Kansas AD Jeff Long resigns after Les Miles debacle

Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Kansas athletic director Jeff Long resigned Wednesday, less than two days after the school mutually parted with Les Miles amid sexual misconduct allegations dating to the football coach’s time at LSU and one day after Long vowed he would lead the Jayhawks’ search for a replacement.

Kurt Watson will serve as the interim athletic director as the school searches for both an AD and football coach.

“We will immediately begin our search for a new athletics director. I will lead the process with the assistance of a search firm and four alumni advisors, each of whom have experience in collegiate athletics,” Kansas Chancellor Douglas Girod said in a statement. “My hope is to have a new athletics director in place within the next few weeks.”

Girod said the new athletic director will take control of the football coaching search.

“I understand time is of the essence and that our football student-athletes are eager to know who will be guiding them,” he said. “But we are making long-term decisions on an athletics director and a football coach, and we cannot sacrifice the quality of a search simply for expediency. While there will be a lot of speculation regarding potential candidates for both searches, I urge Jayhawks to have faith in the process and in those who are devoting their time to assist.”

Long’s dismissal came a day after he vowed to lead the search for Miles’ successor, a move that drew significant backlash from Kansas alumni. It was Long who had hired Miles, his friend of more than 30 years, despite questions that ultimately led to his firing in disgrace Monday night.

The move also comes as the Jayhawks’ storied men’s basketball program, which is awaiting the decision of an independent arbitrator on what could be severe NCAA sanctions for rules violations, prepares to open the Big 12 Tournament on Thursday with the NCAA Tournament on tap next week.

“I leave KU with a heavy heart and profound confidence that I have always acted in the best interests of Kansas Athletics,” Long said in a statement Wednesday night. “I have done everything in my control to move Kansas Athletics forward in a positive manner; that’s what makes this most difficult.”

Long was hired by Kansas to help rebuild a football program mired firmly in the Big 12 cellar. His charge was to find a coach who could take the Jayhawks back to relevance while also persuading donors to open their checkbooks in support of upgrades to the practice facility and aging Memorial Stadium.

Instead, his roughly three-year tenure was filled with bumbling missteps.

After firing former football coach David Beaty, Long informed him that it would be “for cause” due to a relatively minor NCAA investigation into a non-coaching staff member and that his $3 million buyout would be withheld. A 15 month-long court case followed, embarrassing the university that wound up paying $500,000 in legal fees before ultimately agreeing with Beaty on a $2.55 million settlement.

Long also was criticized in 2019 for bringing Snoop Dogg to Late Night in the Phog, the annual kickoff to basketball practice. The rapper’s performance included four scantily dressed dancers doing routines on stripper poles and the firing of fake $100 bills into the crowd, an apparently flippant reference to the NCAA’s investigation into allegations that Kansas basketball coaches funneled money through an Adidas rep to potential players.

“I take full responsibility for not understanding what acrobatic dancers are in today’s entertainment world,” Long said in response to the backlash, “and offer my personal apology to anyone who was offended.”

But the biggest embarrassment for Long, whose five-year deal paid him $1.5 million annually, came on the football field, where the hiring of Miles resulted in just three wins over two seasons and ended in disaster.

After firing Beaty, Long claimed to have cast a wide net in search of a replacement, even though he later admitted in a deposition that Kansas had hired a documentary film crew to shoot Miles before he had been hired.

Last week, LSU released a pair of reviews conducted by separate law firms into allegations Miles had made sexual advances toward two female members of the program while coaching the Tigers. Miles was placed on administrative leave by Kansas, and the two sides agreed to a $2 million settlement to terminate the remaining years on his contract.

Long said a series of background checks took place before the Jayhawks hired Miles in 2018, and that nobody within the LSU athletic department raised any red flags. Asked why he was unaware of the allegations against a friend of his dating to their days at Michigan in the late 1980s, Long offered little explanation.

“We ran multiple background checks,” he said. “I also asked Coach Miles directly during the interview process whether there was anything in his past that could potentially embarrass the university, himself or the program and he said, `No.”‘

“I think much is played about our friendship,” Long added. “It’s a friendship that was certainly not the reason why we were hiring him to be the head coach. He was an established head coach, he was an incredible recruiter.”

Kansas already was planning to hire a search firm to assist in finding a football coach, but Girod made it clear that he wants the next athletic director in place before resuming the process. That means offensive coordinator Mike DeBord will continue to serve as the acting coach heading into spring practice.

“I step down knowing that I did my very best for the university,” Long said. “We made strides in academics, fundraising, facilities and diversity and inclusion, among other areas, and I truly believe the best days of Kansas athletics lie ahead.”

Lane Kiffin staying at Ole Miss with ‘a lot of work left to do’

Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports
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Mississippi coach Lane Kiffin says he has informed school officials he will be staying at Ole Miss, putting an end to speculation that he was the leading candidate to fill the head coaching vacancy at Auburn.

