Schnatter prevails over Jurich but there is no winner

Former UofL President Jim Ramsey and AD Tom Jurich listen to ACC Commissioner John Swafford during the Atlantic Coast Conference induction ceremony in July of 2014 (in the top photo). Trustee John Schnatter, founder of Papa John’s Pizza, led attack against the athletic department (above).

Tom Jurich may have done his job too well at the University of Louisville, helping to transform a sleepy urban school into a dynamic university campus. Also making it a target for at least one business magnate, giving millions to the school on one hand while questioning the motives of UofL leadership on the other.

Jurich arrived as UofL Athletic Director in 1997, and under this leadership, the program enjoyed an era of growth unrivaled in the University’s history.  Creating a plethora of new athletic facilities while claiming championships in three different conferences and thriving on a national stage.

His football hires would lead UofL to major BCS wins, including the Orange and Sugar bowls, and numerous top 20 finishes. UofL would return from obscurity in college basketball to national prominence, including four final fours, and a national championship in 2013. Baseball, soccer and women’s basketball were ranked among the top 10 annually. The swimming program well represented on Olympic teams.

Easily one of the most popular individuals in the Louisville area, Jurich used his popularity and the power that came with it to promote the school. A small group of individuals accused him of using bullying tactics but, if so, it was on rare occasions, most likely to overcome impediments to UofL’s growth.

Tom Jurich at the podium while announcing completion of a $160 million deal with Adidas (Charlie Springer photo).

While all these things were happening, UofL was becoming the most dynamic institution in the community, with prestige and influence at all-time highs. As great as that was for the school, the success was creating some resentment from some in the development community. Some believing they were competing at a disadvantage against a public institution. Including some people on the Board of Trustees.

Some key members of some old money families were also reported to becoming resentful of the school’s growth, as well as some of the nouveau riche, the new upstarts wanting to have their say. Some in elite circles purportedly wanting to get rid of President Jim Ramsey in favor of Matthew Barzun, former U.S. ambassador to Great Britain with family ties to old Louisville money.

Emily Bingham, daughter of former newspaper publisher Barry Bingham, Jr., joining forces in opposition to Ramsey as well. Some suspect they were using their political clout in Frankfort and their influence with the Courier-Journal in successful attempts to skewer Ramsey and to embarrass the school at every opportunity.

The inevitable result was the former Board of Trustees becoming factionalized and dysfunctional. Governor Matt Bevin would appoint a totally new board after Ramsey sought his help.  But Ramsey’s efforts may have backfired with Bevin’s selection of new trustees, one of their first acts removing Ramsey from office.

That was probably the beginning of the end for Jurich, who on the day following Ramsey’s ouster celebrated the opening of the $17 million Thornton’s Academic Center on the south end of Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. Ramsey had trusted Jurich implicitly, giving him total autonomy, and suddenly Ramsey was gone.

Among the new trustees was John Schnatter, whose company’s name had adorned the stadium from the beginning. Over the years, Schnatter had become more demanding, wanting to make personal appearances, driving his souped-up Camaro, engine roaring, into the end zone at half times, passing out pizzas in the stands. He even demanded that his company’s name be gaudily painted in giant letters on the roof of Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.

Schnatter, it was suspected, was not happy that the parent company of a competitor had its name on the KFC Yum! Center where UofL plays basketball. The company that owns Pizza Hut also has its name on the UofL basketball practice center on Belknap Campus.

He also had argued from the beginning against the location of the downtown arena on the riverfront, siding with leading businessman David Jones, Sr., that the best location was the water company site. Having the name of a competitor wind up on the arena in that exact location had to be even more bothersome.

By some reports, Schnatter and Jurich had had as little to do with each other as possible. The fundraising for the latest expansion of Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium was so successful that a contribution wasn’t sought from Schnatter for the north end zone addition.

