Mending wounds of old friends important to healing at UofL

One of the great things about the growth of the University of Louisville over the past couple of decades was that one always felt like he or she was an integral part of helping to transform UofL from a sleepy urban school to a dynamic and growing university.

It hurt and hurt deeply when some of the architects of that movement, the people in leadership roles, the people one got to know so well, the people one respected as friends and visionaries, were unceremoniously dismissed despite of what they had accomplished at UofL.

'They really didn’t care (about the loss in donations). UofL in the Atlantic Coast Conference became a crown jewel; they wanted it and they got it.'

Not surprising that some influential individuals in the community would want to exercise control over the University. Not surprising either that many supporters want to keep an arm’s length from people who forced  change, sometimes traumatic, upon the institution.

Dr. Bob Hughes, former chairman of the UofL Board of Trustees and the UofL Foundation, often indicated that the “wine and cheese crowd in the East End” was behind the upheaval at the school, wanting their own people in charge. 

“That was the goal from day one when they came on,” he told Card Game in a recent email. “It is only becoming more obvious with time; however, the delta on donations from the negativity it took to take control is about $50 million annually in donations to the foundation. They really didn’t care. UofL in the Atlantic Coast Conference became a crown jewel, they wanted it and they got it.”

With the Board of Trustees now under the thumb of J. David Grissom, a financial advisor to many of the community’s wealthiest families, Hughes’ theory definitely has credibility, even given all the charges of financial mismanagement and malfeasance that has been alleged. There’s no denying that UofL is now under much different oversight.

Not that that is necessarily a bad thing. Getting the community’s blue bloods invested in the future of the school would be a very positive development. Opening up new relationships and even deeper purses may be just what the University of Louisville needs to achieve higher levels of excellence. Some have criticized the school’s success in athletics, believing it may have impacted UofL’s lack of respect in academic circles. Some believed Tom Jurich’s fundraising success in athletics was crippling contributions to academics. Ironic coming from John Schnatter, who pledged $19 million in Papa John’s stock to UofL athletics.

The board most prominent recent hire, that of Neeli Bendapudi as the school’s 18th President, appears to have been a master stroke. She’s an individual with a successful track record of fundraising at the University of Kansas. But equally important, she seems to have the ability to communicate effectively with people from all walks of life. Plus, she has indicated that she very much wants UofL’s success in athletics to continue.

It’s going to take a while for Vince Tyra to  be loved by Louisville fans as much as Tom Jurich. But Tyra has been effective in retaining successful coaches and unquestionably wants UofL athletics to continue competing at the highest levels. Consider the school fortunate to have such an individual eager to step up when UofL needed him most.

Chris Mack, the new UofL basketball coach, is the exact opposite of Rick Pitino in many ways. But like Pitino he’s certainly not bashful when it comes to challenges while acknowledging the Louisville job and fan base as among the best in the nation.

Even some of the board’s most ardent critics have admitted that these hires were great choices, giving many of them second thoughts about the motivations of some board members. Could it be that the old money crowd actually knows what it’s doing, cares about the school and wants UofL to pursue even higher aspirations?

The people currently in control have had much to deal with over the past two years, making some difficult decisions. They’ve done it in a difficult environment, and their decisions have not always been popular.  Be they business or civic leaders, they are responsible to putting UofL back on the right path to respectability and prosperity.

Grissom recently decided the board, having successfully dealt with many of the school’s issues, would no longer have to meet monthly, going back to the old schedule of meeting quarterly. That’s another good sign, indicating that the Board of Trustees has high levels of trust in Neeli Bendapudi’s leadership abilities.

Now with so many of the problems in the past, the University can begin to restore many of the relationships that made the progress possible in the past two decades. Bendapudi may be the right person in the right place at the right time, with her unique ability to relate to the old money crowd and the everyday fan and supporter.

Time to look forward again, this time with a deeper base of support.

Padgett returns confidence, optimism to Louisville basketball

David Padgett is going to quickly win over University of Louisville basketball fans. A breath of fresh air, observed one of them following the press conference, apparently having had his fill of hyperbole from another era.

David Padgett didn’t expect to be where he is but he’s going to make the most of the opportunity.

Padgett would, in fact, provide solid reason for optimism during a week of mostly despair for University of Louisville basketball fans. Hope for everyone who treasures this university and regrets the way UofL is being perceived by outsiders these days.

That being former UofL player David Padgett who was announced as the team’s interim basketball coach late Friday afternoon.While admitting he hadn’t slept in 72 hours, Padgett brought with him a sense of calm and purpose, giving Cardinals’ fans reason for hope, stilling the troubled waters for at least a few minutes.

“This is a very special team. I’ve never seen a group of kids come together like these kids the last three days,” he said. “They’re excited about getting back to playing basketball. Probably the most unique group I’ve ever been around. I honestly don’t know if any other group of players could have gone through what they have this week.”

