Tangible Evidence Of Stadium Expansion

The National Rent-A-Fence Company has erected a fence around the parking area east of the stadium and construction crews are putting the finishing touches on two large double-wide trailers that will serve as construction headquarters for Abel Construction Company.

Abel Construction is the general contractor for the project. So the first steps in the expansion of Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium are taking place. As one of the men working on setting up the trailers told this observer, “This thing is gonna happen, and it’s going to be great. They will be moving construction equipment in next.”

Tom Jurich
Tom Jurich

Exciting news, especially for Card fans who occupied the old baseball stadium over at the Kentucky Fair & Exposition Center. The stadium expansion is moving forward, come hell or high water.

The setting up of the construction management offices is tangible evidence that Tom Jurich, Vice President of Athletics, remains firmly committed to the future of University of Louisville football. There are issues, yes, but Jurich recognizes that you have to build now for the future.

“One of the things that Tom has been able to do has been to upgrade all of the athletic facilities to another level,” said Bob Benson, a member of the U of L Athletic Association’s board of directors. “There is visible evidence throughout the campus, the natatorium swimming facility, the baseball stadium, the field hockey complex, the lacrosse stadium. We’ve also got a great new facility (the new downtown basketball arena) going up at Third and Main streets downtown.

“We’re very fortunate to be able to tackle these major projects in a very tough economy. Tom Jurich, with the help of people like Jim Host and others, has provided the leadership and deserves credit for the work he has done and continues to do.”

Some would question whether that long-term future will include Steve Kragthorpe, who will be the head football coach for at least another year. Next season will have its trials and disappointments for sure. In either case, stadium expansion is moving forward.

Seating capacity after completion of the first phase of the expansion will be somewhere in the neighborhood of 55,000 to 57,000.

Kragthorpe Commitment Is Firm,

And Expansion Is Moving Ahead

This observer just completed a telephone discussion about the football coaching situation with a businessman who has been deeply involved with the University of Louisville for decades. In a position close to the university leadership, he understandably had to be careful about discussing personnel issues.

He did state, however, that Tom Jurich means exactly what he says about wanting to retain Steve Kragthorpe for the long term at U of L. Based on what he told me, there is no scenario in place under which Kragthorpe will gracefully resign or leave under any other circumstance. Jurich supports Kragthorpe and wants him to stay at Louisville.

This individual also reemphasized his support of Tom Jurich and his judgment on the issue, despite the growing criticism within the fan base. “Tom sees something in Steve Kragthorpe, just as he saw something in Bobby Petrino,” he said. “He believes in him, and it’s not a friendship issue.”

About the fan base criticism, he said: “I’m glad people care enough to complain. I would be concerned if they did not complain. Their criticism means they care deeply about the program.”

He also confirmed that the planned expansion of the football stadium will proceed on schedule. “We built Papa John’s stadium while during one of the worst periods (the Ron Cooper years) in UofL football history,” he said. “We have to expand and build for the future.”

The observer’s conclusion from the conversation is that U of L fans are going have to be patient, possibly for quite a while to see if Tom Jurich’s faith in Steve Kragthorpe is justified. Jurich obviously believes that he is a person who can work through the temporary disappointments and barriers while building a football program that commands national respect.

Just keep reminding yourself it may take a while.

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.