Schnatter, meanwhile, always making a big show of arriving at the stadium in his helicopter, usually late, several minutes after kickoff, circling the stadium before landing near where the old silos stood. He reportedly never received a go-ahead for a closer landing spot to the stadium but he was attracting attention.

Instead of praising Jurich and hailing the athletic department’s success as an example for the rest of the school, Schnatter was an early detractor. It was Schnatter who made the initial accusations that there were major problems in the athletic department. Made them after meeting with Interim President Greg Postel. Saying Postel had told him Jurich was invisible. Schnatter told the board that the athletic department was a major cause of the problems at UofL. “Get the athletic department in line and everything else at the school will fall in line,” he said, or words to that effect.

Some suspect the real problems in the athletic department were a figment of Schnatter’s imagination. That he wanted more recognition and respect for all the dollars he had contributed to athletics and the school. He never indicated what his real beef was with Tom Jurich.

We will never know if Governor Bevin was aware of Schnatter’s concerns when he appointed him to the new board. It may have seemed like a logical choice at the time, with Schnatter having donated almost $25 million to UofL academics and athletics. One has to wonder, however, if the appointment was a major mistake on the Administration’s part, unnecessarily adding to the chaos at the school.

Despite Jurich’s successes, his fate was sealed when the Justice Department suddenly became interested in the world of college basketball recruiting, leading to quick suspensions of him and Coach Rick Pitino. That would give their detractors all the cover they needed to get rid of them.

All of the enormous accomplishments of Jurich over 20 years not counting for much. The board hadn’t been a part of the success, and lacked perspective. It did, unfortunately, include one of the school’s wealthiest contributors not happy with the athletic director.

One has been told that Schnatter is not the wise acre that he comes off as in board meetings, that he’s a smart individual who didn’t luck into becoming a billionaire. He has yet to prove, however, that he has the best interests of the school in mind, with his seemingly wild accusations about a program that had come so far under Jurich.

Earning the respect and gratitude of people passionate about the University of Louisville will not come easily for Schnatter. Many of UofL’s fans and supporters are hurting and angry right now, apprehensive about the future with Tom Jurich no longer around.

Leadership is about preparing for the future, not laying waste to the past.

Courier-Journal covers UofL and UK equally in sports, but hard news is another story

A few random thoughts about the Courier-Journal’s coverage of University of Louisville issues …

In case you missed it, Joe Gerth has a new column in the Courier-Journal, switching from political to a generalist approach, taking on the hot topics in town. He’s working hard in his new role as the newspaper’s “resident expert” on everything Louisville.

Not surprising a few weeks ago he became the latest CJ scribe to pile on former University of Louisville President Jim Ramsey, stating  that Ramsey “enriched himself at the expense of the students at UofL and the state of Kentucky.” He also questions the motivations of Tom Jurich in the same piece.

Gerth grew up in Louisville and graduated from the University of Louisville, majoring in communications. For someone who has covered politics for almost three decades, it is somewhat surprising that he has failed to acknowledge issues stemming from gubernatorial political appointments to the UofL Board of Trustees.

Or maybe it’s just that he chooses to ignore them. That would be the easier path for a writer at a publication that fancies itself to be a statewide newspaper. The CJ’s News side provides tons of coverage on UofL problems but only a bare minimum, usually wire coverage, on University of Kentucky issues — totally opposite to Sports coverage where equal coverage seems the goal.

Continue reading “Courier-Journal covers UofL and UK equally in sports, but hard news is another story”

Handmaker provides insight into Jim Ramsey’s compensation at UofL

Jim Ramsey and Junior Bridgeman during one of Ramsey’s final board meetings at UofL.

Somewhere in Florida, Jim Ramsey is catching up on his golf game, hopefully recovering from some of the controversy that surrounded his departure as President of the University of Louisville last year.

As she resigned, Margaret Handmaker provided some facts on issues affecting UofL’s efforts to fend off attempts by a competitor university to recruit Jim Ramsey away from Louisville.

