Padgett returns confidence, optimism to Louisville basketball

David Padgett is going to quickly win over University of Louisville basketball fans. A breath of fresh air, observed one of them following the press conference, apparently having had his fill of hyperbole from another era.

David Padgett didn’t expect to be where he is but he’s going to make the most of the opportunity.

Padgett would, in fact, provide solid reason for optimism during a week of mostly despair for University of Louisville basketball fans. Hope for everyone who treasures this university and regrets the way UofL is being perceived by outsiders these days.

That being former UofL player David Padgett who was announced as the team’s interim basketball coach late Friday afternoon.While admitting he hadn’t slept in 72 hours, Padgett brought with him a sense of calm and purpose, giving Cardinals’ fans reason for hope, stilling the troubled waters for at least a few minutes.

“This is a very special team. I’ve never seen a group of kids come together like these kids the last three days,” he said. “They’re excited about getting back to playing basketball. Probably the most unique group I’ve ever been around. I honestly don’t know if any other group of players could have gone through what they have this week.”

Padgett knows the community is going to embraces this team, too, having experienced the passion 14 years ago when he transferred to UofL after a coaching change at Kansas.

“This city has embraced me. This university embraced me when I was a student-athlete here. It’s embraced me since I came back as an employee. I met my wife here, her whole family lives here, one of my children was born here. So, this is definitely my home and I care deeply about this city and this university.”

“I told the team that if you put forth the effort I know you’re capable of and you handle yourselves in a professional, this city will rally around you in a way you’ve never seen before. I firmly believe that because I’ve seen it as a player, I’ve seen it as a coach and I’ve seen it in other sports.

“That’s exactly what this team needs. They are 18 and 19-year-old kids and it’s a tough time for them right now. They need that support and they need that love from this city, and they will get it.”

The best thing for them is that practice will begin on Sunday, enabling the players to focus on actual basketball instead of the darkness that engulfed the University following the suspensions of Coach Rick Pitino and Vice President of Athletics Tom Jurich.

“It’s been a dark week at UofL; there’s no other thing to say about that. It’s been very trying for a lot of people, for the university, this city, this program, the athletic department,” he said. “But, we’re getting through it … we’re going back to work and we look forward to moving forward and getting on with basketball season and continuing to having great success in the athletic department.”

Padgett totally committed the next six or seven months, not knowing what lies beyond that. “We’re going to try to go out and win as many games as possible and we’re looking forward to the challenge,” he said.

Here’s to David Padgett, interim basketball coach, University of Louisville.

Jurich decision not to fire Pitino costly for Louisville athletics

Interim President Greg Postel (at podium) and Board Chairman J. David Grissom (at left) at press conference on suspensions. (Charlie Springer photo).

The last place any University of Louisville supporter wanted to be on Wednesday was at a press conference on campus announcing the suspensions of Tom Jurich and Rick Pitino. The unbelievable, never-ending nightmare had finally come to this.

Tom Jurich says he’s willing to stay on at the University of Louisville.

There was Interim President Greg Postel at the podium confirming the worst possible news for UofL athletics, that Jurich was no longer in charge, that he was on paid suspension until the next board meeting on Oct. 18th. That Pitino was also suspended but without pay until the same date.

With those announcements, UofL athletics probably ended one era and entered another.  The new era getting off to a shaky start with the program’s clouded by an appeal for mercy to the NCAA and the beginning of an even more serious investigation involving both the NCAA and the Justice Department.

Jurich has faced dozens of serious challenges during his tenure at UofL, but none as big as ones confronting the University now.

Jurich, who had reportedly refused to fire Pitino over the past several weeks, met with Postel earlier in the morning. Whether he was given another opportunity to fire his friend may never be known but the meeting lasted only seven minutes.

Members of the Board of Trustees may have believed having the University involved in a Justice Department investigation was far too serious to ignore. Or they concluded that a second set of NCAA allegations required a clean sweep of both the athletic administration and the basketball program.

At any rate, still another solemn, dark day in University of Louisville history with no one, including we suspect the members of the board of trustees, having a clue about what happens next. Difficult to fault the leadership for acting so decisively, with the FBI reportedly already on campus interviewing members of the basketball staff, as Postel acknowledged during the press conference.

The saddest part of all of this is that most fans may never have a chance to thank Tom Jurich for all he accomplished at the University of Louisville. Over two decades, he was able to transform bits and pieces of hopes and dreams into some incredible realities in the form of physical facilities, incredible successes on the field, and making Louisville competitive in every single sport.

