UofL builds on momentum in academic, athletic construction

Construction continues full speed ahead on the new $83 million classroom facility on Belknap Campus, scheduled to open in the fall of 2018 (top photo). Artist’s rendering shows the future (bottom photo).

Hopefully, John Schnatter looks around next time he attends a board meeting on the University of Louisville’s Belknap Campus. The founder of Papa John’s Pizza harbors a misconception that all of the construction is going on in athletics.

Despite all the garbage dominating the front pages these days, UofL continues to build on the momentum of the past couple of decades — in both academics and athletics. The project that overwhelms them all is a new $83 million classroom facility that will open in the fall of 2018.

Significantly positive news was drowned out by a personnel issue during the most recent Board of Trustees meeting, including these nuggets from an audit of fiscal year 2017:

— The University’s financial position remains strong with total assets reaching $1.3 billion, including a $28.7 million increase in net position during the year.

— UofL had operating revenue growth from nearly every source, and the school’s operating loss was diminished by $33.6 million.

— Scholarship and financial aid expense was slightly lower than the prior year, resulting in an overall 5.8% increase in net tuition revenue.

— The University continued to invest in new and renovated facilities, including the following from the 2016-17 fiscal year:

Completed in 2017

  • Medical Dental Research Building Masonry Restoration, $1,287, 594
  • Ekstrom Library 3rd Floor Renovation, $2,750,000
  • Thornton Academic Center, $19,300,000
  • Baxter I Supplemental Chiller, $617,000
  • Ekstrom Library HVAC Upgrade $550,000
  • Donald Baxter Cardiology Facility, $2,079,000

Completed in 2016

  • Ekstrom Library 1st Floor Renovation, $2,200,000
  • Medical Dental Building 4th Floor, $705,000
  • K-Wing 2nd Floor Renovation, $1,075,000
  • Resurface Running Track at Cardinal Park, $910,000

In Progress

  • Belknap Classroom Building, $83,560,000
  • Student Activity Center Renovation $38,500,000
  • PJCS North End Zone Expansion, $63,250,000
  • Vivarium Study, Medical Campus, $105,064

In The Works

  • UofL Athletic Association Production Studio, $8,000,000

Money trail for UofL Trustees: one-sided support for one school

Follow the money, they said. So we did.

Any concerns of University of Louisville supporters about possible relationships between some UofL Trustees and the University of Kentucky appear to be misplaced.  The financial ties are minimal at best based on actual giving patterns.

Lifetime contributions to UofL from the trustees dwarf the giving to UK, with Louisville institution receiving a total of $30.5 million in overall financial gifts as compared to $1.6 million to the Lexington school. That’s according to the responses of UofL and UK to open records requests from Card Game.

A request was submitted to the University of Kentucky Alumni Department and Office of Philanthropy following our recent publication of a list of trustee donations to UofL that prompted some concern about possible UK bias on the board. The UofL records were through August, the UK results were through last week. Here are the results (click on the list to enlarge).

Gifts to the athletics programs from the trustees included $19.2 million to UofL and $72,660 to Kentucky. The bulk of contributions to UofL athletics was from John Schnatter for naming rights to Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. Four other trustees have given a total of $82,000 to UofL athletics, including David Grissom, James Rogers, Sandra Frazier and Ronald Wright.

Only two UofL trustees have contributed to UK athletics, including donations of $64,150 from Schnatter and $8,510 from Brian Cromer.

UofL also receives a much higher percentage of trustee giving to the universities, with Louisville getting $11.2 million from 11 members, compared to Kentucky receiving $1.55 million from four members of the UofL board.

Academic gifts to UofL included $5.7 million from Schnatter, $5.3 million from Frazier, $108,047 from Grissom, $25,650 from Dianne Medley, and $4,748 from Enid Trucious-Hayes. Gifts of $700 or less have come from William Armstrong, Raymond Burse, Vishnu Tirumula, James Rogers and Cromer.

Brian Cromer, a UK grad who voted against firing Tom Jurich as Athletic Director, is the only UofL Trustee who has given more to UK than Louisville.

— Cromer, a UK grad, voted against firing Tom Jurich at the Oct. 10 meeting of the UofL Board. As stated above, he has given $8,510 to UK athletics but none to UofL athletics. He has given $285 to UK for academics and $75 to UofL for academics.

