Friday, December 13, 2002
Where Are They Now? Chuck Long
By Mike Diegnan
Persevering despite criticism. That's an attitude Chuck Long brings to Oklahoma's football program 15 years after exhibiting it as a player.
The former All-American quarterback at the University of Iowa is now in his first season as the Sooners' quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator after spending five seasons at his alma mater.
"Everywhere I have been, I have tried to develop and mold a quarterback from those lessons," says Long, who played at Iowa with OU head coach Bob Stoops and assistants Mike Stoops and Jonathan Hayes. "I've been fortunate enough to be in a number of different systems over my career. I've taken a little bit from each one."
Long, who battled through a difficult NFL career after great success at the college level, has taken his knowledge and hard working style to Oklahoma, where he is instructing Josh Heupel, one of the nation's top quarterbacks.
"Intangibles are what I look for in a quarterback," Long says. "I try to teach mental strength. (A quarterback) will go through a lot of ups and downs over his career. If they have ability, that will match their mental capability."
The hardest thing for a quarterback -- and Long faced this throughout his playing career -- is being taken out. But Long doesn't feel sorry for the quarterback sent to the sidelines.
"The one thing that quarterbacks have to realize -- as any player -- is that the head coach and the coaching staff is trying to win football games," Long explains. "If that means benching the quarterback, so be it. They're trying to win the football game, and that is the most important thing. And too many quarterbacks get upset about not being able to play because they want to play. But sometimes they struggle and you have to go to the next guy."
It has been a long road since Long first played football. He was not heavily recruited out of high school, despite leading Wheaton North High School (Ill.) to a state championship. The Falcons kept the ball on the ground and Long threw just five to six times a game.
As a result, Long did not receive his first recruiting call until Thanksgiving of his senior year. Just three schools looked into offering him a scholarship: Northern Illinois, Northwestern, and Iowa. After visiting all three schools, Long fell in love with Iowa, even if some people didn't reciprocate right away.
"When I arrived here at Iowa the fall of my freshman year, I don't think they were too excited about me," he says. "I don't think I was high on any recruiting analyst's lists. To this day, I ask (former head coach) Hayden (Fry), 'How did you ever find me?' He still won't tell me."
That fall, the Hawkeyes signed the nation's No. 1 junior college quarterback, Cornelius Robertson.
"If anything, it made me mad," Long says.
Long earned the starting nod in the fall of 1982 after redshirting as a freshman. But his starting job quickly was taken away after the Hawkeyes were blown out by Nebraska 42-7 in the season opener. The following week, backup quarterback Tom Grogan -- who beat out Robertson for the No. 2 spot -- got the start against Iowa State. But after another loss, Long was re-inserted in the lineup.
In Week 3, Long led Iowa to a 17-14 victory over Arizona. The rest is history as Iowa would win eight of its final 10 games, including a Peach Bowl victory over Tennessee.
As a four-year starter, Long led Iowa to a bowl game each season and a Big Ten title in 1985. Because he also participated in two plays in the 1982 Rose Bowl during his redshirt season, he played in five bowl games at Iowa. He is believed to be the only collegiate player to do that.
Long is dotted throughout college football record books. He holds the best completion percentage of any college quarterback all-time who has attempted more than 1,000 career passes. He was also just the second player in college football history to throw for more than 10,000 yards in a career (bowl games included), and still ranks in the top 25.
In the 1984 Freedom Bowl, he set another record, which still has not been broken. He torched the Texas Longhorns for six touchdown passes, while throwing for 461 yards in a 55-17 rout, despite a steady rain throughout the game. His third quarter totals were especially impressive: 12-14 passing for 241 yards and four touchdowns, in what was then a 24-17 game.
"Coach Fry was a passing coach," says Long, who was inducted in August into the College Football Hall of Fame. "I think he liked my accuracy. It just took off from there. I worked hard at my throwing skills. I just got better and better as I went."
While leading Iowa to the Big Ten title in 1985, Long faced his biggest challenge when No. 2 Michigan visited the top-ranked Hawkeyes in Iowa City in October. Trailing by one in the closing minutes, Long drove the Hawkeyes down the field to set up a game-winning field goal by Rob Houghtlin with four seconds left to claim a 12-10 victory.
"It was a Hollywood-type script at the end," Long says. "As loud as I ever heard a crowd, pro or college."
After the '85 season, Long won the Maxwell Award as the best player in the country and Davey O'Brien Award as the country's best quarterback. But he came in second to Bo Jackson for the Heisman Trophy in the award's closest voting ever -- just 45 points.
After the season, Long was taken by the Detroit Lions in the first round of the NFL Draft. He would spend eight of his nine NFL seasons in Detroit, but never established himself as a No. 1 quarterback.
"You have to play the cards that are dealt," Long says. "It was a rough career, but I did have a long career. I did beat the odds, something that I am proud of. I went to a team that wasn't focused on winning. I learned a lot from it. I've taken a lot into my coaching from what I learned there.
"It was rough, physically rough. I started to get dinged up quite a bit."
Chuck only gets dinged up at home now, where he and wife Lisa are proud parents of three daughters and two sons.
As he watches over his quarterbacks, he hopes to lead a team of his own someday.
"Coaching is a profession where you never know where you are going to be," Long says. "I would eventually like to be a head coach. I'm learning quite a bit as a coach. When my time comes, I want to be ready for it."
Mike Diegnan is the editor of BCSfootball.com.
|Chuck Long was a record-setting QBr when he played at Iowa. He's now coaching one in Josh Heupel.|