Will he or won’t he? Pitino or not for the Kentucky Oaks

One person was conspicuously missing as the Thoroughbreds worked out early Wednesday morning at Churchill Downs. Conspicuous because he would normally be vying for media attention.

Rick Pitino nowhere to be seen. But there was his horse, Coach Rocks, the  filly he co-owns. Under the watchful eye of local trainer Dale Romans and with jockey Luis Saez in the saddle. Preparing for the Kentucky Oaks.

Sad for her biggest fan.

Odds on Rick Pitino showing up at Churchill Downs could be good (Charlie Springer photo).

Pitino should be here, enjoying all of the Kentucky Derby activities that make Louisville the place to be for celebrities from around the world during the first week in May.

But the University of Louisville basketball coach for 16 years says he isn’t coming back to the city, not as long as David Grissom and John Schnatter are UofL Trustees.

 His horse overtook the favorite Take Charge Paula in her last start, winning by eight lengths in the $250,000 Gulfstream Park Oaks on March 3.  Coach Rocks has been tabbed at 12-1 odds for the Kentucky Oaks on Friday and will be in the No. 2 post position.

Romans isn’t entirely convinced that Pitino will not be in the winner’s circle if Coach Rocks were to finish in first place. “We would love for him to be here,” he said.

Neither is Roddy Valente, the owner of RAP Racing and leading investor in Coach Rocks. “He’s going to Churchill Downs, believe me,” Valente told Bloodhorse Magazine. “He said he was never going back to Kentucky after he lost the job. He can throw that right out the door right now. He’ll be there with me.”

Pitino has been known to do the opposite of what he says he going to do. More often than not.

 

Familiar script for Louisville women against UConn

The big stage, the bright lights blinding and numbing, the touring actors fumbling their lines, trying to ad lib their way.

Panic time in those first 10 minutes, the University of Louisville women’s basketball team committing nine turnovers, missing 12 of 14 field goal attempts. UConn up 24-6 after the first quarter. Game over.

Familiar script against the Huskies. Starts out innocently enough, with a turnover leading to a quick UConn basket. Between all the empty trips down court for the Cardinals, there is one turnover, another and still another, the Huskies converting all of them into points. 

The outcome never in doubt after the initial surge although the margin was only 11 points in UConn’s 69-58 win over visiting Louisville in front of 10,000-plus. Just another night at Gampel Pavillion where the Huskies have won 76 straight home games.

Some might find some consolation in the fact that the UofL women outscored UConn 38-27 in the second half. They would have to acknowledge that the Huskies were never seriously threatened. Had they been, would there have been still another surge?

Coach Jeff Walz may have convinced his pupils that they could play with UConn after the first quarter, and they did hang around.  By then it was too late, his charges totally unprepared and unequipped to handle the initial mugging.

Lots of talk after the game about the Cardinals having learned some lessons and knowing what they had to work on the rest of the season. You know, just in case they run into UConn during the post-season. 

The Cardinals obviously learned a lot about themselves, absorbing one blow after another to their collective psyche. Pretty obvious that it’s going to take more than just trading baskets with UConn for a couple of quarters to ever seriously threaten the Huskies.

Digging up dirt on Jurich latest insult to University of Louisville

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.

Just when one believes the temporary administration might be restoring a sense of civility and normality at the University of Louisville, here comes the word that someone at UofL is complicit with a law firm using a private detective agency to dig up dirt on Tom Jurich.  

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. 

Tom Jurich embraces UofLBaseball Coach Dan McDonnell for his continuing success in NCAA regional competition.

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.

Louisville women in a yawner over Pittsburgh, now 20-0

Apparently a challenge for the University of Louisville women’s basketball team to get excited about playing Pittsburgh with all those empty seats at the Peterson Events Center.

Wake me when it’s over, the Cardinals ambulating to a 77-51 win over the Panthers.

The Cardinals led by only four points at the half and by 10 after three quarters. Bionca Dunham would erupt for six straight points in the fourth quarter to ignite a 16-0 run for the Cardinals. Dana Evans making life difficult for the Panthers as well, with three steals, two 3-pointers and eight points.

Yacine Diop of Pitt taking advantage of UofL’s lethargy and post Notre Dame letdown, hitting almost everything she threw at the basket in the first half, getting 19 points.  Her magical night ending when her shots stop falling and she runs out of fouls, but good for 26 points.

Myisha Hines-Allen getting off to a slow start but picking up her game in the second half. Chalking up the 37th double-double of her four-year tenure. She would score 13 points and grab a career high of 18 rebounds.

Asia Durr maybe saving her best stuff for the better teams, with only one 3-pointer and nine points. Steady Sam Fuehring good for 12 points.

Cardinals are 20-0 overall, 6-0 in Atlantic Coast Conference play.

Grissom pulls strings at UofL, but mum on aspirations

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.”

David Grissom assumed the chairmanship of the Board of Trustees in January 2017 when the previous board was dissolved.

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.

David Grissom (right) having lunch with Centre College President John Roush at a Frankfort restaurant in December (Card Game photo).

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.

Interim Athletic Director Vince Tyra with UofL football player Reggie Bonnafon on Senior Day (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

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.