Kenny Klein surprised by Louisville staff and media

Tom Jurich and Kenny Klein raise a toast to their working relationship and friendship at the University of Louisville.
Tom Jurich and Kenny Klein raise a toast to their working relationship and friendship at UofL.

Another late night for Kenny Klein, the sports information director at the University of Louisville on Wednesday. But this time the focus was on him, not one of UofL’s 22 teams.

The time was around 6:45 p.m. when he tweeted the news that Anas Mahmoud would be having knee surgery to repair a knee and would be out for six weeks. Kenny’s day was not done yet, however, finally leaving the office with assistant Rocco Gasparro to attend a hospitality event sponsored by Gatorade  at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.

When he walked into the PNC Cub, Klein was greeted by applause from a lot of familiar faces. No sign of anyone from Gatorade. He figured quickly what was up, passing by a large sheet cake with the words, “Congratulations, Kenny.” It was a surprise party to congratulate him on being named a member of the Hall of Fame by the College Sports Information Directors of America. He will be inducted June 16th in Atlanta.

Over the next hour or so, Klein would be praised for by members of the media, his staff and his boss Tom Jurich as the best in the business. Jurich described Klein as a role model, a professional committed to the highest principles, thanking him for his expertise during many challenging times for himself and the university.  “There have been a few rough spots along the way, but Kenny has always helped through those times,” he said.

One by one, such notables as Fred Cowgill, Howie Lindsey, Jeff Greer, Russ  Brown, Jody Demling, and numerous other personalities told their stories, about Klein’s accessibility, his recognition of competing interests between the coaching staffs and the media, and his ability to serve both in a professional way. His staff was equally complimentary of Klein’s work ethic, noting that he’s always first one in the office in the morning and the last to leave at night.

While Klein is the ultimate professional, he also likes to have little fun, sometimes playing elaborate pranks on staff members and friends. A photographer told a tale about how a photo of his car wound up in the classified section of the Courier-Journal. The only problem was that he hadn’t placed the ad the asking price was about $5,000 less than the value of the car. He got lots and lots of calls, of course.

Alluding to the pranks, Klein declared, “Sports are supposed to be fun so we try hard to have a little enjoyment and laughs on the job.”

Kenny gave credit to Donnie Russell for luring him to UofL a couple of years after he graduated from Murray State University. His first job was sports information director at Morehead State. Russell, a former play-by-play TV announcer was also assistant athletic director for external affairs, hired Klein in 1983 after Joe Yates went to LSU. “He’s the reason I’m at the University of Louisville,” he said. “I will be forever grateful to Donnie for hiring me.”

He also had some high praise for his boss, Tom Jurich, choking up at one point, saying, “He’s my best friend and the best boss ever,” he said. “I love this job, what a great job, with so many rewarding moments and highlights over the years.”

When coach is concerned, everyone is concerned

Kenny-Klein-and-Rick-PItino

There are some concerned looks on the University of Louisville sideline before the second half begins between UofL and North Carolina Saturday. Coach Rick Pitino is more than a little disconcerted about how the game is going, his team trailing by 11 points.

Kenny Klein, the sports information direction, is obviously empathetic with the coach, knowing the Cardinals will have their hands full. But this is before Pitino’s team will overcome an 18-point deficit in the second 20 minutes to hand North Carolina a 78-68 defeat in overtime.

Just another dramatic come-from-behind win among many during Pitino’s colorful coaching career, much to the relief of the Louisville coach and the sports information director.

Kenny Klein catches breath, then on to next Louisville golf classic

No one was happier than the University of Louisville’s Kenny Klein when Rory McIlroy finally tapped in that three-foot putt at 8:43 p.m. as darkness engulfed the course.

Klein, UofL’s sports information director, was serving as local media coordinator for the PGA Championship at Valhalla. Had a playoff been required or the last round was shut down early because of darkness, he had a schedule conflict on his hands.

Kenny Klein
Kenny Klein

Additional play on Monday at Valhalla would have put a serious cramp in the annual Press Box Classic, scheduled six miles down the road at the University of Louisville Golf Course in Simpsonville.

The event is an invitational scramble for local media members and bloggers, as well as Tom Jurich and numerous UofL coaches and personalities — with a tee off time of 10:15 a.m. A chance to eat, greet and mingle in a fun event.

A large percentage of the participants in the Press Box Classic, including Klein, would have been at Valhalla interviewing or videotaping PGA players, making it virtually impossible for many media members to have participated.

This year’s Press Box Classic allows UofL to showcase the many improvements that have made at the University’s newest athletic facility acquired from a private group in 2013. Monday’s event was the first time that all 18 holes had re-opened after extensive renovations this summer.  

Kenny Klein wouldn’t want to miss that opportunity.