— William Armstrong, another UK graduate, has given $640 to UofL, all of it for academics, while giving nothing to Kentucky. Bonita Black, the third UK grad on the board, has not made any contributions to either university.

— James Roger, the UofL product who made the motion to fire Jurich, has given $50,350 to UofL athletics and $100 to academics.

— Nitin Sahney, the University of Punjab, India graduate, also has not contributed any money to either school.

— The list of Schnatter contributions to UK academics includes $5,000 to the Kentucky Children’s Hospital. All of his gifts come under the auspices of the Schnatter Family Foundation.

— Of Grissom’s $350 in gifts to UK academics, a total of $250 was to the Sanders-Brown Center for Aging.

If following the money is the key to discerning the motives of the trustees, they are obviously more prone to supporting UofL than UK — at least among those who are making actual contributions. If the theory is true, the collective loyalty of the members heavily leans in the direction of UofL.

There is, however, a significant disparity between the top five givers and the rest of the board, with several members seemingly needing to loosen the grips on their purse strings. Board membership should include a strong commitment to supporting UofL’s financial well-being. That would eliminate any questions about loyalties.

Despite harsh ouster, Tom Jurich reaffirms loyalty to Louisville

Tom Jurich unceremoniously pushed out the door after 20 years of remarkable progress at the University of Louisville.

One couldn’t watch the Tom Jurich interview on WHAS-11 News and not feel that a great wrong has been inflicted on Tom and University of Louisville fans. Such a miscarriage for him to go out this way.

Twenty years of total dedication to the school’s athletic program, building a national brand, providing premium facilities, attracting quality coaches and athletes. Tom Jurich out following a clumsy restructuring of the Board of Trustees and the crushing blow of still another basketball scandal.

Gone, 20 years gone, after a two- or three-minute meeting with Interim President Greg Postel, a letter with a bunch of trumped up charges, asked to exit the campus immediately, leaving his work and his personal belongings in an office that remains sealed to this day.

David Grissom, John Schnatter and Greg Postel can skate for a while. But sooner or later each of them is going to have to answer for their harsh treatment of a local hero recognized nationally for his good works. As well they should. The ugly treatment of Tom Jurich is felt and shared throughout the community.

WHAS-11 Video

Tom saying his family plans to stay in Louisville, that he still loves and will always cheer for the University of Louisville. No ill will, no words of disparagement for those who tossed him out like a sack of garbage, just bewilderment and hurt for a man who moved the program light years from when he accepted the job.

Asked if the fans were owed an apology for the scandal, Jurich took advantage of the opportunity to offer one. Taking advantage of a rare public appearance to say he was sorry — for something that was not his fault. His responsibility maybe, but not his fault.

Doubtful, however, that he will ever receive an apology for the way he was made to leave the campus without even a goodbye to his coaches and staff.

Louisville is extremely fortunate to have had Jurich. He’s not leaving the city.  One can expect him to continue to promote the University at every opportunity if at all possible. It’s an integral part of who he is, a big part of his family, with three kids who graduated from the school, including son Mark who still works there.

Tom Jurich wants only what is best for the school, making his personal concerns secondary to the University. We’re fairly certain the same thing could not be said about many of the other characters in this ongoing ordeal.

Schnatter prevails over Jurich but there is no winner

Former UofL President Jim Ramsey and AD Tom Jurich listen to ACC Commissioner John Swafford during the Atlantic Coast Conference induction ceremony in July of 2014 (in the top photo). Trustee John Schnatter, founder of Papa John’s Pizza, led attack against the athletic department (above).

Tom Jurich may have done his job too well at the University of Louisville, helping to transform a sleepy urban school into a dynamic university campus. Also making it a target for at least one business magnate, giving millions to the school on one hand while questioning the motives of UofL leadership on the other.

Jurich arrived as UofL Athletic Director in 1997, and under this leadership, the program enjoyed an era of growth unrivaled in the University’s history.  Creating a plethora of new athletic facilities while claiming championships in three different conferences and thriving on a national stage.

