LAWRENCE — The white vase had some purple flowers. That was no surprise at all.
When Jeff Long arrived at his office Wednesday — on his first official day as Kansas athletics director — the bouquet from Englewood Florist was already waiting for him. A sunflower poked out of one side of the arrangement, while pink and yellow roses filled out much of the top.
In the middle — tucked behind some of the larger blooms — were a handful of purple daisies.
The detail was only fitting, considering the centerpiece of Long’s desk had been sent by Kansas State’s athletic director.
“I’m going to call Gene Taylor and tell him, ‘Why’d you send me this bouquet of purple flowers?’” Long said Wednesday with a laugh.
The two go way back, first meeting when Long was at Eastern Kentucky some two decades ago. (“It was a welcome,” Taylor said when asked about the flowers Wednesday.)
Still, it wasn’t shocking that much of the rest of Long’s desk remained bare, with a few magnetic football schedules on one side and a small coffee cup next to his computer.
Just a few hours into his tenure, Long had not yet filled his new space with possessions, partly because he’d just gotten back from a family vacation to Yellowstone National Park. It was important to take that trip with his wife and daughters, he said, especially with a new reality awaiting him.
“I knew when I got here,” Long said, “it’d be all KU and away we go.”
His first day Wednesday was hectic for sure. Before a planned get-together with reporters late in the morning, Long had already:
- spoken with human resources
- had a meeting regarding the future hiring of a softball coach
- communicated with two other KU administrators
- talked with men’s basketball coach Bill Self in the hallway
- texted football coach David Beaty (Long is meeting with the team Thursday), and
- chatted with Ray Bechard long enough that the volleyball coach was able to explain the pronunciation of his name in French
“Is it only noon?” Long asked reporters with a smile.
There is still much to do over the next few days and weeks. Long said some of the early priorities were researching candidates for the softball opening, meeting with administrative staff and assessing the athletic department as a whole. From previous experience, he’s found that fresh eyes sometimes can bring much-needed perspective to schools that might not be working in the most efficient or cost-effective ways.
“I’ve always believed change is important to success,” Long said. “You’ve got to change. You’ve got to continually look for change. You’ve got to find ways to be better.”
Long also will put an initial focus on fundraising. He calls that aspect “the lifeblood for an athletics director” while believing it’s a constant process.
“Fundraising is relationships,” Long said. “I’ve got to start to build.”
There will be future days to help fill his empty surroundings in Wagnon Athletic Center. Long planned to bring in a few mementos related to his service as the College Football Playoff committee’s first chairman, while items from previous schools — like Arkansas and Pittsburgh — would mostly be left at home.
Long, though, couldn’t shake a feeling Wednesday that this was the beginning of something positive. At some earlier stops, he admitted to having some doubts on his first day, as his first impression changed from what he’d previously thought.
Wednesday proceeded without those fears. After Long phoned his wife, Fanny, early in the morning to leave a voicemail message — it was their 26th wedding anniversary — she returned his call a few hours later.
Fanny started the conversation a simple question, “How is everything going?”
Long was happy to answer without hesitation.
“I’ll just tell you honestly: My response was, ‘You know, it feels really good here,” Long said.
“As you meet people, as you’re in town, as you’re on campus ... it just feels really good.”