The former University of Louisville football coach will be in familiar surroundings when he returns to Memphis for the 51st Liberty Bowl renewal. His Arkansas team will play the winner of this Saturday’s Conference USA game between East Carolina and Houston.
Another big bowl appearance for the Bobby, for sure. One of the reasons he left Louisville, to get to the big stage, name in lights. You know he’s really looking forward to getting back to Beale Street, him being the life of the party and all.
The last time he coached a game there, his Louisville team defeated a good Boise State team 44-40 in 2004, finishing the season ranked seventh in the Associated Press poll. But, as usual, he was more interested in other job openings. Remember the LSU turndown? And the cold shoulder from Notre Dame?
His Arkansas team this season is 7-5 overall and 3-5 in the SEC West, and nowhere near the top 25 in either of the major polls.
Sadly, a small group of University of Louisville football fans believes Tom Jurich owes them an apology for a few comments. Yes, that Tom Jurich, the vice president of athletics, the person who over the last dozen years has made Louisville a major player across the board in NCAA athletics.
Weâ€™ll rehash the comments later. Suffice it for now to conclude that a boisterous minority insults the collective intelligence of the Louisville fan base. Before TJâ€™s arrival in 1997, Louisville was still considered by some outsiders to be a mid-major school, even in basketball with two national championships.
Juirchâ€™s most significant accomplishment was getting Louisville into the Big East Conference, elevating the programâ€™s national stature and improving scheduling for all sports programs on Belknap Campus.
Integral to his efforts was completion of the Owsley Frazier Cardinal Sports Park, which was very much still in the blue-sky dreaming stage in 1997. Yes, Bill Olson had the blueprints and the vision, but the project was very much in limbo after completion of the womenâ€™s softball stadium.
Fast forward to today. A year from now, U of L basketball will move into a $238 million downtown basketball arena in downtown Louisville, underscoring his vision of the importance of the universityâ€™s athletic program to the community. Jim Host’s involvement has been absolutely critical but without Jurich’s involvement, the project would still be a distant dream.
The hiring of Rick Pitino as menâ€™s basketball coach was initially considered a pipe dream, becoming a reality only because of TJâ€™s persistence. His hirings in other sports have led to an unprecedented number of U of L appearances in NCAA post season play, most notably baseball and womenâ€™s basketball.
Jurich probably made the Orange Bowl comment in jest. And he still may not have been convinced that Kragthorpe was wrong person ... If some fans were really offended by those comments, they need to grow thicker skin.
As for football, Jurich brought in John L. Smith and Bobby Petrino, making it possible to aspire to the highest levels of college football. Multiple appearances in the Liberty Bowl. Then on to the GMAC Bowl, the Motor City Bowl, the Gator Bowl, and a win in the BCS Orange Bowl..
Pre-Tom Jurich, followers of Louisville football could never in their wildest dreams, despite Howard Schnellenbergerâ€™s promises, have realistically envisioned U of L being among the nationâ€™s top 10 football programs for two consecutive seasons, let alone a viable contender for the national championship game in 2006.
Success, however, does strange things to some fans. After following a team through thick and thin for decades, fans were ecstatic that the football program had finally arrived in 2006. How sweet it was until Petrino deserted the program just two days after the Orange Bowl victory.
Three seasons later, the football program appears to be churning aimlessly in a downward spiral. The fan base is disheartened, sensing little chance of a turnaround. The athletic director, while recognizing the frustration of fans, is also cognizant of the feeling that it would be unprofessional to fire a coach after two seasons. Defending the decision to retain Steve Kragthorpe, he says something about fans expecting to go to the Orange Bowl every week and people outside of Louisville knowing that Kragthorpe is a great coach.
Not the best way to placate angry football fans. But one must face facts. Jurich probably made the Orange Bowl comment in jest. And he still may not have been convinced that Kragthorpe was wrong person who could turn the program as the third season began.
If some fans were really offended by those comments, they need to grow thicker skin.
Tom Jurich is the administrator who reinforced and encouraged the high expectations. Jurich has given Kragthorpe every chance to show progress. Despite what he says for media consumption, Jurich knows when the evidence on the field indicates otherwise. Until this season is over and Jurich has announced his verdict on Kragthorpe, he must publicly support the coach.
