CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Few players are revered long after their college playing careers are over quite like former Iowa quarterback Chuck Long.
In 1985, Long led the Hawkeyes to a 10-2 record and an outright Big Ten title. For five straight weeks, Iowa was ranked No. 1 nationally — during that run he guided the Hawkeyes to a 12-10 last-second win against No. 2-ranked Michigan. Long won the Maxwell Award (best player) and Davey O’Brien Award (best quarterback) that season and finished second to Auburn running back Bo Jackson in the second-closest Heisman Trophy race in history, 45 points. Long was named a member of the College Football Hall of Fame in 1999.
When he left Iowa, Long was the Big Ten career leader in passing yards (10,461), touchdown passes (74), completion percentage (65.0) and was second in career completions (782). He now ranks fifth, third, third and eighth in those respective categories 31 years later. Long twice threw for 6 touchdowns in a game and twice finished a season by completing at least 67 percent of his passes. He played in five bowl games from 1981-85, including two Rose Bowls. Previous NCAA rules allowed redshirting players to compete in bowl games.
A 1986 NFL first-round pick of the Detroit Lions, Long played in parts of six seasons. He passed for 3,747 yards and 19 touchdowns in his NFL career before joining Iowa’s coaching staff as defensive backs coach in 1995. He shifted to quarterbacks coach at Iowa in 1998. He then joined former Iowa teammate Bob Stoops’ staff at Oklahoma in 1999 as quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator. Long helped the Sooners win the BCS title in 2000. He became Oklahoma’s offensive coordinator in 2002, then was named head coach at San Diego State in 2006. He was fired near the end of the 2008 season, sat out in 2009, then joined the Kansas coaching staff as offensive coordinator in 2010 and 2011 before the entire staff was let go.
Long, 53, lives in Altoona, Iowa, and works as a color and studio analyst for the Big Ten Network. He is the executive director and chief executive officer for the Iowa Sports Foundation, which runs the Iowa Games, the Iowa Senior Games and other health initiatives within the state. He also has weekly appearances on Iowa radio stations and a television spot (along with Land of 10’s Scott Dochterman) with KCRG 9.2’s “On Iowa Live” on Monday nights in Cedar Rapids.
Here we catch up with Long about his post-coaching career:
What made you decide to go into broadcasting after coaching?
“Actually when I got fired at San Diego State, the Big Ten Network called me then. Immediately. I told them I still wanted to coach and I went to Kansas from there. So after Kansas let us go after two years, I called them. I said, ‘Hey are you still interested?’ They said, ‘Sure.’ That’s how it all got started. I just wanted to see if I would like it, and I do. I liked it and now I’ve been doing it for five years. The time has flown. It keeps my toe in the game, too. The thing about commentating is you watch a lot of film of every team. So you really see where trends are going in the football world a lot faster.”
Sometimes it’s difficult for former coaches and players to switch into that role because they have to become opinionated and critical and avoid the clichés.
“It’s all about the why. You’ve got to tell them the why. They really hit you hard with that. Don’t just tell them what it is; they see what it is. You’ve got to tell them why that happened. You’ve got to be conscious of that. There’s a reason why he caught the ball. Was it the route? Was it the protection? Was it the way the quarterback threw it? I had this big ‘why’ in front of me. You’ve got to make sure to explain that. I try not to be critical but I try to tell it like it is. If I didn’t like the play call, I’ll say so. Because I know when I was a play-caller, there’s not a lot of plays people liked, especially when they didn’t work.
“I try to be fair. Some people over time can be too negative or too positive. I try to be fair. If that same coach calls a good play or a good game, I’ll say it as much, too.”
How difficult is it to be objective, especially when you’re dealing with Iowa?
“The network doesn’t really want me doing a lot of Iowa games. They only want me to do one a year because of the bias. Networks, understandably so, don’t want bias. But they give me one a year. It’s tough not to be in favor of your alma mater. I caught myself a couple of times saying as much on TV. I’ll say, ‘We need a … or Iowa needs a first down.’ That happens. They understand that. They put me with the non-conference games, which is more slanted toward the Big Ten team.”
As far as the other Big Ten rivals, those feelings have been wiped away after 30 years, right?
“Oh yeah. I would say Minnesota is probably the No. 1 rivalry. It always will be. They’ve invented all these trophy games now. But I think that it waters it down, to be honest with you. I think it’s always cool to have just a couple of trophy games or just one trophy game that made that game special. But now they’re all trophy games and I don’t know if kids care as much. It’s not as meaningful. The one trophy game we had with Minnesota was meaningful. Winning that game and going over to get that Floyd of Rosedale, that made it meaningful. Then all week long you were singing those songs, you were talking about getting Floyd back. Kids are not saying that every week about getting this trophy.”
You were blessed to be around great coaches at the college level. You were around Hayden Fry, then Kirk Ferentz and Bob Stoops, Bill Snyder of course. Who have you learned the most from?
“I would definitely say Hayden Fry for sure and Bill Snyder. That combination, if you look at where they are now, what Hayden did at Iowa and what Bill Snyder has done at Kansas State, that combination there was probably the most powerful combination in all of college football. I was blessed to be right with that every single day for five years. That is a strong combination. I think it starts with those two. But I’ve learned a little bit from each one of them. I’ve taken some from Bob Stoops, some from Turner Gill. We were only there two years (at Kansas), but he had some really good things. Of course Kirk, the year I was with him. You always should be learning. If you ever stop learning, you stop growing. Wherever I’ve been, whatever age I was in, how much football I knew, I always wanted to learn something new.”
You’re in a couple of other ventures including the Iowa Sports Foundation, which runs the annual Iowa Games. What does that entail?
“We promote health and wellness in sports and recreation statewide. That’s what we do. We’re trying to make Iowa the healthiest state in the nation. So we promote all of those. We have about 30 programs we push statewide. We’re very proud of the fact that we have all 99 counties involved with our programs in some fashion. We’re really proud and excited about that and we’re growing. Obesity is a growing problem in this country. It’s a growing problem in the state. If we don’t do something to curtail that, type-2 diabetes and health care costs are going to go out the roof in 20-25 years. Obesity will be double what it is today. We’re really working hard to educate people. We’re the activity side. Our foundation is all about activity. Some foundations just push education. We actually push the activity piece, which is good.
“We have summer games and winter games. Summer in July. Winter in January. The winter games are in Dubuque and Cedar Rapids, the summer games are in Ames and that area. We just had our 30th year of summer games, and we’re going into our 25th year of winter games this year. It has stood the test of time and there’s a lot of things that don’t last that long. We’re fired up.”