Some additional perspective on Ramsey’s compensation at UofL was recently provided by Margaret Handmaker when she submitted her resignation from the UofL Foundation to Diane Medley, the new Chairman of the Foundation.

Ramsey was sharply criticized by some former members of the University Board of Trustees for what some believed was excessive remuneration. The annual compensation in his IRS returns between 2012 and 2014 was confusing because his reported income apparently included deferred payments.

The criticism, not surprisingly, came from Trustees who were not around when the University Board in 2005 adopted a Deferred Compensation Plan — a practice employed by universities to attract and retain key leaders through competitive levels of total compensation and deferred vesting.

Diane Medley recently assumed the chairmanship of the UofL Foundation. She’s also a member of the UofL Board of Trustees.

In her letter of resignation,Handmaker noted that the UofL Foundation would “be faced with a significant shortage of institutional memory” moving forward with a new Interim Executive Director, all new University Trustees, and all new UofL Foundation board members.

She also noted that “as with other complex boards, the  University relies on a committee structure to report information to the full board. Any suggestion that Trustees do not know what is going on at the Foundation is not well informed.”

She attached a memo in which she stated:

— “President Ramsey was recruited by the University of Tennessee, and the UofL Trustees felt strongly that they wanted to do “whatever it took” to keep him at the University of Louisville.

— “In discussions with President Ramsey, the Chair of the Trustees learned that the President did not want a higher salary, but a supplemental retirement benefit would be attractive to him.

— “Once again, the Trustees asked the Foundation to pay this benefit.

— “The same person chaired both the Board of Trustees and the Foundation Board (as was often the case), so the “ask” was a bit of a formality. The grant and the ultimate payout of the retention plan was reported in the Foundation’s IRS Form 990, which is available to the members of all boards and to the public.”

Kathleen Smith was a key member of Ramsey’s staff at the University while also overseeing Foundation activities.

Ramsey also came under attack for retention bonuses for some of his staff, including Kathleen Smith, who served his chief of staff at the University and for the UofL Foundation.

Handmaker notes in her memo that “when (the late) Chester Porter was chair of both boards, he said that it was critically important to discourage Kathleen Smith from electing early retirement. A retention plan for Kathleen was designed by Chester and implemented by the Foundation.” Smith was placed on paid leave last fall.

Handmaker was among four directors who resigned from a group that also included Dr. Salem George, Joyce Hagen, and Dr. William Selvidge. 

They were around when Jim Ramsey was in the midst of transforming the University from a commuter school to a member in full standing in the Atlantic Coast Conference, significant improvements in the GPA average of incoming freshmen and higher graduation rates, unprecedented growth in the University’s endowment, unparalleled growth of the physical campus and a boom in student housing.

They saw the best of times under Jim Ramsey and, in recent months, some of the most challenging days ever for UofL. 

The hits keep coming but milestones never stop at University of Louisville

The University of Louisville is under attack on so many fronts that some of us are becoming hardened to the accusations, skeptical of the sources. Some unbelievable accusations have surfaced, and they never seem to go away. 

Any more bad news out there? Cough it up and clear the air. Only three more weeks before 2016 becomes history. What a crappy year in so many ways.

— Jim Ramsey, the former UofL President, accused of administrative irregularities in a state audit of the UofL Foundation. That would be the same Jim Ramsey who is credited for the unprecedented growth of the University over the past decade. 

— The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools placing UofL’s accreditation on probation for a year for actions taken by Governor Bevin in attempting to replace the current members of the Board of Trustees. Why the organization would threaten the school’s accreditation for any reason other than academic reasons defies any logic. No surprise, however, given the ideology of members governing the Southern Association.

— Governor Bevin, ignoring the Southern Association’s action, indicating that he will attempt to change state law during the 2017 legislation session to justify his action. A dangerous precedent if he is successful, allowing future Governors to replace board members at will, possibly putting the University’s very existence at risk in a state where little love is lost on UofL.

Few people in America more noble or better positioned than sportswriters to address sins and shortcomings.

