas vice chancellor for athletics Jeff Long knew that in order to lure Bret Bielema from Wisconsin to Arkansas he would have to deal with that issue.
To put it simply, Bielema and Badgers athletic director Barry Alvarez were a fit from the moment Alvarez hired Bielema back in December of 2005 to succeed him as Wisconsin's head football coach.
"They have a great relationship," Long recalled. "My biggest concern was would he be able to break that bond and come to the University of Arkansas?"
Long had clearly made an impression on his future head football coach before the two ever sat down to seriously discuss a possible move by Bielema to Arkansas. In September Long received a handwritten letter from Bielema complimenting him on the way he handled himself in a press conference to announce the firing of Bobby Petrino. Bielema also indicated an interest in talking to Long about the job.
It appears that Long followed the proceedure he outlined several weeks before Arkansas' season ended. He said at the time that he would not begin speaking to potential candiates until their last regular season games had been played.
In Bielema's case a few hours after Wisconsin had destroyed Nebraska in the Big 10 Championship game he received a message on his cell phone from Long's right hand man in the job search, Arkansas Senior Associate Athletic director John Fagg.
"I was going to New York the next day and I agreed to meet with them (Long and Fagg) Monday night," Bielema explained. "We met face to face from that night until the early hours of the next morning."
It came together quickly after that. Long had money available to pay the kind of competitive salaries Bielema wanted to hire and hold a staff together and he had a vacant head football coaching position to offer at an SEC school, something highly desirable to Bielema.
He also showed Bielema drawings of Arkansas' new football operations center currently under construction and future plans for the expansion of Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
Bielema learned something else about Arkansas that intrigued him. The school had never won an SEC championship in football. Back in Wisconsin fans had become somewhat indifferent to the three Big 10 titles under Bielema.
Long may have had an easy time selling Arkansas to Bielema but he also had to sell himself as the man's next boss. He offered a hint as to how that went.
"I said look, I coached a long time ago," Long revealed. "I'm not going to be sitting down and doing sessions with you and asking why the linebacker went this way instead of that way. That's not me. If I ever have to tell you who to hire and who to fire I've hired the wrong coach. I'm not hiring the wrong coach so you won't have me making suggestions about those things."
Long made enough of an impression that when Bielema sat down with Alvaraz the next day it wasn't to inform his boss that he was talking to Long. Bielema told Alvaraz that the deal was already done.
Two days after he first met face to face with Bielema, Long watched in the Razorbacks' team meeting room as the players heard from their new coach for the first time.
"There were multiple times in that meeting that chills went down my back," Long raved. "He is an emotional coach and it's real. He's not going to come up with some gimmick. It comes from the heart. I think those players in that room felt that immediately."
Later that day Long had his coach's back when he was quizzed about a comment Bielema made last February after former Florida and current Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer had flipped four-star offensive lineman Kyle Dodson from Wisconsin to Ohio State on National Signing Day.
"I can tell you this," Bielema said to Sporting News reporter Matt Hayes, "We at the Big Ten don't want to be like the SEC in any way, shape or form."
"No that didn't concern me," Long told reporters. "To me that's a passionate coach defending his conference. That tells me he's going to defend his players too and that means something to me."
Long has developed a reputation of providing his coaches with the necessary tools to win while giving them the freedom to run their programs without interference. Some believe that he will take a more controlling interest in the daily activities of Bielema after getting burned by the Bobby Petrino scandal.
There is no evidence of that so far. In fact if the term "players coach" is often used to describe a coach that players can relate to then Jeff Long apprears to wear the label of a "coaches' athletic director."