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National Columnist

Petrino will bring down the AD, too

Jeff Long doesn't survive this. That's not a happy prediction I'm making, because I want Jeff Long to survive this. At the moment, the athletics director at Arkansas is one of my favorites for the way he handled the Bobby Petrino situation.

Knowing it would crush his football team, his athletic department's coffers, possibly even his own career, Long did the right thing by getting rid of Petrino -- and he got rid of Petrino with gusto. Long didn't just "win the press conference," as we like to say about such things. He went Bill Belichick circa 2007 and ran up the score on that sonofagun.

So, Jeff Long? He's fabulous in my book. (I know, I know, he's the same guy who hired Petrino back in 2008. Shaddup.)

But Jeff Long probably won't get the chance to retire as the AD at Arkansas, because the final victim of this Bobby Petrino saga will be the man who fired him.

As I said, Jeff Long doesn't survive this.

Not because he did anything wrong, but because he did something right. He had to fire Petrino. Had to. But in doing so, he fired the best coach he will ever have at Arkansas, which means Arkansas football will slide downhill -- it won't be a slide all the way to 2-10, but it'll be a long way from the glorious heights of 11-2 this past season -- and the blame for that will go uphill.

Now, to clarify, there's a chance Long survives this. The first thing he has to do is avoid hiring a permanent replacement for Petrino now. Long could take a chance on a coordinator at a big-time school, or on a up-and-coming guy outside the BCS level. He could pry that guy, whoever he is, away from his school in April. He could get a decent coach now.

But a great coach? Long can't hire a great coach in April.

Long faces the same conundrum facing Ohio State last spring when Jim Tressel was pushed out, and the Buckeyes knew their job was better than the available market, so they appointed an interim coach and then made their star hire after the season: Urban Meyer.

Same goes for Arkansas. It's not a football job on the level of Ohio State, but with the talent in the system and the facilities on the rise, it's a better job than whoever Long could hire today. So his best bet is to wait for December.

Even if he does, I don't like his odds. The SEC is a brutal, unforgiving league. The SEC West is a brutal, unforgiving division. There's a reason Arkansas reached previously unseen heights under Petrino: Because he's that good, yes, and also because the job is that tough. Arkansas football, like any job in the SEC West other Alabama, LSU and Auburn-on-a-good-run, is a job where good coaches go to get fired.

If Jeff Long's next hire is that guy -- a good coach who is going to get fired -- then Long will follow him out the door. Because in three or four years, Arkansas fans won't remember that Long did the right thing, the only thing, back in April 2012.

They'll remember Long as being the guy who got rid of the best football coach in recent Arkansas history. And the guy who does that? He doesn't survive.


 
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