Long has been through tough decisions before, including firing basketball coach John Pelphrey last year and guiding the football program through the unexpected and sudden death of backup tight end Garrett Uekman from a heart condition in December. But he now faces the difficult choice of keeping a tainted coach who has raised the school's profile or letting him go.
"They kind of have a problem if they don't terminate for cause because then, if he subsequently does something else, it kind of is an indication the university didn't take all that seriously its ability to terminate for cause when it had an opportunity to do it," said Ray Yasser, a law professor at the University of Tulsa who specializes in sports law.
Long joined the Arkansas program in late 2007 before taking over as athletic director to begin 2008. Previously, he worked at Pittsburgh, where he hired Dave Wannstedt after Walt Harris left for Stanford in 2004.
Nothing in Long's career, however, approaches this crisis.
"To be honest, I haven't stopped and thought about whether I've had these things," Long said Thursday night as he announced Petrino's leave. "I haven't taken a chance to sit back and think about if I've had this in my past experience. I can't recall that I've put somebody on administrative leave from a coaching position."
The scandal is likely to be a distraction for days if not weeks as the Razorbacks wrap up spring practice. It is discouraging news for fans who have watched Petrino put up a 34-17 record while becoming a power in the Southeastern Conference. Arkansas was 11-2 last season, finishing the season ranked No. 5.
Petrino was welcomed and embraced by the state, even after his national reputation was smeared following a midseason departure from the Atlanta Falcons in 2007.
Arkansas assistant Taver Johnson, who was put in charge of the program in Petrino's absence, spoke briefly before the Razorbacks took the field for a practice in front of several hundred mostly quiet fans Friday afternoon. He said Arkansas held a short team meeting and it was "business as usual" as the team prepared for its scrimmage. Players were not made available, and the team doesn't have another scheduled media availability until Tuesday.
Johnson was an Ohio State assistant last season when the Buckeyes were dealing with a memorabilia-for-cash scandal that cost coach Jim Tressel his job after it became clear he knew players were improperly selling Ohio State mementos but did not report it.
"I don't know if you can ever get prepared when you're going through tough situations," Johnson said. "However, any type of adversity, if you've been through it in your life, that definitely prepares you in terms of making sure that you're mentally strong and making sure you're ready to step up to a leadership role."
Associated Press writers Jeannie Nuss and Andrew DeMillo in Little Rock, Ark., and Sports Writers Hank Kurz Jr. and Will Graves contributed to this report.