Few administrators have stood in the fire as has Long. First, replacing an icon like Frank Broyles, who coached the Hogs from 1958-76 and transformed Arkansas athletics as AD from 1974-2007. Replacing Broyles in the Ozarks was as intimidating as coaches who had to replace Bear Bryant or Darrell Royal or Barry Switzer. And Long stood tall in April 2012, firing successful football coach Bobby Petrino after he misled Long about a scandalous relationship that went from infidelity to workplace favoritism.
Picking between Michigan State and UCLA seems downright easy after that.
“He has the right temperament,” Castiglione said. “He’s respected by his peers. He’s a person of real integrity, great character. I think he’ll handle it well. It’s a difficult, if not daunting, task.”
Long had no idea his name would be so popular among administrators who offered nominations for the committee. SEC commissioner Mike Slive called Long while he was on vacation in Europe — “between the London Eye and London Bridge,” Long said — telling him to expect a call from playoff executive director Bill Hancock. Even more surprising to Long, he was a unanimous selection among the committee members to be their chairman. Long’s extensive work at a variety of schools, working in four of the five major conferences, no doubt drew such support.
And now Long leads a committee that includes Tom Osborne, Condoleezza Rice and Archie Manning.
“Thus far, that’s been the most rewarding thing,” Long said. “Getting to know the people. Incredible group of accomplished individuals. The fun part is watching us come together and getting to know each other, react to each other.”
The conference commissioners, the management committee of the playoff, say they’ve learned from the basketball process that familiarity and camaraderie within the selection committee makes for better communication. “When we say something out of the box, or something controversial, or maybe not widely accepted, that’s part of the process,” Long said.
Long’s job as chairman is to speak publicly for the committee and to keep it on point during deliberations. And come Dec. 7, he’ll have to explain to the world why Georgia, or Oklahoma, or Clemson, or Ohio State, is in or out.
The kid from the floor in Kettering is looking forward to it.
“I think we all feel we’re giving something back to the game,” Long said. “Give back to a game I truly love. I missed it when I stopped playing. It’s a passion of mine.”
Never fear. The helmet is back on.