In a rare interview, J. David Grissom, chairman of the University of Louisville Board of Trustees, spoke with sports analyst Billy Reed, a former local columnist and national sportswriter, for an hour, discussing Grissom’s role and aspirations for the school.
Grissom, a former athlete and close follower of amateur and professional sports, may have helped to dispel the notion that he wants to diminish UofL athletics while taking the opportunity to emphasize a desire to see Louisville greatly enhance its academic programs and reputation.
With all the emotions tied to the school’s future, Grissom was never going to relieve the anxieties of many alumni members or fans, but it was a relief to finally hear him discussing some of the issues.
Grissom, who earned a law degree at UofL, said that despite the fact that faculty and staff salaries have remained stagnant for the past decade, the passion and commitment of those same people to the University is extraordinary.
“The old girl (the University) has taken a couple of body blows but there’s clearly a path toward restoring the reputation of the University of Louisville to the way it was in the past,” said Grissom. “It’s going to take a very strong leader, that person has to come from academia to understand the a big urban research university works, with all kinds of different priorities and constituencies.”
Grissom observed that schools like the University of Louisville are like big aircraft carriers . “They just keep on chugging, with a reservoir of good will and momentum on their own,” he said.
“The donor base fell off during the administrative problems but it’s already back to where it was, and the applications during the freshman class of next year are up 60 percent” he added. “These places have wonderful resiliency and an ability to get their arms around themselves and solve their problems. This place (UofL) is on its way and it will get to a place where we are all proud to be graduates of this institution.
“I’m a big believer and a big supporter, and she (UofL) is going to be just fine.”
One has to be impressed with Vince Tyra in his capacity as Interim Athletic Director when it comes to managing issues. All business, straightforward, unapologetic about wanting what’s best for the University of Louisville. A calm force in the midst of the storm.
Tyra may never completely win over a segment of the UofL fan base. Primarily because he replaced Tom Jurich, one of the most popular administrators in UofL’s history. But if Tyra remains as open as he was in Thursday’s press conference, he will have earned their respect at a critical time for the school.
The son of a former UofL All-America basketball player, Tyra seems to be keenly aware of the concerns of fans and supporters. This is a vital quality, given the priority of the Board of Trustees in managing finances. He’s qualified on several fronts — he’s a lifelong fan, a major donor and an executive who has successfully managed numerous businesses.
Tyra’s current challenge, in a job that is likely to become permanent in March, may well be his biggest ever, maintaining a program that has grown by leaps and bounds over the past two decades. Restoring confidence won’t be easy for a fan base that has been brought to its knees by the scandals involving the school’s administration, a premier basketball program, and abrupt dismissals of popular employees.
The job is made even more difficult with the absence of open leadership from J. David Grissom, the Trustee Chairman, who seemingly operates in a vacuum. Grissom keeps everyone guessing about his goals for the University, either believing people will inherently trust him and assume that he knows what’s best for the school. That hasn’t worked out well for Grissom, with some observers suspicious of his motives and apprehensive about his real leadership qualities.
Doubtful he would have taken the job if he thought there was an agenda to diminish Louisville athletics.
Tyra, on the other hand, is candid when it comes to addressing the issues and his aspirations for the athletic department. Noting that the recent dismissal of three key employees, including Mark Jurich, was aimed at reducing costs and making the department more efficient. He also took a $350,000 decrease in salary, putting him more in line with other athletic directors in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
He also took advantage of the press conference to clarify that the expansion of the football stadium would add 6,000 seats instead of 10,000 as publicized for the last three years. It was an admission directly addressing what could have become another embarrassing issue later. A get the facts, deal with them publicly, put them in the past approach.
As for UofL remaining competitive, Tyra has taken steps to ensure stability in the coaching ranks, extending the contracts of Soccer Coach Ken Lolla for five years, Women’s Soccer Coach Karen Ferguson-Deyes for two more years, and Volleyball Coach Dani Busboom Kelly for another year. He will, however, wait until the end of the basketball season before making a decision about that position.
One gets the impression that Tyra is in total charge of the athletic department. He is not looking over his shoulder, worried about either Grissom or Interim President Greg Postel. Doubtful he would have taken the job if he thought there was an agenda to diminish Louisville athletics.
If there is a concern, it would be that Tyra is more of a business person than a people person. Unlike his predecessor, he will never win people over with his love for the University, but selling them on the school from a business perspective.
