The former athletic director of the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville was fired "for convenience," a university official said Friday.
That means the university can -- and did -- end Jeff Long's employment without cause or for any reason.
And as of Friday, little is still known as to what -- other than the performance of the Razorback football team that is 4-6 overall and 1-5 in Southeastern Conference games this season and has a program-record five losses of 20 points or more -- led to his firing after his nearly decade-long tenure at the campus.
In the termination letter📄 , UA Chancellor Joe Steinmetz said that parting ways was "in the best interest of the athletics program and the University."
University of Arkansas trustees earlier this week hinted that Steinmetz weighed many factors before ultimately deciding to let Long go, but none would speak of any other concerns they or anyone had with Long. And his personnel file -- released by the university, with his permission on Friday after the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette submitted a public-records request -- also gave no hints as to the cause of his dismissal.
"While a compelling public interest in these records may exist, as you know Mr. Long's departure was a termination for convenience," said Rebecca Morrison, a public information official at UA. "Thus the university believes that the records in Mr. Long's personnel file are exempt from disclosure, as they do not form a basis for his termination."
But the university released the records in the end.
Arkansas Code Annotated 25-19-105(c)(1) states, in part, that "all employee evaluation or job performance records, including preliminary notes and other materials, shall be open to public inspection only upon final administrative resolution of any suspension or termination proceeding at which the records form a basis for the decision to suspend or terminate the employee and if there is a compelling public interest in their disclosure."
Long's firing comes as the university is in the middle of the expansion of the Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium, a $160 million project that will add about 4,200 premium seats, and at a time when the future of the Razorback football games in Little Rock is in question. Steinmetz said Thursday that the future of Razorback football games in the capital city had no effect on his decision to fire Long.
Long, 58, replaced longtime athletic director and former Razorback football coach Frank Broyles on Jan. 1, 2008.
Long's personnel record -- made up mainly of performance evaluations -- is mostly spotless with one "letter of caution" from former Chancellor G. David Gearhart📄. In the letter, Gearhart admonished Long for violating NCAA Bylaw 126.96.36.199 on Aug. 14, 2013 when he "accidently retweeted a request from a fan that included the name of a prospective student-athlete."
"However, it is your responsibility to be more mindful of your actions when communicating with individuals on social media," Gearhart wrote. "This memorandum should serve as notice that a repeat offense may be forwarded to the NCAA for a determination of appropriate sanctions."
In a May 2012 performance evaluation, Gearhart praised Long for his handling of the firing of football Coach Bobby Petrino📄 on April 10, 2012, nine days after Petrino crashed his Harley-Davidson motorcycle with his mistress onboard.
"During the Petrino incident you never wavered from wanting to do the right thing and your press conference showed your honor and integrity to all," Gearhart wrote. "I was very proud of how you handled the matter and you helped to restore confidence in college athletics nationally."
In July 2012, Long and Gearhart exchanged several emails about the athletic director's contract. On July 10 of that year, Long wrote📄 that Scott Varady, who is now the executive director of the Razorback Foundation but was general counsel for the university then, had talked to him about extending his contract and his buyout.
"My initial reaction was I was not interested in extending my buyout simply because these jobs are so tenuous and can turn negative, contentious and ugly because of circumstances beyond my direct control. The public nature of an AD job at [a Southeastern Conference] school makes it vulnerable to becoming an unbearable position even though one has a great contract and is paid very well," Long wrote. "At the time I signed of my original contract, it was extremely important to me to be able to accept another opportunity should the climate at Arkansas not be positive after 5 years."
Working with Gearhart was a part of why he saw himself in Arkansas "for a long time," Long said in the same email.
Later that year, in October, Long told Gearhart📄 that he was "still troubled by the knowledge that there are Board of Trustee Members who not only do not value my leadership over the last 5 years but feel I deserve to be fired."
He spoke of his "disappointment that the original change in contract terms" was tabled, questioned several times whether he was right not to talk to other institutions -- mentioning Clemson University -- and reiterated his commitment to UA.
"Dave, I hope that this letter is not interpreted as leveraging you or the Board for more money," he wrote. "While it is true that a number of institutions have expressed interest in me, it remains my desire to stay at the University of Arkansas. However, the recent call for a vote of no confidence by at least one Board of Trustee member caused me to think about my life and career in a way I had not previously done."
Later that month, Gearhart got approval to, among other things, extend Long's contract📄 through June 30, 2017, increase his pay from the university to $500,000 annually, add a personal-services agreement with the Razorback Foundation to increase his pay from private funds to $250,000 annually and give Long $1 million a year for the remaining period of his contract if he was fired "for convenience of the University."
Long's last contract amendment extended his stay at UA through June 30, 2020, but the contract automatically renews on July 1 unless UA's chancellor says in writing otherwise.
The personnel file shows Long's last evaluation with Steinmetz was June 22 this year. Steinmetz, in a memo, documented Long's "five major accomplishments"📄 for the past year and five major goals to accomplish from July 1 through June 20, 2018. Goals included finishing the stadium north-end zone addition and expansion on time and on budget, having the Athletic Department remain self-sustaining and maintaining or increasing the $3 million the department gave to the university for academics.
At the end of his tenure, Long earned $750,000 from the university, $250,000 from the foundation and was eligible for up to $1.1 million in one-time bonuses if he met certain benchmarks, such as maintaining good citizenship or maintaining or increasing the graduation success rate of student athletes.
He can earn a maximum of $4.625 million from the termination, to be paid for by the Razorback Foundation, the university has said. That amount can decrease should Long find other employment.
"The Razorback Foundation does not anticipate there will be an adverse impact on our fundraising efforts," Varady said Friday. "The Foundation provides an annual transfer of funds to the Athletic Department as part of its normal operations, and those private funds may be used by the Athletic Department to help with its obligations for any commitments."
UA has named Julie Cromer Peoples, 46, as interim athletic director. It will announce members of a search committee to help Steinmetz in the search for a new vice chancellor and director of athletics.
Information for this article was contributed by Eric Besson of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
University of Arkansas chancellor Joseph Steinmetz is shown in this August 23, 2017 file photo.
A Section on 11/18/2017
Print Headline: UA just cites 'convenience' in Long firing; Personnel records reveal solid performance reviews