Kragthorpe’s Stumbles Cripple Louisville Football

From the moment he stubbed his toe on the way to the podium at his introductory news conference as the new football coach, things have not gone well for Steve Kragthorpe at the University of Louisville. That little stumble would become emblematic of a major two-year crippling of the football program.

His assumption of the reigns of UofL football was ill-timed at best, the first week in January, forced to select a staff, retain some key players, and get in the thick of the recruiting battles quickly before the February deadline. Kragthorpe also encountered significant pressure from the administration and fans to retain some people he had never worked with as a coach.

On top of that, he was replacing the most successful football coach in the university’s history, still celebrating the Orange Bowl appearance and its first BCS win while finishing eighth in the national polls. While his predecessor was not well liked, Bobby Petrino was a winner on the football field and could do no wrong as far as fans were concerned. Kragthorpe took the position in spite of the conventional wisdom of never following a legend.

The observer recalls standing in a long line at the Neutral Zone store in Middletown, waiting for the coach to sign a football for the grandson. We waited, waited and waited some more. The coach would be over an hour late before getting there. Word was that he was lost, trying to find the place.

No apologies, at least none that made it back to our place in the long line. The ball coach sits down at a table, methodically signing the memorabilia handed to him. A minimum of effort to get to know the fans, the coach rarely acknowledging the person standing in front of him, little time or no interest in fan introductions.

Then came a long string of mysterious dismissals of players from the team with minimal communications from the coach. Lackluster performances against the equivalent of Division II teams. Loss after loss, including losses to mediocre Division I football teams. Players missing games because of suspensions or injuries, again with little explanation.  As his tenure progressed, there were few signs of improvement on the offensive side of the ball. Too many recruits favoring other venues. The outlook for next season appearing even more grim.

The coach made minimal effort to win fans over to his side, expecting them to somehow understand the obstacles he was up against. The worn out clichés wore thin quickly. He was unwilling or incapable of relating to the fans’ frustrations, a martyr wanting to bear the burden while hoping he would have plenty of time to turn the program around.

These handicaps put his friend and boss Tom Jurich in the unenviable position of attempting to defend Kragthorpe. Certainly a football coach should have more than two seasons to build a program, but not when all available evidence indicates that the program is going in reverse.

Steve Kragthorpe may be a fine person. We have no reason to believe otherwise. But we may never know for sure, because Kragthorpe has been unable to relate to Louisvillians  and their expectations for the University of Louisville and U of L football. These shortcomings may have been his biggest stumbles.

RU Ready? Rutgers Oldest Fan Was

Walter Seward, at 110 years old, was the oldest Rutgers fan and symbolized the collective fanaticism of the Scarlet Knight fan base for Rutgers football. These guys, remember, have never been good in basketball so they pour all of their energy into the pigskin sport.

Unfortunately, we have just learned Mr. Seward passed away a few months ago.

Rutgers Wants Fans To Believe Louisville A Threat

The regular season of college football should be over by now for the University of Louisville but this challenging season is being extended with what almost amounts to an after-thought against Rutgers on Thursday. Or as some fans might view it, still another dagger into a corpse of a season.

One good thing about the late date of the game is that U of L gets a few more practice sessions – not as many as bowl-bound teams will, but every practice counts for a program in the process of reestablishing its competitive self.

Not much news coming from the Schnellenberger Football Complex in recent days, not even the predictable “sending the seniors out of a winning note,” probably because that’s what was said prior to the West Virginia debacle.

*   *   *

Rutgers is doing its part to enhance the image of Louisville football, conjuring up images of a powerful foe coming to town. Senior defensive end Jamaal Westerman appears to have convinced himself that the Cards are a viable threat:

“You think about it a little bit, but the biggest thing is this is a one-game season for us and that’s what’s been working for Rutgers and for us this year. So we’re really trying to focus on this as one individual game and not really think past it or what came before it.”

Louisville (5-6, 1-5) comes into Piscataway riding a four-game losing streak and needing a victory to become bowl eligible.

“If you look past Louisville, they will beat you,” Westerman said. “They will come in here and they will beat you.”

