By MATT GALLOWAY
Special to the HDN
LAWRENCE — Still in the feeling-out process at his new gig, Kansas athletic director Jeff Long was short on declarative statements Wednesday at his introductory news conference.
For the university’s stagnant football program, however, he made one exception.
“It’s time,” Long said at the conclusion of his opening statement, “to break the cycle.”
The Jayhawks are 15-81 this decade and 3-33 under current coach David Beaty, perhaps the biggest reason for Long predecessor Sheahon Zenger’s ouster in May. Long doesn’t need to be an expert on everything KU to understand his top task is getting that beleaguered and nationally maligned program turned around.
Long isn’t yet ready to make a judgment on Beaty, but in the interim he issued the fourth-year coach the best support he could without a full read of the state of the program in hand.
“It’s not going to be easy. We’re going to need all of your help to do it,” said Long, who agreed to a five-year, $7.5 million contract. “Coach Beaty is our coach, and we all need to support this program and we need to support the young men that play the game.
“Do whatever you can to help us be successful. It’s time to break the cycle.”
What does Long see as progress? He outlined reaching the program’s first bowl game since the 2008 season as his first goal, with aspirations of greater heights to follow.
“I’m not shy about saying, someday down the road, we’re going to win the Big 12 championship,” Long said. “We’ve done it here in Kansas in the past and it’s something we are certainly going to work every day and every night to do.”
KU’s last conference championship in football came 50 years ago, a season which resulted in the team’s first Orange Bowl appearance. The team’s second Orange Bowl berth and first victory in 2008 stands as the program’s greatest feat and, to date, its last hurrah on a national stage.
That moment appears a more fitting example of what Long hopes to achieve in Lawrence.
Beaty was not in attendance Wednesday, remaining on a previously planned family vacation at Long’s insistence, but men’s basketball coach Bill Self did attend and addressed conversations he had during the hiring process with his new boss, which included general talks about the football program.
“Obviously I believe it can be done here because we saw it firsthand be done, but I also know it’s a process and it takes time, and I understand where we’re at now,” Self said. “But the thing I was most impressed with is, without him going into anything specific about Kansas, just from a philosophical standpoint, football is not an overnight fix. ... That was a thing that I thought was very impressive from his approach in that, philosophically, he knows because he understands so well being around it what wins over time as opposed to what is trying to win this year, which I thought was really important.”
Long, who made big-splash hires Dave Wannstedt, Bobby Petrino and Bret Bielema at previous stops Pittsburgh and Arkansas, outlined part of the philosophy that led him to believe those men were the right picks to lead his football programs.
“As I look at coaches, first of all, I think of coaches as leaders of young men. They need to be able to lead,” Long said. “The X’s and O’s, trust me, they are important, and I get it, and we have to make sure that they know how to, you know, coach the game. But I think being leaders of young men is most important, so I look at that first.”
While Long at several points stressed his unfamiliarity with the athletic department at this point — Wednesday was his first day on campus since being hired, and the rest of his afternoon contained initial meetings with his staff — he did outline the football team’s Sept. 1 opener against Nicholls State as when “we will really start to know the progress of the program.”
As for Beaty?
“I know he’s a coach,” Long said. “I know he’s a good person. I know he works hard.”