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Long owes thanks to Petrino, Smith

Commitment and leadership – those are the words being used to help explain Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long’s new contract.

News of Jeff Long's contract extension and raise broke Friday afternoon.

Chancellor G. David Gearhart used them Oct. 23 in a letter that detailed the AD’s raise and extension.

Long repeated those words Saturday in a statement thanking Gearhart and the UA for the new deal.

They aren’t just buzzwords, but they certainly don’t tell the entire story.

The word football was never mentioned by Gearhart or Long. The names Bobby Petrino and John L. Smith weren’t mentioned, either. But we all know football and Petrino had a tremendous impact on this raise. As strange as it sounds, so did Smith.

Long is getting a $50,000 bump in base salary, a $250,000 personal services agreement with the Razorback Foundation and a $150,000-$200,000 a year financial plan from the Foundation. He’ll make about $900,000 a year through 2017, and there’s still up to $250,000 out there for the taking if he meets some performance incentives.

If you look at salary figures of SEC athletic directors that were published by USA Today in October 2011, Long would be the third-highest paid AD in the conference.

He’s getting this raise in the midst of one of the most frustrating football seasons in recent memory, and that’s anything but a coincidence.

Thank you, football. Thank you, Bobby Petrino. And yes, thank you, John L. Smith.

The tip of the cap to Petrino is deserved because he gave fans a taste of the good times that Alabama, Auburn, Florida and LSU have enjoyed in recent years. He’s probably the main reason why memberships to the Razorback Foundation were at an all-time high earlier this year (about 13,000).

Petrino yanked the rug out from under the Razorback Nation when he had the motorcycle wreck that led to his demise. But riding the wave of his brilliant ability with X’s and O’s, a 30-year master plan for athletic improvements – with a price tag of more than $320 million – was unveiled last fall.

The tip of the cap to Smith is deserved, oddly enough, because of his inability to continue Petrino’s success.

Quite simply, the UA can’t afford more failure, and hitting a home run with Smith’s replacement is more important than ever. If fans don't see potential next year, donations drop. We have to assume they've already taken a hit because of Smith.

And yet that $30 million football operations center is already being constructed.

A $20 million-$25 million basketball practice facility is in the works.

A planned academic support and dining building for athletes – with a price tag of $11.5 million-$14 million – is already a major selling point for recruits.

The baseball and track athletes are pumped about their indoor training facility.

And of course, you have the planned expansion of Razorback Stadium, which, amongst insiders, is rumored to be about 12,000 more seats than what’s been divulged – pushing the seating capacity up to about 92,000.

Long, who has probably been a hot name in AD searches, can’t afford to get this hire wrong.

And the UA certainly can afford to make him the Million Dollar Man if the confidence shown in him helps ensure he lands a big fish.

Make no mistake, as of Thursday, he had not landed that coach yet, according to a source with intimate knowledge of the search. It’s probably not a good idea to look at the timing of the letter and assume he hired someone. It sounds like there’s a pretty good chance the UA will have a prominent coach in place soon, but this raise has been in the works for a while.

Long’s commitment to the university and his leadership – and the UA’s commitment and leadership – are two of the reasons why the deal was done. But football, Petrino and an awful 2012 are, too.

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