Tom Jurich’s approach worked well, moving UofL out of the shadows of the also-rans into national contenders in so many different sports. He built all the necessary facilities, enlarged the fan base, and greatly enhanced the brand name. His low-key approach worked well in gaining friends and supporters of the program.
Tyra doesn’t have to concern himself about building new facilities, and the fan base has been so strong. He can focus on maintaining and building upon what has been accomplished. But first, he must go about earning the confidence of fans and donors and restoring faith in the leadership of the athletic department. He seems well on his way those objectives. Not there yet, but getting there.
UofL supporters have endured an avalanche of bad news and insults in the past couple of years but none that have embarrassed the University more than the latest indignity. About as low it gets, one has to be humiliated on behalf of the school.
Someone is going to say such investigations are routine in lawsuits against individuals and they may be right. However, in this case it is more of a blatant, awkward and misguided attempt to damage his reputation. Of all the revelations and events that have occurred since Jim Ramsey was forced to resign as UofL President in August 2016, this is the most shocking. That Jurich would be the subject of an investigation is beyond comprehension, showing just how far some will go to discredit an individual.
That’s Tom Jurich, mind you, the squeaky clean former Vice President of Athletics at the school. The same individual who took a struggling athletic department and made it a model of success. Made UofL nationally competitive in 22 sports. Built an athletic complex that is the envy of college athletics, taking the budget from $9 million in 1997 to more than $100 million today.
Stoll, Keenon, Ogden, a regional law firm representing the university against Jurich, has not admitted that it has hired a private investigation agency, citing client-attorney privilege. One would have been surprised if they had acknowledged it, especially if an investigation is not yielding anything useful.
Instead of acknowledging what has been accomplished, Postel continues to seek to destroy Jurich's reputation.
Someone involved with the probe from a detective agency approached the Courier-Journal seeking info about “any allegations of sexual harassment between Jurich and females involved with the University.” As if the C-J would not have already plastered any hints of sexual harassment all over the front page for at least two weeks. It’s what the C-J does but that didn’t occur to the so-called detectives.
The University is obviously facing a major challenge in finding evidence to support its charges of “willful misconduct” and “ineffective management, divisive leadership, unprofessional conduct,” and “intimidation and bullying” in the letter delivered to Jurich in October.
Interim President Greg Postel has denied any knowledge of a private investigation. Board Chairman David Grissom and Board Member John Schnatter never respond to the media . But they will rightfully incur the wrath of angry Louisville fans and alumni for this latest blow to the University’s integrity and reputation.
The last thing Postel needed was for Jurich to be the target of a criminal investigation. He had already angered a large segment of the UofL by firing the most respected administrator in the school’s 220-year history. His attempted dismantling of TJ’s legacy will come back to haunt him.
He’s currently competing for two major leadership posts, including the permanent office of UofL President and permanent Executive Vice President of Health Affairs. Instead of acknowledging what has been accomplished, Postel continues to seek to destroy Jurich’s reputation. That should be unacceptable to anyone who has witnessed UofL’s growth in athletics over the past two decades.
The Courier Journal’s Andrew Wolfson finally gets around to doing a profile of David Grissom, the Chairman of the University of Louisville Board of Trustees. Interesting piece, clearly intended to cast Grissom as an S.O.B. in dealing with UofL’s financial challenges. Providing no clue, however, about where he wants to take the school.
The timing of the article is curious, appearing in the printed edition on the same day as an op-ed report from the UofL Foundation indicating that all reviews and audits of the foundation were complete. Concluding that “there has never been a better time to invest in the University of Louisville.”
Took the C-J long enough, almost an entire year after Grissom assumed the role in January 2017. Not like he’s a newcomer to the community, involved in local business and civic activities over five decades. And the lengthy front page story does not include any direct quotes or recent attributions from the man himself.
The writer has to lean heavily on friends, associates and former business contacts for insights into Grissom personality and operating style. The subject of the article is apparently reluctant to answer calls or be interviewed. No real insights into his thinking and actions.
What would have been helpful would have been some indications about what Grissom wants to achieve. Not that his failure to communicate publicly is the CJ’s fault. Grissom rarely speaks publicly, usually dealing with business associates or fellow board members under controlled conditions.
Grissom, in fact, has never said anything about his aspirations for UofL, either during his public pronouncements at press conferences or during board meetings. Most of his comments deal with financial issues, which are his stock and trade.