Dreams that many fans didn’t dare verbalize before his arrival in 1997 became commonplace occurrences during his tenure, raising through three different conferences, one new or renovated facility after the other, with successes in both men’s and women’s sports, and in programs led by some of the best coaches available.

Jurich held out some hope that he would return, issuing the following statement Wednesday afternoon:

“For the last 20 years, I have dedicated my life to the University of Louisville. Disappointment does not even come close to describing my feelings surrounding the allegation that any member of the UofL basketball staff could be involved in the criminal conduct announced yesterday. My intent has always been to run every athletic program at the University in an honest and compliant manner. It is heartbreaking to me that the alleged intentional and secret criminal acts can bring such harm to our school.

“I love this University, the Louisville community and all of our fans. 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 following their meeting on October 19th.”

It is a well-worded statement, with all kinds of nuances, possibly for legal reasons to protect his financial interest. Some clinging to hope that he is sincere about wanting to stick around, imaging how many more things he could accomplish for the University.

Whether he could turn the board is a very long shot, of course, considering that he never seemed to seriously entertain any notions of firing Pitino. He has faced dozens of serious challenges during his tenure at UofL, but none as big as ones confronting the University now. The possibility that he might be willing to tackle them would say much about Tom Jurich’s character and his love for UofL.

FBI sting eases way for Jurich to say farewell to Pitino

Ironic that I was just wondering Monday about how things could get any worse at the University of Louisville, knowing that the school already had more than its share of problems. Just had a gut feeling that more bad news was inevitable.

Tuesday began as a quiet, peaceful day. Then all hell breaks loose mid-morning with a text from junior about a WDRB tweet, something about the UofL basketball program being involved in a Justice Department investigation. Just how bad could it possibly get that Louisville is suspected in a scheme to funnel cash to prospective players?

Just our luck that the FBI would, for some reason, get involved in the shabby business of college basketball recruiting. After years of the system being abused by some of the top programs in the nation, UofL is the one that gets nailed by the Justice Department.

The gut feeling here, if the allegations are true, is that UofL was new to the game of using shoe companies to attract players. That possibly Coach Rick Pitino, watching rival schools get away with the practice without any repercussions for years, maybe thinking it was time to take advantage of a broken system or see his program get left behind.

If true, that’s unfortunate. But it’s also understandable in a cut-throat business where some coaches have made an art out of breaking the rules, taking advantage of close ties with shoe companies to consistently recruit the best players. Despite the disadvantages, Pitino’s UofL teams were consistently ranked in the top 10 to 15 teams in the nation, with three final fours and a national championship.

Let’s hope it’s true what the FBI said in Tuesday’s news conference said about the dirty underbelly of college basketball recruiting, warning other college basketball coaches that the investigation is far from over. “If you are aware of this type of conduct, call us,” said the spokesman. “Better for you to call us than us to be calling you.”

A shock for sure, but somewhat easier to bear, with a promise from the FBi that the investigation of such practices has only just begun.

Rick Pitino’s days as coach at the University of Louisville basketball program are probably behind him. Probably the best college basketball coach in America, demanding and expecting the best effort from every player, a master at getting players to meet or exceed their potential.

There’s no way he can stick around, however, not with the revelations coming when his basketball program was already under probation. Controversy follows him like a plague, first the sex scandal with Karen Sypher, the stripper controversy orchestrated by former player Andre McGee and now this, with what seems to be hard evidence of intent to pay tens of thousands of dollars to recruits.

There were already whispers around the program that some members of the Board of Trustees were pressuring Vice President of Athletics Tom Jurich to fire Pitino over the most recent sex scandal. The word was that Jurich did not want to fire Pitino for something of which he had no knowledge,

The latest revelation may have made things easier for Jurich who has always said he wanted a clean program and would not tolerate recruiting violations.  Tom has been tested and tested again by the goings on in the basketball program He has no choice now but to let Pitino go.

The worst thing that could happen would be for Jurich to decide that he has had enough, that he would possibly even consider leaving the University of Louisville. I personally want to be around when TJ cuts the ribbon on the latest football stadium expansion, the baseball stadium expansion and whatever else Tom wants to build at UofL.

Let him go, Tom. Enough grief already.

Squirrel steals spotlight, but Louisville football pummels Kent State

This touchdown reception from Lamar Jackson to Javonte Bagley moved Jackson past Chris Redman on the all-time scoring list with 88 touchdowns.  In the top photo, Malik Williams scores the first of his touchdowns in the first quarter (Cindy Rice Shelton photos).