Padgett knows the community is going to embraces this team, too, having experienced the passion 14 years ago when he transferred to UofL after a coaching change at Kansas.

“This city has embraced me. This university embraced me when I was a student-athlete here. It’s embraced me since I came back as an employee. I met my wife here, her whole family lives here, one of my children was born here. So, this is definitely my home and I care deeply about this city and this university.”

“I told the team that if you put forth the effort I know you’re capable of and you handle yourselves in a professional, this city will rally around you in a way you’ve never seen before. I firmly believe that because I’ve seen it as a player, I’ve seen it as a coach and I’ve seen it in other sports.

“That’s exactly what this team needs. They are 18 and 19-year-old kids and it’s a tough time for them right now. They need that support and they need that love from this city, and they will get it.”

The best thing for them is that practice will begin on Sunday, enabling the players to focus on actual basketball instead of the darkness that engulfed the University following the suspensions of Coach Rick Pitino and Vice President of Athletics Tom Jurich.

“It’s been a dark week at UofL; there’s no other thing to say about that. It’s been very trying for a lot of people, for the university, this city, this program, the athletic department,” he said. “But, we’re getting through it … we’re going back to work and we look forward to moving forward and getting on with basketball season and continuing to having great success in the athletic department.”

Padgett totally committed the next six or seven months, not knowing what lies beyond that. “We’re going to try to go out and win as many games as possible and we’re looking forward to the challenge,” he said.

Here’s to David Padgett, interim basketball coach, University of Louisville.

Jurich decision not to fire Pitino costly for Louisville athletics

Interim President Greg Postel (at podium) and Board Chairman J. David Grissom (at left) at press conference on suspensions. (Charlie Springer photo).

The last place any University of Louisville supporter wanted to be on Wednesday was at a press conference on campus announcing the suspensions of Tom Jurich and Rick Pitino. The unbelievable, never-ending nightmare had finally come to this.

Tom Jurich says he’s willing to stay on at the University of Louisville.

There was Interim President Greg Postel at the podium confirming the worst possible news for UofL athletics, that Jurich was no longer in charge, that he was on paid suspension until the next board meeting on Oct. 18th. That Pitino was also suspended but without pay until the same date.

With those announcements, UofL athletics probably ended one era and entered another.  The new era getting off to a shaky start with the program’s clouded by an appeal for mercy to the NCAA and the beginning of an even more serious investigation involving both the NCAA and the Justice Department.

Jurich has faced dozens of serious challenges during his tenure at UofL, but none as big as ones confronting the University now.

Jurich, who had reportedly refused to fire Pitino over the past several weeks, met with Postel earlier in the morning. Whether he was given another opportunity to fire his friend may never be known but the meeting lasted only seven minutes.

Members of the Board of Trustees may have believed having the University involved in a Justice Department investigation was far too serious to ignore. Or they concluded that a second set of NCAA allegations required a clean sweep of both the athletic administration and the basketball program.

At any rate, still another solemn, dark day in University of Louisville history with no one, including we suspect the members of the board of trustees, having a clue about what happens next. Difficult to fault the leadership for acting so decisively, with the FBI reportedly already on campus interviewing members of the basketball staff, as Postel acknowledged during the press conference.

The saddest part of all of this is that most fans may never have a chance to thank Tom Jurich for all he accomplished at the University of Louisville. Over two decades, he was able to transform bits and pieces of hopes and dreams into some incredible realities in the form of physical facilities, incredible successes on the field, and making Louisville competitive in every single sport.

Dreams that many fans didn’t dare verbalize before his arrival in 1997 became commonplace occurrences during his tenure, raising through three different conferences, one new or renovated facility after the other, with successes in both men’s and women’s sports, and in programs led by some of the best coaches available.

Jurich held out some hope that he would return, issuing the following statement Wednesday afternoon:

“For the last 20 years, I have dedicated my life to the University of Louisville. Disappointment does not even come close to describing my feelings surrounding the allegation that any member of the UofL basketball staff could be involved in the criminal conduct announced yesterday. My intent has always been to run every athletic program at the University in an honest and compliant manner. It is heartbreaking to me that the alleged intentional and secret criminal acts can bring such harm to our school.

“I love this University, the Louisville community and all of our fans. I plan to continue to help UofL overcome the challenges it faces and work cooperatively with the University with the support of the UofL Board of Trustees following their meeting on October 19th.”

It is a well-worded statement, with all kinds of nuances, possibly for legal reasons to protect his financial interest. Some clinging to hope that he is sincere about wanting to stick around, imaging how many more things he could accomplish for the University.

