Tyra leaves no doubt he’s in charge of Louisville athletics

One has to be impressed with Vince Tyra in his capacity as Interim Athletic Director when it comes to  managing issues. All business, straightforward, unapologetic about wanting what’s best for the University of Louisville. A calm force in the midst of the storm.

Tyra may never completely win over a segment of the UofL fan base. Primarily because he replaced Tom Jurich, one of the most popular administrators in UofL’s history. But if Tyra remains as open as he was in Thursday’s press conference, he will have earned their respect at a critical time for the school.

Vince Tyra prefers facts to second-guessing, updating fans on developments in UofL Athletic Department (Charlie Springer photo).

The son of a former UofL All-America basketball player, Tyra seems to be keenly aware of the concerns of fans and supporters. This is a vital quality, given the priority of the Board of Trustees in managing finances. He’s qualified on several fronts — he’s a lifelong fan, a major donor and an executive who has successfully managed numerous businesses.

Tyra’s current challenge, in a job that is likely to become permanent in March, may well be his biggest ever, maintaining a program that has grown by leaps and bounds over the past two decades. Restoring confidence won’t be easy for a fan base that has been brought to its knees by the scandals involving the school’s administration, a premier basketball program, and abrupt dismissals of popular employees.

The job is made even more difficult with the absence of open leadership from J. David Grissom, the Trustee Chairman, who seemingly operates in a vacuum. Grissom keeps everyone guessing about his goals for the University, either believing people will inherently trust him and assume that he knows what’s best for the school. That hasn’t worked out well for Grissom, with some observers suspicious of his motives and apprehensive about his real leadership qualities.

Doubtful he would have taken the job if he thought there was an agenda to diminish Louisville athletics.

Tyra, on the other hand, is candid when it comes to addressing the issues and his aspirations for the athletic department. Noting that the recent dismissal of three key employees, including Mark Jurich, was aimed at reducing costs and making the department more efficient. He also took a $350,000 decrease in salary, putting him more in line with other athletic directors in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

He also took advantage of the press conference to clarify that the expansion of the football stadium would add 6,000 seats instead of 10,000 as publicized for the last three years. It was an admission directly addressing what could have become another embarrassing issue later. A get the facts, deal with them publicly, put them in the past approach.

As for UofL remaining competitive, Tyra has taken steps to ensure stability in the coaching ranks, extending the contracts of Soccer Coach Ken Lolla for five years, Women’s Soccer Coach Karen Ferguson-Deyes for two more years, and Volleyball Coach Dani Busboom Kelly for another year. He will, however, wait until the end of the basketball season before making a decision about that position.

One gets the impression that Tyra is in total charge of the athletic department. He is not looking over his shoulder, worried about either Grissom or Interim President Greg Postel. Doubtful he would have taken the job if he thought there was an agenda to diminish Louisville athletics.

If there is a concern, it would be that Tyra is more of a business person than a people person. Unlike his predecessor, he will never win people over with his love for the University, but selling them on the school from a business perspective.

Tom Jurich’s approach worked well, moving UofL out of the shadows of the also-rans into national contenders in so many different sports. He built all the necessary facilities, enlarged the fan base, and greatly enhanced the brand name. His low-key approach worked well in gaining friends and supporters of the program.

Tyra doesn’t have to concern himself about building new facilities, and the fan base has been so strong. He  can focus on maintaining and building upon what has been accomplished. But first, he must go about earning the confidence of fans and donors and restoring faith in the leadership of the athletic department. He seems well on his way those objectives. Not there yet, but getting there.