The lasting memory for most fans who attended the University of Louisville-Kent State football game will be of the squirrel showing up around the 50 yard line late in the second quarter. With nobody bothering to challenge it, the rodent would scamper 50 yards to the end zone.

Stopping to catch its breath or bask in the admiration, the creature draws the only roar of the day from the crowd of 47,812 at Cardinal Stadium. It then wanders over to the Kent State sideline where it is cornered and bagged by the grounds’ crew for second loudest cheer of the day.

Trumaine Washington has been picked on a lot by opposing quarterbacks this season. Not on Saturday, however, intercepting a Kent State pass for a 39-yard touchdown (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Coming on a day when Lamar Jackson would be out-gained on the ground for the first time in his college career in a 42-3 win over Kent State. Not by the squirrel but by senior teammate Malik Williams who had 51 yards rushing while Jackson chalked up only 41 on the ground.

Remains to be seen, however, whether Williams’ performance on Saturday moves him past Reggie Bonnafon in the pecking order. Williams would be good for two touchdowns, on runs of 3 and 33 yards while pulling down four passes for 43 yards. Bonnafon, meanwhile, had 18 yards rushing and 30 yards on two receptions.

Lamar Jackson getting UofL in the end zone for the 88th time, setting an all-time record and bypassing Chris Redman in the record books (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

One of Jackson’s better days throwing the football, completing 18 of 22 attempt for 299 yards. Think maybe that’s what his Coach Bobby Petrino demanded on him, stand in the pocket, do those progressions, and be accurate. Best percentage ever but one of those misses was an interception.

Hard to draw any conclusions about improvements against one of the most challenged teams in college football, but Kent State’s 11 passing yards were fewest allowed by Louisville since Western Kentucky University was held to 10 yards in 1989. The Cardinals allowed Kent State only 10 yards rushing and recorded 14 tackles for loss Saturday.

The face Kent State will see in their nightmares for a few days will be that of UofL freshman linebacker Dorian Etheridge, who was in on nine tackles, including nine solo hits.

As for the squirrel, it was not available for comment after the game, having been escorted to Belknap Campus to join his many buddies there.

Louisville football’s resurrection begins against lowly Kent State

The pain is still almost as acute today as it was immediately following  the University of Louisville football team’s humiliating loss to Clemson. The worst possible outcome for witnessed by a national TV audience. Thankfully most of the viewers probably switched channels before the fourth quarter.

The quest to regain credibility begins anew this weekend with a noon game against Kent State, one of the worse teams in college football. Under Paul Haines, who was out with an illness until last week, the Golden Flash is 1-2 this year and 13-35 over the last five seasons. They lost their starting quarterback with an ACL knee injury in the last game.

Not exactly the kind of opponent that commands respect for a UofL team that has provided more questions than answers.

UofL's running game has been disappointing because it largely consists of Jackson, Jackson and Jackson. No secret about what it takes to stop Louisville, just stop Jackson.

Even if UofL’s defense were to hold Kent State scoreless, it would be still suspect after giving up 110 points in the first three games. Opposing quarterbacks have moved the ball with ease with their passing, finding little resistance, keeping the Cardinals grabbing for air. Watch for Kent State to test the UofL corner backs and safeties early and often.

UofL’s running game has been disappointing because it largely consists of Jackson, Jackson and Jackson. No secret about what it takes to stop Louisville, just stop Jackson. He badly needs some help in the backfield and he’s not getting any from Reggie Bonnafon who has gained only 79 yards in 20 carries.

Until Coach Bobby Petrino gets past Bonnafon, there will be little assistance. Malik Williams provides Petrino with an excellent option if he chooses to take advantage, with the athleticism and escapability so badly needed. Possibly the worst thing that could happen would be for Bonnafon to have a field day against Kent State, delaying the inevitable move to Williams.

In a lot of ways UofL is almost starting all over again against Kent State, playing in one of those valleys that follow peak opportunities like the game against Clemson. That beating took a toll on the program and will be reflected in a light turnout, largely consisting of diehard fans and hard core tailgaters  this week.

Hard for even the diehards to get up early on a Saturday morning, start tailgating early, and get there in time for a Noon kickoff. Couldn’t be that much fun for the players, largely playing to get the coaches off their backs. But the fans have been there before many times, over several decades, knowing that progress for UofL football takes time. Lots and lots of time and patience. Enormous amounts actually.