“Same as I said last week: I’m staying here and we have a lot of work left to do,” Kiffin told The Associated Press in a voice message.

Kiffin added he has not signed a contract extension with the school.

The 47-year-old Kiffin is 23-12 in three seasons as Rebels coach. No. 20 Mississippi finished its regular season 8-4, losing four of its last five, including a 24-22 loss to Mississippi State.

Auburn was playing at No. 8 Alabama in the Iron Bowl, and its coaching search figured to heat up soon after its season concluded.

Auburn fired coach Bryan Harsin earlier this month and has gone 2-1 since under interim coach Carnell Williams, the former star running back for the Tigers.

With Kiffin off the market, Auburn is eyeing a former Mississippi coach to be its next coach.

A person familiar with the search told the AP that Auburn is interested in Liberty coach Hugh Freeze. The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because Auburn was not making details of its search public.

Freeze coached at Ole Miss for five seasons before leaving in disgrace in 2017 after the school discovered he used a university cellphone to call an escort service.

He landed at Liberty and has gone 34-14 in four seasons with the Flames.

Nebraska signs Matt Rhule to 8-year deal

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
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After six straight losing seasons and more than 20 years removed from its 1990s heyday, Nebraska is turning to Matt Rhule to rebuild its program and make it competitive in the Big Ten Conference.

Rhule signed an eight-year contract to be the Cornhuskers’ next coach and will be introduced at a news conference, the school announced.

The 47-year-old Rhule quickly turned around downtrodden programs at Temple and Baylor before leaving for the NFL to coach the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers fired him in October after he started his third season with four losses in five games.

“It is a tremendous honor to be chosen to lead the Nebraska football program,” Rhule said in a statement. “When you think of great, tradition-rich programs in college football, Nebraska is right at the top of the list. The fan base is second to none, and I consider it a privilege to have the opportunity to coach in Memorial Stadium on Tom Osborne Field. My family and I are so grateful to become a part of the Husker Family, and we can’t wait to get started.”

Rhule was 11-27 with Carolina and left with about $40 million remaining on the seven-year, guaranteed $62 million contract he signed in 2020. The contract made Rhule the sixth-highest paid coach in the NFL when he signed in 2020, according to Forbes.

Nebraska said it would release details of Rhule’s contract.

“It is a privilege to welcome Coach Matt Rhule, his wife, Julie, and their family to Nebraska,” athletic director Trev Alberts said. “Coach Rhule has created a winning culture throughout his coaching career, and he will provide great leadership for the young men in our football program.

“Matt is detail-oriented, his teams are disciplined and play a physical brand of football. Matt also has the personality and relationship-building skills to build a great staff and excel in recruiting.”

About an hour after Rhule’s hiring was announced, wide receiver Trey Palmer announced on Instagram that he would declare for the NFL draft. Palmer, who transferred from LSU after last season, had three 150-yard games this year and set the Huskers’ single-season record with 1,043 yards.

The Huskers are among eight Football Bowl Subdivision programs with at least 900 wins, and they have won or shared five national championships. The last one came in 1997 under Hall of Fame coach Tom Osborne.

Five coaches have come and gone since then, most recently the quarterback of that ’97 team, Scott Frost.

Alberts fired Frost on Sept. 11 after the Huskers opened 1-2, with losses to Northwestern in Ireland and to Georgia Southern at home. They were 3-6 under interim coach Mickey Joseph and finished the season 4-8 following a 24-17 win at Iowa.

Nebraska was 16-31 in four-plus seasons under Frost, never finishing higher than fifth in the Big Ten West or going to a bowl.

In four seasons at Temple, Rhule coached the Owls to 28 wins. That included 26 from 2014-16. Temple was 10-4 in 2015 and reached the American Athletic Conference’s inaugural championship game. In 2016, Rhule led the Owls to a 10-3 record and an AAC championship. The conference title was the first in 49 seasons for the Temple program, and the Owls reached bowl games in consecutive seasons for the first time in school history.

Rhule was named Baylor’s coach in December 2016 in the wake of an investigation that found the private Baptist university had not responded adequately to allegations of sexual assault by players, resulting in the firing of Art Briles.

Rhule’s trajectory was similar at Baylor, where he went from 1-11 in 2017 to 7-6 with a bowl game the next season. In his third and final season, Baylor was ranked in the top 10, played in the Big 12 championship game and finished 11-3 after a Sugar Bowl loss to Georgia.

Rhule’s collegiate success provided him the opportunity to take over as the Carolina Panthers’ head coach in 2020. He guided the Panthers to five wins in each of his first two seasons before this year’s 1-4 start got him fired.

Rhule has ties to the Big Ten. He moved from New York City to State College, Pennsylvania, as a teenager. He played linebacker at Penn State from 1994-97 and began his coaching there as a volunteer assistant.