But he will still not owe Louisville football fans any apologies.
He dreamed of playing football at Papa John’s Cardinal stadium, kicking for the red and black. Kickoffs, punts, extra points.Â Didn’t matter to Desi Cullen. Louisville was his favorite school and any way he could help was the right ticket for him.
Except Bobby Petrino had no interest. Submitted game tapes went unviewed. Calls from Butler coaches didn’t get returned.Â Cullen would wind up in the Big East, but it was at UConn instead of Louisville.
Cullen has been the punter and kickoff specialist for Randy Edsall’s squad the last three years. He did eventually get to punt at Papa John’s last season, rocking the Cards for five punts for an average of 44 yards in a 26-21 UConn win.
Currently, he’s the second leading punter in the Big East, with a 43.4 punting average. 70% of his kickoffs have gone unreturned this year.
He recently told the Hartford Courant:
“I have some great discussions with my grandmother back in Louisville, because she’s so pro-U of L and I’m up here. The great thing is that she’s coming up to watch the game Saturday and it’s homecoming and it’s my senior year so that is really special to me.”
Cullen admits he was “too jacked up” when he first punted against Louisville in 2007 and “wanted everything to go 60 yards … but after I shanked the first one and it went about 20 yards…the coaches told me to calm down and focus.”
Butler coaching assistant and mentor Keith Beisler describes Cullen as “one of those kids that comes along once in a lifetime. Good student, great personality, a team leader and motivator. Why Petrino didn’t grab him up is still a mystery to me…but Desi’s happy at UConn and that’s all you can wish for him.”
[stextbox id=”custom”]The observer is not about to knee jerk Rick Bozich’s analysis that Bobby Petrino had much to do with the rapid decline of Louisville football. Writers like Bozich have a great deal of access to the program. They also recognize the bounds of personal restraint within the athletic department and the tremendous challenges of privacy laws.
Common sense tells you that an individual who is contantly looking for other jobs doesn’t have your best interests in mind. The short-sighted Petrino failed to recognize he was sitting on a potential gold mine in Louisville.
Don’t even try to turn this into a defense of Steve Kragthorpe. Just another deserved jab at old steely face in Fayetteville.[/stextbox]
The Observer steps aside briefly to allow the favorite son to pass along a few flashbacks of growing up in the family of a couple of University of Louisville diehards.
By Steve Springer
After sitting through one of the more hand-wringing encounters that I have witnessed as a University of Louisville fan, I knew that another of my great sports fantasies had come true. After a thrilling victory over No. 13 Notre Dame, I realized that the next UofL game I would attend would be against the No. 1 team in the land, the Pitt Panthers on the upcoming Saturday.
The chance to beat No. 1 does not come along very often. Combine this rare opportunity with the fact that one does not always get to attend such a spectacle with the engineer of oneâ€™s love. The win over top-ranked Pittsburgh will rank right up there with the best of many big moments as a Card fan. The Observer instilled a deep passion for Cardinal Nation in my soul and fueled it with ticket after ticket to big games.
I have attended Cardinal basketball and football games since before I could walk. The memories run together in a collage of college athletics. The clearest early memories that stand out are sitting so high in the Superdome to watch the Cards battle Patrick Ewing in the 1982 Final Four. The setting was so huge to my 6-year-old eyes that I preferred to watch the action on the big screen scoreboard instead of the tiny little players running around so far below. My first and only experience with the Big Easy and my beginning infatuation with shrimp and seafood tagged along for good measure.
Visions of hugging red-clad people I had never met when I was nine in Reunion Arena shortly after Jeff Hall intercepted a Duke pass at the end of the 1986 National Championship in Dallas stand out, as well.
A few days before my parents had upgraded their hero-status in my eyes as I secretly intercepted a phone call from the Observerâ€™s wife and my fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Osterman. Mom was campaigning for permission to allow me to accompany them to Dallas for championship weekend and I would have to miss a couple of days of school. Mrs. Osterman obliged; I guess the real life experience I was to receive would be worth way more than multiplication tables and spelling words.