No committees, thank you

So we hear that Black Coaches Association has awarded an “F” to U of L for the process through which the university hired the new football coach. The BCA gets the headlines it seeks but you have to wonder whether the group did its homework. Did they not know Ron Cooper was our coach for three years? Or does history not count?

Among the BCA’s criteria was the racial composition of the search committees. The problem with search committees is that they often include well-meaning faculty reps with not a clue about football, as we learned when Schnellenberger departed.

Even though the football season has disappointed, we still prefer to have Tom Jurich make those decisions for us. By the way, he reportedly had Karl Dorrell, the black coach at UCLA, on his short list. Did the BCA even think to ask?

Extra Points

  • Much too early for a conclusion but is it possible that this year’s U of L football team plays better on the road than at home? Thus far, they have. The Cards were one play away from beating Kentucky in Lexington and defeated North Carolina State by 19 in Raleigh. They may just need some time away from the home crowd, with all the bewildered fans.
  • The Cincinnati Enquirer, which has taken a renewed interest in the UC program since being blasted by Coach Brian Kelly for ignoring the Bearcats early on, provided some bulletin board material for Coach Kragthorpe with the headline,“Cards Not Ranked, Just Rank.”
  • What’s scary, though, is the quote in the same story by Kragthorpe that likely will not appear in the bulletin post posting:

    While Kelly is concerned about Brohm and the other offensive weapons that Louisville has at its disposal, Kragthorpe is equally wary of what the Bearcats can do on offense, especially when they go to their fast-break, no-huddle offense:

    “There were 10 or 12 times in the game against Rutgers where Rutgers’ front seven was not even lined up,” Kragthorpe said. “They hadn’t broken the huddle.

    “It’s a challenge in terms of the tempo of the game. You’ve got to be ready to play the next play as soon as the last play is concluded.”

  • How does Cincinnati manage to attract good players at a location which, before this year has always had difficulty filling the stadium unless UC was playing Louisville? It says something about the quality of high school football in Ohio.
  • UC’s progress in football is good for the Big East if it’s true that the strength of the traditionally lower tier teams is a barometer of the league’s overall strength. Now if only U of L and Syracuse can get their acts together.
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The most biting quote of the week thus far came from Tom Heiser who declared on his CJ fan blog that the Kragthorpe staff has “not solved any of the glaring shortcomings that have plagued the team since Murray State’s opening drive.”

Thanks Ron Steiner

Never really got to know Ron Steiner as a person. Knew him as a writer, however, and he was among the best when it came to U of L sports. The very best.

The founder of the Louisville Sports Report died last Thursday as a result of complications following a heart transplant at the Cleveland Clinic. Before relinquishing control of the publication last year, Ron wrote a weekly column. If I never read anything else, I read that column. His research was thorough, his prose was brilliant, and his optimism never wavered.

Howard Schnellenberger brought Ron with him when he came to Louisville in 1985. It didn’t take long to figure out why. Ron was a contributor. Sorry I waited so long for the tribute, Ron, but couldn’t find your photo anywhere on the net (thanks Howie Lindsey). You are missed but still providing inspiration.

JaJuan? Gone!

So long JaJuan.

Sorry we won’t get to see you play anymore. Those flashes of speed you have shown, especially on the 90-plus-yard kickoff return against Rutgers last year, had fans wanting to see more and more of your running skills.

But alas. You’re gone for the season. The coach tells us you may return next year. But our gut feeling tells us we’ll probably never see you again.

Prove us wrong, JaJuan. Go to class. Keep doing your workouts. Respect the coaches. Avoid the inevitable pitfalls that tempt every college student. You can return and be a great college football player, maybe even star in the National Football League some day.

It’s all up to you, man.

We All Want Answers

Friend of mine called me today, asking why I haven’t tackled the topic of the football team’s problems. You can’t go anywhere and not hear different opinions. Second-guessing is rampant. He said I was avoiding the obvious, that he knew I had strong opinions, and this was not a time for keeping quiet.

I have followed U of L football for five decades, been through the bad old days when you could sit almost anywhere you wanted to at Fairgrounds Stadium, to the joy of being able to reserve seats at a sparkling new Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. In fact, the first date with my eventual wife was at a U of L-Memphis State football game in 1972.

We laughed at the antics of Lee Corso, endured the whiney voice of Vince Gibson, imitated the gruffness of Howard Schnellenberger, jeered the ineptitude of Ron Cooper, growled at the parting remarks of John L. Smith, shivered through the frozen tundras in Memphis and marveled at the incredible success of Bobby Petrino, and watched in awe the acceptance of the Orange Bowl trophy in Miami just a few months ago.

So, yes, I do have some strong opinions about what is happening. There are no easy answers to what’s troubling this team. More than likely, it’s an accumulation of a number of factors. I will focus on a few of them here.

First and foremost, I have a real concern about the lack of candid communications from the current coaching staff and no confidence that any of my questions will be answered anytime soon. When Steve Kragthorpe addresses questions, you get the feeling that he’s holding something back or, worse, that he might not know the answers. I hate it when he starts with the “no excuses” cliches; I want him to tell us what went wrong.

There is obviously a problem with discipline. You see it in the mounting number of players who are being dismissed or suspended. You see it in the disorganization on defense, when so many opposing receivers scamper untouched to the end zone. You see it when a U of L player throws a football at a tackler and when another player gives an obscene gesture to the opposing crowd.

You have to wonder what effect the Orange Bowl title, the top 10 poll rankings and all the media coverage had on the team. My gut feeling is that too many players were unable to manage all the adoration that came their way. They knew they were good, listening to the media, their fans and buddies telling them how great they were for eight months.

The afterglow of all this success is a major part of the problem. Here comes a new coach with a different coaching philosophy. The new sheriff does things differently. His offensive and defensive schemes are not quite the same. He threatened the players’ comfort level, moving people around. He may have been likeable, even a “player’s coach,” but evidently the players aren’t receptive to changing very much. Did he not watch us play on TV last year, they wonder.

We believe Kragthorpe also has different expectations, not only for team members as football players but as individuals, students and citizens. The old coach, Bobby Petrino, never seemed to have any discipline problems. But we have to wonder whether Petrino was just so demanding and kept such a close watch on kids that they never had time to get in trouble. On the other hand, could it also mean Petrino saw them only as football players and overlooked troubling incidents?

Since his arrival, Kragthorpe has dismissed or suspended players for questionable behavior. Their activities did not have to make the police blotter or the newspaper before the coach took action. Maybe they were accustomed to getting away with things under the old coach, especially if they had talent.

College kids can react negatively or positively to change. After all, they are still teenagers, in many cases. Unfortunately, what we are seeing appears to be a negative reaction. Are they being developed in an environment where they can mature or have they just resorted to pouting?

You had better believe that discontent translates into trouble on the field. While they are being expected to embrace the new playbook, too many of them may doubt the system. They don’t respect their opponents. They line up wrong on offense or defense. They draw penalties and they make a gift of lots of points to opposing teams.

Disenchanted fans will get off Kragthorpe’s back when the team pulls out a few wins, of course. But if the bleeding continues, he is going to have be more forthcoming about some of the challenges confronting the team. Poor communications and secrecy only invite second-guessing.

Do you agree or disagree with this analysis? Please leave comments.