Ken Lolla misses having Tom Jurich around

Ken Lolla with son Tyler and wife Tina shortly after UofL soccer competed in the College Cup championship game in 2011 (Photo by Charlie Springer).

This Observer is still trying to come to grips with Ken Lolla’s surprising decision to resign as head coach of the University of Louisville soccer team. One of the highest paid college coaches, with the absolute best facilities, and the solid support of the fan base. Just up and leaves.

Lolla has indicated that he accepted the UofL job because he got caught in Tom Jurich’s vision for the athletic program. Took the job because of Jurich and was rewarded with a $17 million stadium, the envy of college soccer programs everywhere.

Tom Jurich at the opening of the Mark and Cindy Lynn Stadium in 2014.

One suspects that Lolla never got over how Jurich was abruptly dismissed by an interim President in 2017, fired with “cause” for what later proved to be allegations with no basis in fact. The Lollas and Jurichs were close friends and the treatment left an indelible impression on Lolla.

“We came here because of Tom’s leadership style and the way he handled people, and really his vision as well,” Lolla told WLKY-TV.  “It was very easy to get caught in that wave of Tom’s vision and what he saw. 

“It was intoxicating, motivating and exciting at the same time. Did that change when he left? Certainly, it did. Not to disparage anyone else, but (when) somebody like that, as dynamic as he is, leaves, there’s a void.”

As good as Vince Tyra is proving to be as athletic director, there is still a vacuum to be filled at UofL with the absence of Tom Jurich. Anyone who watched what he built over two decades feels it and misses Jurich. The University owes him a great deal.

Ken Lolla is right. He felt strongly enough about the treatment of Jurich that he finally resigned in mid-stream to face an uncertain future. He came because of Tom Jurich and could no longer do without Tom around.

Any acknowledgement of Jurich’s accomplishments should not perceived as Tyra shortcomings. Tyra has been impressive in following a legend, making unprecedented efforts to listen to fans and to respond to their concerns. . Tyra didn’t need the job, taking it because UofL needed someone like him at the helm during at a critical time for the school. He is the right man at the right time.

If at all possible, however, the University needs to find a way to show its appreciation Tom Jurich for all he did. UofL needs to welcome him and his family back into the fold, certainly on a honorary basis. He should always be a part of the University of Louisville.

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.

Louisville soccer needs to derail Akron’s 12-game winning streak

Ken Lolla needs to get past Akron, his former team that denied Louisville the national championship in 2010.

Ken Lolla’s soccer team is back. So close. So far.

Final home game, last chance to see a University of Louisville team within three wins of a national championship. 

Big challenge, however, with a foe that has won its past 12 games and evoking significant emotional ties for Lolla. In the quarterfinal round, competing for  a berth in the 2017 College Cup semifinals.

That foe just happens to Akron University, where Lolla coached for 13 seasons before being recruiting by Tom Jurich to taking over the UofL program in 2005. The same man who made Akron a power has made Louisville a national contender for the past 12 years.

Any match against Akron is an experience for Lolla but none more gut-wrenching than the game between UofL and Akron in the College Cup in 2010. Akron won that game 1-0 in the national championship final at Santa Barbara, Calif. 

If he gets emotional about playing Akron again, Lolla doesn’t let it show. “I think the biggest thing is to relish the moment,” he said. “To play in the NCAA Tournament is special as it is. To play for the opportunity to go to the College Cup, the biggest event, is even more special.”

The Cardinals (13-2-4) are led by junior Tate Schmitt who had the game-winning goals in NCAA tournament wins over San Francisco and Colgate. He’s also the team’s leading scorer with nine goals on the season. The Zips (18-3) are led by Stuart Holthusen, a senior from Auckland, New Zealand, with 12 goals.

Lolla himself needs to “relish the moment” while putting Akron behind him this time around.

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A visit to an Akron soccer message board revealed that a sizeable number of fans from the Ohio school will be making the five-and-a-half trip to the Dr. Mark & Cindy Lynn Stadium for the game. Seated among them in Section 211 will be Scott Caldwell who scored the winning goal in the 2010 championship game:

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Akron Coach Aaron Embick who felt strongly that fifth-seeded Akron deserved the No. 4 seed over Louisville, telling an Akron newspaper, “I think as a team we felt like we probably did more in the regular season,” he said. “We were a little bit hotter at the end of the regular season than Louisville to deserve the fourth seed. 

Nice bulletin board material.

Louisville soccer faces streaking UK team

The University of Louisville’s ninth-ranked soccer team will square off against archrival Kentucky Tuesday at the Bell Soccer Complex in Lexington, hoping to avenge a 1-0 loss to the Wildcats in Louisville last season.

Ken Lolla
Ken Lolla

Could be a real challenge for the Cardinals because UK hasn’t allowed a goal in four straight wins, one of which was 1-0 decision over then No. 1-ranked Notre Dame. UofL, meanwhile, is coming off consecutive wins over Boston College and Duke and has a 3-1-1 won-loss-tie record.

Ken Lolla’s team is currently in first place in the Atlantic Coast Conference with a 2-0 mark, while UK has yet to play a Conference USA foe.

The game will be televised on SEC Plus, which isn’t available on Time Warner Cable. However, it may be available on ESPN3, where it is listed on the schedule and the slot was working Tuesday morning.

Admission to the game for all fans will be one penny each, with proceeds going to the Mary Todd Lincoln House in Lexington.

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The Louisville vs Wake Forest football game Saturday at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium will be televised by ESPNU with a 3:30 p.m. kick off and announcers Clay Matvick and Anthony Becht calling the game. The game will also be carried on Sirius Radio on Channel 108 and on XM on Channel 193.

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Mark Blankenbaker, who runs the Crunch Zone fan blog, will be getting married Friday, somehow persuading his bride-to-be not to have their fall wedding on a football Saturday.

He will make the Wake Forest game at Papa John’s but the couple will be honeymooning next week and could miss the Syracuse telecast. One out of two is not bad for the groom.

Best of luck to the happy couple as they begin their journey.

Ken Lolla: New Louisville stadium forever changes college soccer

Mark Lynn (in dark suit) and family cut the ribbon. Twenty-one family members participated.
Dr. Mark Lynn (in dark suit) and family cut the ribbon. Twenty-one family members participated.

A five-minute thunderstorm half way through the ribbon-cutting ceremonies couldn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the crowd that turned out Thursday for the official opening of the Dr. Mark & Cindy Lynn Soccer Stadium on the University of Louisville campus.

The entire setting had an historic feel to it with all dazzling graphics throughout the stadium, the demolition of the silos in the background, and with a 50-car freight train passing by on the north end of the field.

Tom Jurich does it again.
Tom Jurich does it again.

Ken Lolla, coach of the UofL men’s soccer team, thanked Tom Jurich, vice president of athletics for his visionary thinking, proclaiming that college soccer would be forever changed by the completion of this particular stadium.

“Student athletes are going to come play in here and have an experience like they’ve never had,” said Lolla. “There will be coaches who will come in here and go back to their athletic directors and athletic departments and say, ‘We need to do something more. We need to do something better.’

“Because of that inspiration and the vision we have created, the big winner is going to be college soccer. This date is historic. College soccer will never be same.”

Benefactor Mark Lynn, who, along with this wife Cindy, donated $5 million to help build the $18 million plus stadium, said he was just honored to be a small piece of the process. “I love this university and am excited to be a part of such a dynamic program,” he said.

Ken-Lolla-Louisville-SoccerCoach Ken Lolla gets the crown jewel of college soccer stadiums. The silos will be gone next week.