Sandy Pearsall is out, submitting her resignation Tuesday as head coach of the University of Louisville softball team. Her decision to retire followed a second consecutive season in which UofL softball failed to make the NCAA tournament.
Coincidentally, Pearsall’s departure fell on the same day that Florida State was winning its first national championship with a win over Washington. FSU is the first Atlantic Coast Conference team to win a national title in a sport traditionally dominated by the Pac-12 and the Southeastern Conference.
Pearsall’s teams were never much of a factor NCAA competition, winning only three of eight games in their last five appearances. They were 13-22 in 13 appearances in the tournament. Their failure to make the NCAA the past two years was disappointing.
Fans had high hopes for the program following the 2012 season when UofL won its first 28 games and the Big East conference and tournament titles. Great start, finishing 55-5 overall, but bowing out early again at NCAA tournament time.
Pearsall deserves credit for starting the program 19 years ago. Over that span she won 65% of her games, compiling 718-371 won-lost record, with at least 40 victories in eight seasons.
During an academic calendar year when Mississippi State teams brought abrupt ends to numerous University of Louisville athletic teams, one is not shocked that the same school is believed to be pursuing UofL’s baseball coach. This one may not end well either.
Louisville fans learned the hard way to not take Mississippi State lightly. Losses to the Bulldogs downed the football team in the TaxSlayer Bowl, the men’s basketball season in the NIT, the women’s basketball season in the Final Four, and the men’s tennis team in NCAA play.
The latest clash between the two schools is the most serious challenge yet. Dan McDonnell is among the best college baseball coaches in the country. He has guided UofL to four College World Series appearances, 11 appearances in the NCAA tournament and a school record 554 wins against only 222 losses in 12 seasons.
Mississippi State, however, has been serious about college baseball for much longer, compiling a program resume that could intimidate even the most serious UofL baseball fan. The Bulldogs have been to the College World Series nine times, participated in 33 NCAA regionals, won the SEC regular season 11 times, and the SEC tournament seven times. Their best finish in the CWS was second in 2013.
Mississippi State plays in a newly-renovated 13,000-seat Polk-Dement Stadium in Starkville, a facility that rivals many minor league baseball parks. The Bulldogs average more than 10,000 spectators per game. Their largest crowd ever was 15,586 for a game against arch-rival Mississippi in 2014.
With that kind of success come come sky high fan expectations. Mississippi State Athletic Director John Cohen has been looking for a new coach since the beginning of the season when Coach Andy Cannizaro was fired for an alleged affair with an athletic department employee.
Still looking for a new leader even tough the interim coach , Gary Henderson, formerly at Kentucky, wrapped up a championship in the NCAA Regional at Tallahassee on Monday. It’s possible Mississippi State will host Vanderbilt in a Super Regional next week. Cohen is probably still in the hunt despite the team’s recent success.
Dan McDonnell reportedly turned down overtures from Auburn baseball a few years ago, saying something to the effect that grass is not always greener somewhere else. McDonnell has built something special at Louisville and he knows it, exceeding the expectations he has set for the program on an ongoing basis.
Mississippi State is a whole different story, with a whole new level of pressures and assumptions, and a rowdy and demanding fan base Whether that appeals to McDonnell wants remains to be seen, but he has always seemed happy at Louisville. The Bulldogs have a lot to offer, and no UofL baseball fan can relax for now.
The “wow factor” is going to be very much in evidence in the end zone expansion of Cardinal Stadium, exceeding expectations in every respect from conception to reality. The final product is going to transform the image of University of Louisville football and where it wants to go.
There was Vince Tyra standing on the 20-yard line Tuesday, the man who succeeded the conceptualist Tom Jurich as UofL Athletic Director. Talking about how great the 6,000-plus-seat addition is going to be for the first home game in September.
He said the fan experience for ticket holders in the expansion is going to be exceptional, with great views of the action on the field. And it’s going to provide Coach Bobby Petrino with some new recruiting tools in a facility that is player focused, with awesome training facilities, along with medical offices and leisure time activities.
“It’s also going to be very loud with the stadium enclosed for the first time,” said Tyra. “I’m going to be as excited as anybody to hear the noise. We get pretty rowdy in here for some of the big games. The sound is going to go up another level.”
Still quite a bit of finishing work to be done before the team moves into the new facility at end of July but Tyra is confident the job will be done on time and on budget.
A couple of surprises unveiled during the preview, including the fact that the end zone expansion actually includes parking access for fans in some of the premium boxes. Also, the new structure is actually tied to the existing stands on the east and west sides by extensions that include seating for about 30 people on each side of the stadium.
“It’s going to be incredible,” said Petrino, who can’t wait to get moved in in July , saying the expansion included everything he could possibly have wanted for his football program.
Imagine one’s surprise upon learning that there is a horse polo team at the University of Louisville. There is, indeed, a club and it’s closely tied to the Louisville Polo Club. They teamed up last weekend at Oxmoor Farm for a fundraiser to benefit research for Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s medical research at UofL. Photographer Cindy Rice Shelton, who shoots regularly for Card Game, was on hand for the event. Lucky us.
Tom Jurich remained loyal to his friends and to the University of Louisville even when at least one individual in his employ made major mistakes and after he was fired by the Board of Trustees and erroneously accused of wrongdoing by an interim administrator.
Loyal after his trust was betrayed, resisting the urge to be critical, remaining positive about the University. Told to leave a job he treasured, depart a campus he had transformed, and an athletic department that he had revamped and molded into a collegiate powerhouse during his 20 years on the job.
Doubtful Tom will ever fully recover from the awful shock and the hurt he suffered in the early morning hours of October 18 when he was dismissed from UofL. That was a dark day for everyone involved, everyone associated with the school.
Unfortunately, it took the threat of a lawsuit for the Board of Trustees to make up for some of the injustices. There were still no apologies, but the Trustees approved a settlement with Jurich. The arrangement stipulates that he will receive no less than $4.5 million, ending any litigation between the two parties.
Jurich deserved, and could have commanded, much more than he finally received.
The settlement also calls for Jurich to get no less than $911,000 from his Deferred Compensation Plan and another $1.76 million to be paid out over the next eight years, as well as health coverage until he and his wife are eligible for Medicare. He will also receive eight club level season ticket licenses for UofL football and basketball games for the next 20 years.
Equally important, the agreement also changes the reason for his exit from the university from “fired with cause” to “terminated without cause due to resignation.” The letter of dismissal will be removed from his personnel file.
Louisville is fortunate that Jurich is the person he is. He could have allowed the lawsuit to continue, possibly collecting tens of millions in more dollars from the school. Jurich deserved, and could have commanded, much more than he finally received.
The gut feeling here is that Tom had no desire to inflict more than financial or reputational harm to the University than has already occurred. He’s just that kind of individual, and he continues to have strong feelings for UofL, still wanting the school to grow and prosper.
We have missed seeing Tom and his son Mark around the campus. Let’s hope they will use those football and basketball tickets often in the future.