NORMAN — Chuck Long’s Friday nights the last two autumns were simple. Grab a pizza, get on the Internet to listen to KREF radio, then wait for the phone call from his son.
This autumn will be better. Much better.
Long will be there live for his son’s senior year of football at Norman High School. Zach Long has quarterbacked Norman the past two seasons, while his dad was Turner Gill’s offensive coordinator at the University of Kansas.
KU fired Gill and his staff last November. And now Long has but one thing to say to the Jayhawk brass.
Oh, Long doesn’t say that verbally. Too much pride in any coach to say that. But Long has to feel it. KU gave him a blessed gift.
Jobs come and go and come again. But here’s what comes and goes and does not return: your son’s senior year.
“No one likes to get let go, but that’s been the silver lining,” Long said. “I’ve only seen two of his games the last two years.”
Now Long is making up for lost time. He’s working with his son and Norman receivers this summer. He plans to help out the Tigers this season, with the blessing of coach Greg Nation.
“It’s great having him around again,” said Zach. “Obviously I was upset he was let go, but Coach Nation talked to me. ‘Hey, you think your dad would be interested in helping out?’ After that, I got excited. What’s more comfortable than having your dad around?”
Long spent six seasons as OU’s quarterback coach or offensive coordinator, then three years as head coach at San Diego State. The Aztecs fired Long at the end of the 2008 season. The family stayed in San Diego another year, but when Kansas came calling, the Longs had a decision to make.
Stay in San Diego, where Zach’s older brother, Nathan, was midway through his junior year of high school, or return to Norman, where Long roots run generationally deep.
Nathan decided he wanted to return to Norman for his senior year, and Zach endorsed the move, too.
“All my friends were here,” Zach said. “I liked San Diego, I liked going to the beach, but the people here, I grew up with them since I was five years old. It was really easy making the decision.”
And it kept alive the Longs’ Norman High School tradition. Chuck’s father, Charlie Long, was a 1956 Norman graduate and a member of the Tigers’ 1955 state champion basketball team. Chuck’s grandfather once was mayor of Norman.
Chuck grew up in Wheaton, Ill., and became a star quarterback at Iowa; he was runner-up to Bo Jackson in the 1985 Heisman Trophy vote.
Long was coaching at his alma mater, but when Bob Stoops offered his old Iowa teammate a job in December 1999, Long was quick to jump to his father’s hometown.
Now, all five of Long’s children figure to be Norman High graduates. Nathan and older sisters Lindsay and Samantha already have graduated. Zach and Maddy, a sophomore pom at Norman, are in line to do the same.
Sadly, Charlie Long died in 2008, so he didn’t get to see his grandson quarterback his alma mater. “That would have been the icing on the cake,” Chuck Long said. “I wanted all my children to graduate from Norman High, like he did. That means a lot to our family.
“We love Norman. The community. University town. My father always said, growing up in a university town was the best.”
College coaches are well paid, but those paychecks exact a high price. Time spent away from family. Time spent coaching other people’s kids.
Heck, Long is twice-blessed by curses. That off year in San Diego allowed him to help coach Zach’s freshman football season and watch Nathan’s basketball season. Lisa Long, Chuck’s wife, has said that was one of their favorite times.
And now, Long gets another window of opportunity.
“It means a lot to me,” Zach said. “I haven’t seen him much the last two years.”
Nation called it an easy decision to annex Chuck Long. “Great thing for us, to have an extra set of eyes that have seen all the football that Chuck has,” Nation said. “Some of the things we can bounce off of him, utilize his knowledge, that’s a big bonus for us.”
Some sons would feel more pressure knowing their dad is on the sideline or in the press box instead of eating a pizza 350 miles away, listening on Internet radio.
But Zach says his father “takes stress off me a little bit. He kind of knows what to say, how to calm me down when I’m tired or hurting.”
Long had some coaching overtures after last season, but Zach and Maddy were always in the back of his mind. Your son quarterbacking, your daughter on the pom squad, you can’t get that back. There is plenty of time later to think about the rest of a career.
Blessings come in many packages. One firing brought the Longs back to Norman. Another firing brought Chuck Long back, too.
“You always think about options that are presented to you,” Long said. “I have to work 15 more years. I’ve got a long way to go. The big picture, what’s one year out of that?
“When I’m down the road, I’ll look back with a smile.”
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.