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).

 

No better option than Jurich for the University of Louisville

 

Cindy Rice Shelton photo

Make no mistake, there should be no confusion. Keeping Tom Jurich is the right thing to do.

Surely common sense will prevail, and the Board of Trustees will retain him as Vice President of Athletics at the University of Louisville. There are no guarantees, however, that what’s best for the school will prevail these days.

The notion of someone seriously entertaining the notion of firing Jurich is outlandish, insulting to the school’s alumni and supporters. Over two decades he has garnered unprecedented support, making UofL the most dynamic institution in the community.

But these are not normal times, what’s up is down, what’s backward is forward, what’s out is in, bad taste is in good taste, what was once repugnant is considered the norm, and good people are often construed as bad actors. Crazy times.

Tom Jurich wants his old job back even though it means answering to David Grissom and Greg Postel (Charlie Springer photo).

Why Tom Jurich would want to go back to work for David Grissom and Greg Postel, the people reportedly wanting his job, is almost beyond comprehension. These are individuals who apparently consider the success of the athletic department a negative, unable to comprehend the positive role of sports in UofL’s rapid growth.

To people who have been a part of this success, enjoyed all the new facilities, all the outstanding athlete and all the wins during Jurich’s tenure, the intentions of Grissom and Postel are counterproductive. So intent on seizing total control of the University that they are willing to sacrifice someone who can ensure the school’s development continues.

What I have never understood is why Grissom and Postel could not appreciate the success of the athletic department. Why they couldn’t look at that success and want to emulate it for the rest of the University. Why they felt compelled to challenge the individual who made it happen. Why they wouldn’t want to get this individual in their camp, work with him and get him involved in resolving many of the school’s other challenges.

Grissom and Postel appear to share a similar management philosophy, wanting to clean house of people in power from the previous administration. Ignoring what they have done and what they can do, believing they know what’s best. Based on some obscure business principles from some antiquated management courses. What they haven’t been able to do, however, is convince UofL supporters and fans that they have the school’s best interests in mind.

The only agenda Tom Jurich has is to continue the incomparable growth and success of the school’s athletic program. He wants to be there when UofL cuts the ribbon on the 10,000-seat expansion of Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium and when another 3,000-seat expansion of Jim Patterson Stadium is completed.

He wants to be there when UofL teams are competing for national championships, when UofL athletes are competing for gold medals. He needs to be there to ensure the right person is hired for the next UofL coaching vacancy. He wants to be there to help guide the basketball program back from the current crisis.

“I love this University, the Louisville community and all of our fans,” said Jurich in a recent statement. “I plan to continue to help UofL overcome the challenges it faces and work cooperatively with the University with the support of the UofL Board of Trustees … ”

That is why he wants to return, even if means answering to Grissom and Postel. Something anyone other than a UofL fan would have a hard time believing.

Based on his track record, Tom Jurich deserves the opportunity to return to do the job he loves. There is no better option for members of the Board of Trustees, nor for the University of Louisville.

Contributions to athletics by UofL Trustees are weak

Fans who may be apprehensive about future support for athletics from the University of Louisville trustees may have reason to be concerned. The levels of giving range from generous in some cases to abysmal in others.

And apparently giving back to academics is way down on their list of personal priorities.

That’s according to a report obtained from UofL by Card Game through an open records request. The report includes lifetime giving for academics and athletics through August 9th — and it does not differentiate between personal and corporate giving.

The vast majority of trustees have been tightfisted in their financial support, especially in athletics. In fact, eight of the 13 trustees have never donated anything to the athletic program. Overall giving to academics was worse although 11 trustees have made donations. Two of them had yet to give anything to UofL.

There are some notable exceptions, with John Schnatter, through his company’s name brand sponsorship of Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, receiving credit for a total of $19.1 million-plus for athletics and another $5.7 million-plus for academics.

Sandra Frazier, the owner of Tandem Communications, has contributed $5.3 million-plus to academics and $10,350 to athletics. She is, of course, the niece of Owsley B. Frazier, who was a multi-million contributor to numerous programs throughout the university, including athletics.

Interesting that J. David Grissom, chairman of Glenview Trust and chairman of the board of trustees, is among the leading contributors to athletics at a sum of $20,000. His financial support for academics, meanwhile, comes in at $108,047. Not all that generous for one of the community’s most successful investors, especially one who graduated from UofL’s law school.

James Rogers, retired chief operating officer of J.J.B. Hilliard, W.L. Lyons Inc. and an advisor to other investment funds, has given $50,350 to athletics. Rogers, a UofL grad, is also a member of the University of Louisville Athletic Association.