*    *   *

The best advice for Westerman and his Rugers’ teammates would be to remember how much better the Scarlet Knights have played than Louisville this season. You’ve watched the Cards on TV, reviewed the game films, read the scouting reports, seen the extensive injury list. Your biggest concern is where and when you will next play in a post-season bowl. If ever there was a game in which you could afford to be overconfident, this is that game.

Good Ship Kragthorpe

To the tune of Shirley Temple’s ‘Good Ship Lollipop’

By Sonja Sykes

On the good ship Steve Kragthorpe
There’s a great big wish and a lot of hope

That they’ll turn it around.. and sail into a bowl town.

There’s been chances and they’ve fallen short
And a definite loss of fan support…
But the players still say that they believe in Koach all the way.

And if the candy coated dreams of fans could all come true
We’d have a lot
of linemen, linebackers and safeties, too
Throw in som
e wide receivers, true believers and a kicker or two.
And while yo
u’re at it, how about a clone of Pat White..Ooh!

But the truth is, we won’t get all that
Maybe a couple of guys who’ll wear a Cardinal hat
On signing day.
4 or 5 star prospects we all pray.

And whatever the Rutgers game should bring
Be assured Tom Jurich won’t change a thing
Cause it’s rebuilding time
And a 5-7 record isn’t a crime.

So enjoy those trips on the road next year
To Lexington and the Mountaineers
And the warm Tampa Bay
Or the place where the Huskies play.

We may get kicked around…and lose all four…
But there is one thing we know for sure
It’s the Cards golden rule…
Don’t you know we’re a basketball school?

* * *

Moderator Here: More great work from Sonja.  The part about being a basketball school stings a bit for fans who have invested so much time and resources into the football program, recognizing that football success is integral for maintaining national respect for a university’s overall athletic program.

*   *   *

Volleyball Conference Champs: The women’s volleyball team may have something to say about that, too, after winning the Big East Conference tournament Sunday.

Jana Matiasovska’s 21 kills and career high six blocks earned her the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player as she led the Cardinals to a 3-1 win over Notre Dame for the University of Louisville’s second tournament crown in three years..

The Cardinals (18-10) earn the Big East’s automatic bid and will make their 11th straight NCAA appearance and their 19th overall.

Football Pokes And Ponderings

We’ll get around to basketball, and what may be a milestone season. It’s not that time quite yet. Too much unfinished business with University of Louisville football.

— Where is Trent Guy these days, the most potent offensive threat behind Victor Anderson? Apparently he cracked a rib during the Pittsburgh loss. But that information has been buried beneath the discussion over the coaching situation.

— Why was Matt Simms or any other backup not given any snaps while Hunter Cantwell was struggling with his accuracy during the West Virginia game? Watching Cantwell keep being sent back into the game in the fourth quarter was agonizing, knowing nothing productive was going to occur. But still there was Matt Simms clapping, jumping up and down on the sideline, wanting something to happen.

See Sonja’s report on
Lady Cards’ win over Xavier

— Much has been made of Tom Jurich’s comments about fans during the hubbub over the coaching issue. Tom may be a genius but he is lacking in some basic public relations skills. While teams are winning, the Vice President of Athletics can say just about anything he wants and get away with it. But when the losses are piling up, it’s a different story. Yeah, there are more than a few dense ones in the fan base. But you don’t call them out and expect them to admit it. Nor do you risk offending more responsible fans who may think you’re including them with the bad apples.

— The first sign that a fan may be missing a few marbles is when he or she fails to recognize all that Tom Jurich has made possible at the University of Louisville over the past decade. But when a fan suggests that Jurich leave because of the football situation, that should mark the end of the conversation. Not about to start listing all of the achievements UofL has made with Jurich at the helm, far too many of them. Jurich is the person U of L needs to dig its way back out of the football crater.

— When huge segments of a fan base don’t show up because things are not going well or because it’s cold, raining or a game is played on a week night, the fan base has not quite arrived. Tom Jurich is the best chance of making that possible at the University of Louisville.

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