His football hires would lead UofL to major BCS wins, including the Orange and Sugar bowls, and numerous top 20 finishes. UofL would return from obscurity in college basketball to national prominence, including four final fours, and a national championship in 2013. Baseball, soccer and women’s basketball were ranked among the top 10 annually. The swimming program well represented on Olympic teams.

Easily one of the most popular individuals in the Louisville area, Jurich used his popularity and the power that came with it to promote the school. A small group of individuals accused him of using bullying tactics but, if so, it was on rare occasions, most likely to overcome impediments to UofL’s growth.

Tom Jurich at the podium while announcing completion of a $160 million deal with Adidas (Charlie Springer photo).

While all these things were happening, UofL was becoming the most dynamic institution in the community, with prestige and influence at all-time highs. As great as that was for the school, the success was creating some resentment from some in the development community. Some believing they were competing at a disadvantage against a public institution. Including some people on the Board of Trustees.

Some key members of some old money families were also reported to becoming resentful of the school’s growth, as well as some of the nouveau riche, the new upstarts wanting to have their say. Some in elite circles purportedly wanting to get rid of President Jim Ramsey in favor of Matthew Barzun, former U.S. ambassador to Great Britain with family ties to old Louisville money.

Emily Bingham, daughter of former newspaper publisher Barry Bingham, Jr., joining forces in opposition to Ramsey as well. Some suspect they were using their political clout in Frankfort and their influence with the Courier-Journal in successful attempts to skewer Ramsey and to embarrass the school at every opportunity.

The inevitable result was the former Board of Trustees becoming factionalized and dysfunctional. Governor Matt Bevin would appoint a totally new board after Ramsey sought his help.  But Ramsey’s efforts may have backfired with Bevin’s selection of new trustees, one of their first acts removing Ramsey from office.

That was probably the beginning of the end for Jurich, who on the day following Ramsey’s ouster celebrated the opening of the $17 million Thornton’s Academic Center on the south end of Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. Ramsey had trusted Jurich implicitly, giving him total autonomy, and suddenly Ramsey was gone.

Among the new trustees was John Schnatter, whose company’s name had adorned the stadium from the beginning. Over the years, Schnatter had become more demanding, wanting to make personal appearances, driving his souped-up Camaro, engine roaring, into the end zone at half times, passing out pizzas in the stands. He even demanded that his company’s name be gaudily painted in giant letters on the roof of Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.

Schnatter, it was suspected, was not happy that the parent company of a competitor had its name on the KFC Yum! Center where UofL plays basketball. The company that owns Pizza Hut also has its name on the UofL basketball practice center on Belknap Campus.

He also had argued from the beginning against the location of the downtown arena on the riverfront, siding with leading businessman David Jones, Sr., that the best location was the water company site. Having the name of a competitor wind up on the arena in that exact location had to be even more bothersome.

By some reports, Schnatter and Jurich had had as little to do with each other as possible. The fundraising for the latest expansion of Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium was so successful that a contribution wasn’t sought from Schnatter for the north end zone addition.

Schnatter, meanwhile, always making a big show of arriving at the stadium in his helicopter, usually late, several minutes after kickoff, circling the stadium before landing near where the old silos stood. He reportedly never received a go-ahead for a closer landing spot to the stadium but he was attracting attention.

Instead of praising Jurich and hailing the athletic department’s success as an example for the rest of the school, Schnatter was an early detractor. It was Schnatter who made the initial accusations that there were major problems in the athletic department. Made them after meeting with Interim President Greg Postel. Saying Postel had told him Jurich was invisible. Schnatter told the board that the athletic department was a major cause of the problems at UofL. “Get the athletic department in line and everything else at the school will fall in line,” he said, or words to that effect.

Some suspect the real problems in the athletic department were a figment of Schnatter’s imagination. That he wanted more recognition and respect for all the dollars he had contributed to athletics and the school. He never indicated what his real beef was with Tom Jurich.

We will never know if Governor Bevin was aware of Schnatter’s concerns when he appointed him to the new board. It may have seemed like a logical choice at the time, with Schnatter having donated almost $25 million to UofL academics and athletics. One has to wonder, however, if the appointment was a major mistake on the Administration’s part, unnecessarily adding to the chaos at the school.