Getting UofL number retired not easy

With the University of Louisville having captured its third NCAA tournament championship, some are wondering whether the University may decide to retire a player’s number.

Like maybe the No. 3 on jerseys worn by point guard Peyton Siva? Or the No. 2 belonging to Russ Smith?

No. 2 may have a shot.
No. 2 may have a shot.

The answer in Siva’s case is probably not despite the indispensable role he played in the championship run. Russ Smith has a much better shot if he lives up to expectations going into next season.

UofL has specific criteria for retiring numbers and only four players have had their numbers retired. There is one guideline, making it quite clear who can have their number retired, according to Kenny Klein, sports information director.

“To be eligible for retirement of a player’s number, the player must be, at minimum, a consensus All-America pick,” he told Card Game. Only four players in UofL basketball history have earned the honor. They are Pervis Ellison (42), Darrell Griffith (35), Charlie Tyra (8) and Wes Unseld (31).

So why are there so many banners with the names of former UofL players hanging in the rafters at Freedom Hall and the KFC Yum! Center? Well, there’s a big difference between “retiring” and “honoring” a jersey.

Klein says for a player’s jersey or number to be honored, the player must meet at least one of the following criteria:

  • Must be named to an All-America first, second or third team of a national publication or wire service; an Academic All-America selection; or be named conference player of the year;
  • Or must appear in the Top 10 of at least four U of L career statistical categories;
  • Or may be selected for the honor by a blue ribbon panel if he played prior to 1960. The last criteria is included as to not diminish the accomplishments of earlier years, realizing that statistical comparisons may be inconclusive.

Consideration may also be given for the player to have completed his eligibility for at least three years to be eligible. A committee shall present individuals for consideration to the Director of Athletics. Each player should be a member of a team which gained significant notoriety or earned a special place in Cardinal basketball lore.

Players whose numbers have been honored include: Butch Beard, Junior Bridgeman, Jack Coleman, Don Goldstein, Lancaster Gordon, George Hauptfuhrer, Bob Lochmueller, Rodney McCray, Jim Morgan, Allen Murphy, Chuck Noble, Bud Olsen, Jim Price, Kenny Reeves, Phil Rollins, Derek Smith, Billy Thompson, John Turner, Milt Wagner and DeJuan Wheat.

The criteria for retiring or honoring player numbers in football is similar.

Enough: Give Courier-Journal more access to Louisville football program

Second thoughts on Charlie Strong restricting local mainstream media access to University of Louisville football coverage other than access to the spring game and post-game comments. Mostly on the Courier-Journal because it bears the brunt of the media ban and nobody counts much on radio and TV coverage:

  • If the coach’s action prompts the Courier-Journal to reassess some of its policies, it’s a good thing. The sports section of a local newspaper should include much more coverage of a local team than one located 70 miles away. People reading a Louisville newspaper should be expected to be more interested in what they hometown university is doing. Only in the sports section are they bombarded with Lexington news, and that’s the case in all daily editions.
  • C-J columnist Eric Crawford has done his usual masterful  job in the comments section of his blog in pointing out that UofL stories significantly outnumbered UK stories for several months. He also happens to be correct in his assessment that the media freeze doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for the Louisville football program. (Crawford has been so active in defending the C-J that one has to wonder whether he’s in line to become the next sports editor, succeeding Harry Bryan who is taking an early retirement package.) But it also isn’t realistic for the C-J to ignore what he is building, even if it’s only spring practice.
  • UofL greatly restricts access to individual players, as compared to the UK football program, making it difficult for sportswriters to get much more than comes from the university. This could be because of Charlie Strong’s micro management approach, favoring a team approach over individual personalities, limiting opportunities for feature stories. As a result, fans have limited knowledge about the players. Fan message boards are great for discussions but much of the chatter is redundant and will never be considered an adequate substitute for  indepth reporting.
  • As difficult as it may be for a football man, Charlie also needs to acknowledge that having two basketball teams in the Final Four was a milestone, setting up an historic match between the state’s top universities, especially in a state so football-challenged for much of its existence. His goal now, as it has been since he took the job, is to deliver football championships, finishing the job that Bobby Petrino failed to persevere. Who will ever forget 40,000 UofL fans traveling to Miami for the BCS Orange Bowl?
  • This is quite a dilemma for Kenny Klein, sports information director and his assistant Rocco Gasparo, who bend over backwards to provide information and access wherever possible. The boss has tied their hands, making it impossible for them to do their jobs. Strong should stick to coaching football, leaving media relations to the professionals. The coverage will come in barrels if his team delivers on the field.

Time to end the ban. The coach has made his point, sending the C-J sports section an important message. The newspaper couldn’t stop covering UK even if it wanted to. But UofL should be its top priority, with the football program deserving much more attention than it has been receiving lately.