Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long wanted to make something clear during his time at the Little Rock Touchdown Club on Monday. The Razorbacks played no role in trying to help coach John L. Smith hide assets from creditors in his bankruptcy case.
“I’ve learned through this process that’s not something we could do, even if we wanted to do,” Long said. “Certainly we were not doing that.”
The question was raised after last week’s revelation Smith was having roughly 70 percent of his $850,000 salary — $600,000 — deferred. His guaranty agreement with the Razorback Foundation was signed Aug. 30 and came a week before he filed bankruptcy documents, listing $25.7 million in liabilities and $1.2 million in assets.
It was later amended to showed $40.7 million liabilities and $1.3 million in assets.
USA Today first reported the deferred payment arrangement, which came days before Smith met his creditors in U.S. Bankruptcy Court last Friday. No ruling was made regarding his bankruptcy case because more documents were requested.
“Certainly you have to recall we were dealing with a 63-year old coach that was getting a 10-month contract,” Long said. “That coach was interested in his retirement. So working with his financial advisors — not unlike we’ve done with Coach (Bobby) Petrino’s advisors, I’m sure coach Nutt’s even though I wasn’t here.
“In any of those situations you work with those financial advisors to decide to structure a package that’s to their benefit and the University’s benefit. So, I just want to be very clear about it. That does bother me that they said we were trying to assist … that is absolutely not true. I think the facts have borne that out.”
Long said in an Associated Press story in July that Smith informed him of his financial troubles when he spoke with the coach about returning to Arkansas to replace Petrino in April. Long was asked Monday to specify how much he really knew about Smith’s situation and said he didn’t know the exact extent.
But Long added: “I don’t think coach Smith knew the depth of it.”
“It might seem odd to us, to think how do you not know how much debt you’re in?” Long said. “Certainly that’s not a world I play in, but when you’re in that investment world we’ve all seen people have gotten in over their head with financial decision and the number ends up being the number.”
It hasn’t changed Long’s public support of Smith as Arkansas tries to rebound.
The Razorbacks started 1-4 under Smith, but have won consecutive games against Auburn and Kentucky. Arkansas is off Saturday and will begin its final five-game stretch against Ole Miss in War Memorial Stadium on Oct. 27.
Long said he has not entertained any thought of reassigning Smith — which is an option under the terms of his contract — during the program’s early struggles or his financial difficulties. He said any rumors this season are “unfounded.”
“It would not have been sending the right message to our student body, our young people at the University of Arkansas and I think it certainly would be sending the right messages to coaches and people across the country as we set out to hire a new coach in December,” Long said. “So, absolutely none. I know there was lots of speculation, which is unfounded, but no, there was no consideration.”
Uekman Scholarship Established
Arkansas announced Monday the Garrett Uekman Foundation had pledged $100,000 to help fund an endowed memorial scholarship in memory of the late Garrett Uekman. The announcement came before Long’s appearance at the Little Rock Touchdown Club. Uekman’s family participated in the announcement.
“Garrett Uekman was more than just a tight end on the football team,” Long said during the announcement. “He was a special young man who made an impact on the lives of his teammates and students around the University of Arkansas campus. He was an extraordinary person and a true Razorback.”
Uekman died last November due to complications of a heart condition called cardiomyopathy. Student-athletes from each Arkansas sport will be considered for the annual scholarship, but preference will be given to football players, tight ends and former walk-ons like Uekman.
Little Rock’s Future?
Long was asked by an audience member Monday if the Razorbacks would continue to play two games in Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium.
“I can’t really give you a yes or no answer,” Long said. “I can give you this: I can tell you we’re going to keep two games in Little Rock through 2016 because that’s what we’re contracted for.”
Long said the program understands the importance of its relationship with Little Rock and the War Memorial Commission. He said it will be resolved in time.
“I think I’ve still got four more years before we’ll have to make that difficult decision, whatever it may be,” Long said.
Arkansas senior Chris Gragg is one of 26 tight ends named to the John Mackey Award Midseason Watch List on Monday. Gragg was included in the group of tight ends on the list even though he has not played in three straight games because of a bone bruise in his knee. Gragg is second on the team in receiving with 19 catches for 234 yards with two touchdowns. He is expected to return for Arkansas’ next game against Ole Miss on Sept. 27. … Kicker Zach Hocker was among three recipients of the SEC’s Special Teams Player of the Week award on Monday. Hocker was recognized after going 7-for-7 on extra points and having six of his eight kickoffs downed for touchbacks in the Kentucky win. … The Arkansas-Ole Miss game in War Memorial Stadium on Oct. 27 has been scheduled for an SEC Network broadcast. The game will kick off at 11:21 a.m. It will be Arkansas’ second SEC Network appearance.