The only other trustee who had contributed to athletics was Ronald B. Wright, a physician who had made $1,500 in donations to athletics. A graduate of UofL Medical School, he practices obstetrics and gynecology in Jeffersonville.

Eight trustees — a group consisting of Bonita Black, Brian Cromer, William Armstrong, Raymond Burse, Nitin Sahney, Enid Trucious-Haynes, Diane Medley and Vishnu Tirumala — have given no money to athletics.

— Armstrong and Cromer are graduates of the University of Kentucky, having given $640 and $75 to academics.  Armstrong is a personnel analyst in UofL’s Department of Surgery. Cromer is a partner at Stites & Harbison law firm.

— Medley, who founded MCM CPA’s in Louisville, has contributed $25,650 to academics. She’s a UofL graduate, valedictorian of her class.

— Trucious-Haynes, a faculty member in the UofL School of Law, has given $4,748 to academics. She’s a Stanford grad.

— Burse, who served briefly as President at Kentucky State University, has given $520 to academics.

— Vishnu Tirumala, who is President of UofL’s Student Government, has given $356 to academics.

Two trustees — Bonita Black, a UK grad who manages Steptoe & Johnson law firm in Louisville, and Nitin S. Sahney, a healthcare executive and Punjab (India) grad –have yet to write their first check to UofL.

A consultant to the University of Louisville Foundation recently suggested that the best way for UofL to restore the faith of donors in the University would be for the trustees to make “visible and meaningful” gifts. The advice had yet to be acted upon by numerous members of this board as of the date of the report.

Vince Tyra shares Tom Jurich’s passion for Louisville athletics

Vince Tyra’s top priority personally and professionally is to see UofL athletics continue to thrive.

We may never know how many people were interviewed by the school to fill the acting athletic director’s role during Tom Jurich’s suspension.

Nor should we care because Vince Tyra appears to have been an amazing hire.

Uniquely qualified in so many ways, for either the short-term or the long haul, ready to totally  immerse himself in his new post as Acting Athletic Director at the University of Louisville.

He’s a life-long UofL fan who closely follows the school’s academic and athletic programs, wanting to take them to the highest levels. He hails from a UofL family and the son of the basketball program’s first consensus All-American basketball player.

Tyra is congratulated by his wife Lori following the press conference.

And he admires and respects Tom Jurich for what he has accomplished at UofL, considering Jurich among the best in the business.

“I’m passionate about UofL athletics, I grew up a Cardinals’ fan, raised my kids as Cardinals’ fans,” he said during a Tuesday press conference  at Bigelow Hall on Belknap Campus. “Tom is a good friend. His legacy is all around us. While this has been a difficult period for us, it’s a time for our fan base to dig in even deeper. It’s a time for us to be even more supportive.

“While this is a difficult process of what we’re going through, we have a terrific set of athletic programs all across the board. One of them may have a flat tire right now, but we will prop it back up. I’m looking forward to work with David Padgett.”

Tyra’s 80-year old mother still attends every UofL basketball game and he said she cheers like her late husband Charlie Tyra is still playing for the Cardinals. His father averaged more 20 points and 20 rebounds per game during his junior and senior seasons, leading Louisville to a National Invitation Tournament championship in his junior year.

Vince has blazed his own trail, has been enormously successful in business, serving as Chief Executive Officer for five companies, most recently as operating partner in Southfield Capital and as an advisor to ISCO Industries where he served as president. He was also president of retail and active wear at Fruit of the Loom.

Interim President Greg Postel listens intently during Tyra’s remarks.

When a new board was appointed for the University of Louisville Foundation last year, Tyra was named chairman of the ULF’s finance committee, establishing new guidelines to control spending and to restore credibility with major university donors.

After leaving a ULF board meeting last week, Tyra walked down to the baseball field where he met with UofL Coach Dan McDonnell. “We stood on the field and just talked. I know he’s a leader among our coaches. We’ve got a great group of coaches, many of them have been here more than 10 years. I’m going to enjoy working with all of them.”

It was obvious during his introductory press conference that Vince Tyra is an individual who has considered himself a part of the University of Louisville family. He was convincing when he said very much appreciates what Tom Jurich has done for the school.

One got the feeling that while he would devote a great deal of energy to the job and probably be enormously successful, Vince Tyra would have no problem stepping aside if Tom Jurich were allowed to return and continue his life’s work. They share a common interest, first and foremost, in seeing UofL thrive and prosper again.