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Athletic Director In Residence: Jeff Long (Arkansas)

By Jeff Long
7 min read
I’m a senior level administrator at an FCS institution. I am fortunate to have been given a lot of responsibility in many areas. I have done my best to network with administrators at all levels because I know that and doing my job the best I can are the two most important aspects when looking for career advancement. For you as an autonomy five institution AD, how did you sell/use your experience at the FCS level to advance in your career? 


I honestly believe my FCS experience better prepared me to become an FBS AD because it provided me the opportunity to be involved in all aspects of an athletic program. Let’s face it, as an Assistant or Associate in autonomy five programs you are limited in the areas in which you have an opportunity to work. We have become highly specialized in the larger programs therefore minimizing the opportunity to gain experience in multiple areas.


I used the FCS experience to grow in areas I had very little experience, particular externally related areas of the program.  This experience allowed me to speak knowledgeably about areas of intercollegiate athletics in which I had previously had little exposure.  In the interview process for the next level position, I was able to demonstrate that I had a breadth of knowledge in all areas of ICA and that I had the ability to learn what I didn’t already know.  There is nothing more frightening in an interview than being asked a detailed question about an area of intercollegiate athletics that you have had zero experience or exposure.


Because autonomy five programs have become so specialized, I encourage our staff members to get involved in any way they can in areas of our program that they are not assigned, Experience is often times the best teacher.


Follow up – will I be valued for my breadth of experience or devalued because I am from a FCS institution?  


Chances are both will occur, however, if you have difficulty obtaining the autonomy 5 position from FCS, use your experience to land a group of 5 position and then use that to prepare yourself for an autonomy 5 position. No one said it was going to be easy or a short path, I worked at 10 different DI institutions over the course of my career and have grown from each experience. Intercollegiate Athletics is a way of life and much more than a career.


I’ve been in the mix for a couple of AD openings and even turned down an offer or two. One area where I struggle is negotiating a salary as a first-time AD. I’m fully versed on market norms & competitive rates, but may be overvaluing my starting pay point. During the process that led to your appointment at Eastern Kentucky, how did you consider how your compensation compared to the peer group & how it could impact your next move(s)?


At the time when I took the EKU AD job, an FCS AD still typically made more that an associate AD at an autonomy five program, today that is not necessarily the case. I fully realize that it is extremely difficult to take a step back in salary but I must admit, I have done it three times in my career in order to obtain the position that best prepared me to advance my career.


You should do your homework and know what the previous AD made and what the average is for first time ADs in the conference etc.  You need to decide what the minimum is that you will need to make in order to accept the position. Frankly, you should not forget that you would be a first time AD, your room to negotiate in this situation is extremely narrow.  I am sure the President or Chancellor feels they are giving you a tremendous opportunity to take your first AD position. Remember, the Pres/Chan is taking a risk by hiring someone without AD experience so they may not be interested in lengthy negotiations with a first timer. Take the job, do a great job and then negotiate after you have proven your worth would be my advice.


I may be the youngest Associate AD for Development at a DI institution in the entire nation and already have a number of nice fundraising wins of the six-, seven-, and even eight-figure variety on my ledger. My challenge is getting an opportunity to take the next step on my path to becoming an AD, which I see as sport oversight. I was never a student-athlete at the collegiate level, so while I generally understand locker room dynamics & player-coach relationships, I’ve never lived it. How does an advancing administrator like myself, in an important revenue-producing role, ask his/her AD for more responsibilities in an area where I may not be a ‘natural’?


This is a great question because as I noted earlier, autonomy five programs have become highly specialized. I would recommend starting by working with a current sport administrator in your department that has multiple sports and may appreciate someone offering to assist him/her with their sports. If this is not something that would be acceptable to your AD then I would recommend going to the AD first and asking if you could assist with a sport or a small group of sports, in other words, serve as an assistant sport administrator. You would need to reassure the AD that your primary job responsibility would not suffer and in fact, I would make the case that your experience will enhance your ability to raise funds for sport programs by knowing more about their needs.  I think the key is to make sure the AD knows you want to add to your responsibilities and make it very clear that you will not neglect your primary role of fund raising.


What’s your stance on dealing with agents during Head Coaching searches? Nearly every HC has an agent these days, which seems natural given escalating compensation around the industry. Some ADs take a hands-off approach and refuse to engage directly with agents. How do you approach these situations and how can both sides (the AD/university & the prospective HC) derive benefit from having an agent involved.


I have come to understand and appreciate that some high profile coaches of high profile programs feel they need an agent to represent them. I personally prefer not to have direct contact with agents representing head coaches. In the vast majority of cases, I have used the sport administrator to field inquiries from agents and to share information about our process. When it is time to talk contract, it is my strong preference to reach agreement on major deal points such as salary, term, buyout, guarantee etc. with the coach and then both of us turn it over to our legal representatives to finalize the protection language each party must have.  So generally, when a Coach is using an agent then I will use our General Counsel as my agent.


As the Athletic Director of a large state institution, you regularly interface with an influential group of leaders, the University’s Board of Trustees. The recent approval process for a major renovation to Razorback Stadium & pushback from some trustees was well documented in the media. How much of your time is spent building consensus in your department, across campus & throughout the state? Is learning the word “compromise” one of the biggest eye-openers for an AD?


First let me say that I believe it is very important to communicate with our Board of Trustee members in the appropriate manner. On our campus, we have made it very clear that all communications with Board members go up through our campus Chancellor to the President of the System then on to the Board of Trustee members. I also think it is important to let Board members know that anything they share with me is fair for me to share with my Chancellor and President. I firmly believe that it is in everyone’s best interest to keep campus and system heads appraised of conversations and exchanges with Board of Trustee members. University of Arkansas Board of Trustee members have been outstanding to work with in my nine years. Certainly they question our plans and initiatives, that is their responsibility as a Board of Trustee member. An AD should never take offense to questions raised about intercollegiate plans. It is the AD’s responsibility to prepare a plan that thoroughly and reasonably answers the Board’s questions.


Certainly anyone in a leadership position should be willing to listen to thoughts and ideas and with more information arrive at a different decision. I don’t think of it in terms of compromise, I think of it as seeking all the appropriate information and making the most informed decision reasonably possible and adjusting your position based on all the information available.

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