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.

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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.”

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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.

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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White Out: West Virginia 35, Louisville 21

Twenty-two seniors leaving the ranks soon. If the University of Louisville football program was in rebuilding mode up to now, it will enter still another phase next season. One  hesitates to put a label on it, more of a forced denial than anything else.

— Sad to see players Brock Bolen, Bobby Buchanan, Eric Wood, Earl Heyman, Adrian Grady, Maurice Mitchell bowing out to polite applause. Wonder how that affected all the recruits on hand. Swaying stuff, not in a good way.

— Difficult to find the official or announced attendance for today’s game but, whatever it was, it was far higher than anyone could have anticipated. At least double the number of UofL fans at today’s game than at Ron Cooper’s last game in 1996. West Virginia did its part with 3,000-plus, all but outnumbering Card fans at the bitter end.

— The good thing for quarterback Hunter Cantwell is that it’s almost over. He’s having his moments in the spotlight but he can’t do anything with them. Cantwell’s most impressive play was tackling a West Virginia player who had picked off the last of his three interceptions. Cantwell has probably had more passes intercepted than any Louisville quarterback in the modern era (1960’s forward).

— Definite plus for the future of Louisville football is that Pat White is a senior. He would have to use UofL to set the all-time rushing mark for quarterback, accumulating 200 yards and three touchdowns on 21 carries, throwing for 122 yards and two other touchdowns.

–West Virginia players jumping up and down on the Cardinal logo: classless. Louisville punishing teams that do that: just a memory.

— Sorry Steve Kragthorpe. Everybody wants you to succeed. Really, we do.  But it’s not working out. Even the most vile, nasty-tongued critics would have crawled back on the bandwagon with a win over West Virginia. Tied 7-7 at halftime, few signs of life in the second half. Still another opportunity peters away. So many seniors, too few indications of improvement.

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