— The never-ending probe of the UofL basketball program following revelations that former player and assistant coach had been sponsoring stripper parties and sexual favors for players. Once a program is accused, the NCAA’s review process drags on forever, with no consistency in how cases are handled and punishments are administered.

— The latest embarrassment, the admission of a Wake Forest radio football analyst that he had provided game plan information to opposing teams, including UofL. Louisville, unfortunately, was where information was uncovered exposing the individual, exposing UofL to criticism from the talking heads and saintly sports columnists like Tim Sullivan.

The lowest of low points, being lectured by the scribes. Few people in America more noble or better positioned than sportswriters to address sins and shortcomings. Who’s to question their qualifications? A terrible profession when success is often defined by how many people hate you.

Quite a tumble from the glory years, particular from the Year of the Cardinal in 2013 when the University of Louisville could do no wrong. Distant memories for now.

The Lamar Jackson success story, the first UofL football player to ever win the Heisman Award, providing a brief reprieve from the torrent of bad news. But also serving as a reminder that many great things will continue to happen at UofL.

Overcoming hard times is part of being an advocate for the University of Louisville. Fans and supporters of UofL have had to weather more than their share of adversity over the decades.

They’ve grown accustomed to being targeted by neighboring fans, by a local newspaper that claims to be a state newspaper at the expense of the local school, and by the growing pains that occur when a school is ambitious. Predictably the University of Louisville always gets stronger and better, achieving unprecedented milestones while eyeing even more challenging goals.

Always been that way. It will never change. 

New UofL Foundation Chairman says lawsuit not necessary or productive

Every day is Game Day at the University of Louisville for Brucie Moore whose first challenge as the new Chairman of the UofL Foundation is the threat of a lawsuit from the UofL Board of Trustees.

Moore, who succeeded Bob Hughes in the role last Friday, said she didn’t believe “a legal lawsuit between the Trustees and the Foundation is necessary or productive.” She said the Foundation has approved the addition of two new personnel to help respond to numerous open records’ requests and intends to be as transparent as possible.

Larry Benz and Mark Lynn during Foundation board meeting Friday.
Larry Benz and Mark Lynn during Foundation board meeting Friday.

A graduate of the University of Maryland, Moore is from Waverly in Union County where she serves as County Attorney/Prosecutor. She obtained her law degree from the University of Memphis. She also serves on the UofL Board of Trustees.

“My heart is with this University,” she told reporters. “As I walk around this campus, I see the students, I see the faculty and staff. It’s Game Day every day on this campus. This University has been here over 200 years. We’ve had a rocky few months but every major university responds to challenges, and we’re going to move forward.”

Moore said she was in favor of a forensic accounting of Foundation records, something “that means a lot of different things to different people. This Foundation has grown so much so quickly that we need to get our arms around this process.”

She believes the audit should be a joint effort between the Foundation and the University. “All members of the Board of Trustees are welcome to have input into the process, including the naming of the accounting firm.”

Moore was appointed to the UofL Board of Trustees in 2008 by then Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear. According to the Courier-Journal, Moore has given at least $71,745 in campaign donations since 1998, including $4,000 to Beshear; $1,000 to Beshear’s son, Andrew; and $1,240 to the Kentucky Democratic Party.

According to sources, Gov. Beshear, a University of Kentucky grad, wanted to scuttle the UofL Foundation, and fold the organization under the auspices of the Board of Trustees. All recent Beshear appointments appear to be leaning in that direction.

*    *    *

Last Friday, Jim Ramsey stepped down as President of the Foundation and Bob Hughes agreed to relinquish his chairmanship in the interest of the University and to promote harmony between the two organizations.

No indications as yet of any reciprocal actions from Larry Benz or Craig Greenberg, members of the Board of Trustees who led the attacks against Ramsey and the Foundation.

The Trustees will meet Thursday to consider nominations, the Foundation on Friday to consider requests for proposals to conduct the comprehensive audit.