Grissom is no newcomer to high education issues, having served for 22 years as Board Chairman at Centre College in Danville. Forbes Magazine recently ranked Centre as 89th among colleges and universities in the U.S., and the best of any Kentucky school.
Grissom’s reluctance to communicate a vision for UofL makes him vulnerable to people assigning him motivations, real or imagined. For example, he wanted to conduct the search for a new UofL President on a confidential basis in order to attract the best possible candidate. This made him a target of faculty groups concerned about his intentions, eventually resulting in a compromise that will allow faculty members to participate after signing disclosure agreements. Public forums will allow other groups to have input.
A sizeable group of people who have invested heavily in UofL athletics over the years is concerned that Grissom wants to de-emphasize sports. Especially following the dismissal of Tom Jurich who made UofL athletics a premier brand during his 20 years as athletic director.
The CJ story indicates that Grissom wants UofL to value academics as much as it does sports. We don’t know if the former athlete at Centre College has ever said that or if that was a reporter putting words in his mouth. A segment of UofL fans is scared, despite the hiring of long-time businessman and fan Vince Tyra as Interim Athletic Director– despite Tyra’s assurances that he wants to maintain UofL athletics as a premier program.
Jack Coffee, who owns the Louisville Rivals operation and published the Louisville Sports Report, says the “change in direction for UofL is an offense to those of us that have given millions to the university.” Coffee has written an Open Letter to Gov.Bevin calling for the Governor to ask Grissom to resign from the board. He also has started a petition drive at an online site, providing a way for other UofL fans to get involved.
This observer has to believe that the last thing the school needs at this point is Governor Bevin reasserting himself in UofL’s business. The school is now off accreditation probation, coming to grips with the financial issues, solidifying the UofL Foundation, and, at long last, beginning the process of conducting a national search for the next President. It has taken a while but a lot has been accomplished under the new board.
Many Louisville leaders believe David Grissom is best qualified to lead the University of Louisville into a new era, with the ability to identify people who can gain national respect for UofL in academic circles, as well as athletics. Grissom can help his cause by clearly and forcefully enunciating his goals for the school.
Right now there is still no clear direction or leadership, with second guessing and speculation filling the vacuum. Until Grissom fills in some of the blanks, or Interim President Greg Postel does it for him, the anxiety will continue, and the University’s future direction will be hindered by controversy and uncertainty.
Greg Postel, who has been on the University of Louisville payroll since 1994, says he cares a great deal about the school, suggesting that he has been very supportive of UofL. His financial support, however, while notable, has been erratic, and interesting in one instance.
Postel’s record of giving to the University is relevant because he wants to be UofL’s next President, responsible for overseeing and growing the school endowment, now valued in the neighborhood of $770 million. Postel would be the individual expected to inspire donors to invest in the University’s future. It would help if he had been generous himself.
An open records request to the University by UofLCardGame yielded the information that Postel has donated a total of $36,120 to UofL over the past 23 years. That’s for an employee currently drawing at least $950,000 annually, serving as Interim President of the school and Interim Executive Vice President for Health Affairs.
Postel’s most significant donation to the University was on December 1, 1998 when as Assistant Professor of Radiology he made a lump sum gift of $35,000 to the UofL School of Medicine. Coincidentally, he was named permanent Chairman of the Radiology Department in April just five months later.
This largest gift coming during the administration of former UofL President John Shumaker who reportedly increased the school’s endowment from $183 million to $500 million from 1995 to 2001. No way of knowing 20 years later whether there was any relationship between the gift and the appointment. The timing is interesting.
Postel actually has made only three financial donations to the school, all of them to the School of Medicine. His second financial contribution was 14 years later. It was a gift of $1,000 to the school and the J. Graham Brown Cancer Center in connection with the old Mint Julep Ball before the 2012 Kentucky Derby.
His most recent gift to UofL came four years ago in October of 2014 when he pledged a modest $120, again to the School of Medicine. The money was deducted in amounts of $10 each via payroll deductions over the next 12 months. He has made no contributions to UofL athletics or other academic programs.
The initial gift of $35,000 was credited solely to Postel. The subsequent donations were in the name of Postel and his wife Sally L. Postel, a University of Kentucky graduate. A response to an open records request to UK indicated that the Postels have made no contributions to the Lexington school.
According to the response to our information request on Dec. 21st, Postel had not made any additional financial contributions to UofL since becoming Interim President in January 2017.