Despite Jurich’s successes, his fate was sealed when the Justice Department suddenly became interested in the world of college basketball recruiting, leading to quick suspensions of him and Coach Rick Pitino. That would give their detractors all the cover they needed to get rid of them.

All of the enormous accomplishments of Jurich over 20 years not counting for much. The board hadn’t been a part of the success, and lacked perspective. It did, unfortunately, include one of the school’s wealthiest contributors not happy with the athletic director.

One has been told that Schnatter is not the wise acre that he comes off as in board meetings, that he’s a smart individual who didn’t luck into becoming a billionaire. He has yet to prove, however, that he has the best interests of the school in mind, with his seemingly wild accusations about a program that had come so far under Jurich.

Earning the respect and gratitude of people passionate about the University of Louisville will not come easily for Schnatter. Many of UofL’s fans and supporters are hurting and angry right now, apprehensive about the future with Tom Jurich no longer around.

Leadership is about preparing for the future, not laying waste to the past.

Grissom, Postel finally get their wish, and Jurich is history

Interim President Greg Postel meets with the press after the vote on Tom Jurich’s future but refuses to discuss the board’s decision to fire him. (Charlie Springer photo).

Be careful what you wish for …

Chairman David Grissom and Interim President Greg Postel were able to finally breathe a collective sigh of relief. They’ve been plotting behind the scenes for quite a while now, wanting to remove Tom Jurich from his job at the University of Louisville.

Despite Jurich’s extraordinary accomplishments, one of the best athletic directors in America was unceremoniously fired by the Board of Trustees on Wednesday. A man who brought UofL from the bush leagues of college athletics to a seat at the table with the prime players.

Brian Cromer, a UK Law School grad, was one of three Trustees who voted against firing Tom Jurich (Charlie Springer photo).

Gone with a minimum of discussion by a board with members on the job less than a year. Only a handful of them having any significant attachment or ties to the University. A select few having invested significant financial resources into the institution (see donations). Even fewer with what could be described as having a passion for UofL.

Ignoring the voices of generous donors to the school and coaches of 22 sports, as well as large segments of alumni and fans. No one outside of the board having much input. Not even the lawyers hired to protect Jurich’s interests.

The vote was 10-3 in favor of dismissing Tom Jurich, the nay votes coming from Brian Cromer, a University of Kentucky Law School graduate, Dianne Medley, a UofL graduate and Dr. Ron Wright, who earned his doctorate from the UofL School of Medicine.Not willing to be rubber stamps, standing up for Jurich in public session.

The motion to fire Jurich came from James Rogers, retired chief operating officer of Hilliard-Lyons and a graduate of the UofL School of Business.

While Grissom and Postel have yet to admit it publicly — they refused to answer questions about TJ afterwards — the action was reportedly taken because Jurich had refused their demands that he fire Coach Rick Pitino. Fire him despite the fact he knew nothing about what had gone down in Minardi Hall. Then when the FBI out of thin air gets interested in college athletics, Grissom and Postel jump with both feet, suspending both of them without any discussion or due process.

Postel, who often resembles a programmed robot with his media responses, obviously wants to be considered a candidate for the school presidency. Even more obvious is that Postel is being used as a pawn by Grissom, doing the grunt work, the dirty work, while Grissom remains out of sight pulling the strings.

No way Postel ever gets to be UofL President, the person who is expected to get the school, including the faculty, employees and students, the alumni, fans, and the rest of the community moving in the same direction. He may be a good manager, possibly a great one, but he’s not very likable. Not the kind of individual who inspires confidence or wins friend easily, or gets everyday people to write checks to the University.

For UofL’s sake, one wants to hope that Grissom and Postel will be successful in lifting the clouds and getting the school back on the right course. Whether accidental or not, their first two hires — David Padgett and Vince Tyra — may have been home run selections. The first impression in both instances is that Padgett and Tyra could be the right people at the right time, with vast skills, including the people skills so lacking in the people who picked them.

Regardless of how their replacement choices turn out, Grissom and Postel will not be fondly remembered for their unfair treatment of Tom Jurich. That will come back to haunt them for years in a community that will never let them forget.

Interim Athletic Director Vince Tyra is welcomed by Interim President Greg Postel and David Grissom (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).