The University of Arkansas, Fayetteville athletic department will pay Bret Bielema more than $1 million for each of his 11 SEC wins.
Former athletic director Jeff Long is getting another $4.5 million, and the UA spent Saturday wondering whether it was a bride or bridesmaid.
How did the flagship school get here?
Perhaps it started as far back as 2002 when John White flexed his muscle in an area where he had little expertise -- the athletic department.
White might go down in UA history as one of the greatest chancellors ever. When he came on board in 1997, he immediately started raising money and increased staffing. The Portland, Arkansas, native and UA graduate's power and stature grew throughout the campus, except for athletics.
That was still doing fine under the leadership of the legendary Frank Broyles.
No matter what White did he wouldn't be bigger than Broyles, but he tried. When Nolan Richardson was fired in 2002 as men's basketball coach, Broyles quickly had an agreement with Bill Self, who was at Illinois at the time.
Not so fast, White said, we are going to get sued by Richardson and we need to hire a black coach. Logical, but White settled on one-year wonder Stan Heath, who had taken Kent State to the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 in his only year as a head coach. That was not a good hire.
Later, Broyles convinced Houston Nutt it was time to be a CEO and that he should hire the bright young head coach and play caller, Gus Malzahn, from Springdale for the 2006 season.
By then it was obvious Heath wasn't going to make it, and he was fired. Broyles went to Atlanta for the Final Four and hired Creighton's widely respected and successful Dana Altman. On his first night in Fayetteville, Altman and his wife went to dinner with the Whites, where he was coldly informed he had just been hired by a man who would only be around another year.
Altman bolted the next day, and White hired a search firm that found him John Pelphrey. He already had hired Jeff Long to succeed Broyles, who would retire in 2007.
The situation between Malzahn and Nutt began to fracture the fan base. Malzahn left for Tulsa after one season and a year later Nutt resigned under pressure. At the news conference, White took off the "golden handcuffs," adding $3 million to Nutt's buyout.
The day after Nutt left he was introduced as the Ole Miss coach, and a month later White retired. Another Arkansas native and graduate G. David Gearhart, who White hired in 1998 as vice chancellor of UA Advancement, took over. Gearhart had the same $300 million of Walton money on his resume. He had recommended Long.
Gearhart had little interest in athletics, and Long had autonomy. Gearhart retired in 2015 and was replaced by Joe Steinmetz, from The Ohio State, who also had little experience in athletics.
As SEC Network money flowed in, Long's staff grew until he had 20 assistants -- or tons of layers between him and the fans. He single-handedly picked Bielema to clean up the mess made by his previous hires Bobby Petrino and John L. Smith.
Long got athletics in debt with an expansion that could require student athletic fees, and he planned to end Hogs football games in Little Rock. The board of trustees had heard too many complaints.
Long was fired and Bielema soon followed. The lack of athletic experience immediately showed.
Steinmetz initially said he would hire an AD and interim AD Julie Cromer Peoples would hire a football coach, but quickly he did an about face and hired search firms -- although Malzahn was always the top choice.
It is believed a new head coach will be announced today, with a new athletic director, and maybe the UA can move forward.
Sports on 12/03/2017
Print Headline: Bad decisions at UA started a long time ago