Whether he could turn the board is a very long shot, of course, considering that he never seemed to seriously entertain any notions of firing Pitino. He has faced dozens of serious challenges during his tenure at UofL, but none as big as ones confronting the University now. The possibility that he might be willing to tackle them would say much about Tom Jurich’s character and his love for UofL.

Louisville can’t allow NCAA punitive measures to go unchallenged

Rick Pitino has never been one to go down without a fight (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

So much for the University of Louisville being repentant, trying to cooperate with the NCAA and imposing harsh self-punishment on the UofL basketball program. It obviously does not pay to not challenge the NCAA every step of the way on alleged violations.

Nothing UofL could have said or did would have placated the NCAA Committee on Infractions. The committee gave little credence to any actions taken by the school to show contrition. The members were apparently determined from the beginning to administer the harshest punishment possible to the basketball program.

Rick Pitino says he has lost a lot of respect for the NCAA during the investigation of the program (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

In essence, the committee members were saying to the University of Louisville Coach Rick Pitino that they didn’t believe him, that he was aware of the violations, that he allowed them to continue, and that he was personally culpable for Andre McGee’s actions. 

They also were throwing the middle finger to Acting UofL President Greg Poster, Vice President of Athletics Tom Jurich, and all University of Louisville basketball fans. As if these individuals condoned what went on in the early morning hours at Billy Minardi Hall, as if they were not embarrassed, sickened and disgusted by the activities. As if they were all equally to blame for the abhorrent behavior.

The committee chair was angry at Andre McGee for not cooperating so they took it out on everybody else associated with the program.  My, how the actions of one or couple of individuals can affect not only a basketball program, but the people who entrusted them and thousands of fans wanting only the right things for their university.

Perhaps even worse is to be judged by a panel of individuals sitting in judgement who appear to have ignored all the steps taken by the university to get to the facts. So appalled by the societal issues that they never get past their initial reactions, making them collectively impotent, incapable of rendering a fair or appropriate decision.

“The penalty far exceeded our expectation,” said Chuck Smrt, a UofL consultant and former NCAA investigator. “The severity of the penalties exceeds the severity of this case.”

The proposed punishment was drawn up by a subcommittee of seven members of the Committee on Infractions. Few, if any, people outside that small group know how the process worked. The guess here is that Carol Cartwright, former President of Bowling Green University and Kent State, drafted the recommendations and they were rubber-stamped by the other members. No one outside the small group apparently questioned whether the punishment fit the crime.

Acting President Greg Postel promised a vigorous appeal of the NCAA action (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Acting UofL President Greg Postel said the NCAA action will be vigorously appealed. “We believe the penalties imposed today are unfair to the UofL community and our current and former student-athletes, many of whom have already paid a heavy price for actions that did not involve them,” he said. “This ruling is also unfair to Coach Pitino, who we believe could not have known about the illicit activities.

Rick Pitino was understandably shocked by the severity of the proposed penalties. “For 35 years I’ve had faith in the NCAA, but in the recent past, they have made some decisions that are unjust,” he said. “I’ve lost a lot of trust and I’m going to put all my faith and beliefs in the appeals committee. What’s in this report (from the Committee on Infractions) is way over the top and inconceivable. We believe we will win the appeal.”

Tom Jurich has taken University of Louisville athletics to new heights during his 17 year tenure (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Tom Jurich, who has taken the UofL athletic program to new levels during his tenure, was obviously still numb an hour after the penalties were announced. Anyone who has accompanied him on this journey had to empathize with him, knowing how open and honest he is, how effective he has been, with UofL enjoying unprecedented success and growth in all 22 sports across the department. 

Sadly, only to have Louisville basketball embarrassed by an irresponsible former player and have an out-of-touch NCAA committee attempt to erase the program’s crowning moments.

*    *   *

The seven members of the Committee on Infractions subcommittee, which recommended the penalties on the UofL basketball program, were:

–Chairperson Dr. Carol Cartwright, former President of Bowling Green State University and Kent State University.
–William Bock III, attorney with Kroger, Gardis & Regas. an Indianapolis, Indiana law firm, and a graduate of Michigan.
–Greg Christopher, athletic director, Xavier University.
–Thomas Hill, Senior Vice President for Student Affairs, Iowa State University.
–Stephen Madva, attorney and managing partner, Montgomery, McCracken, Walker & Rhoads, in Philadelphia.
–Joe Novak, former head football coach, Northern Illinois University.
–Larry Parkinson, Director of Enforcement, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Fortunately for everyone affected, the appeals process goes through another committee.

Louisville’s new prep basketball academy has lofty aspirations

Jeremy Kipness and his father, Michael, hold the championship trophy for winning the Elite 1 Fall Showcase in Phoenix last year.

Between racing dates at Churchill Downs, Jeremy Kipness is keeping a close eye out for real estate listings in the Louisville area. He and his father, Michael, are in the process of bringing the Aspire Basketball Academy to town.

They are intense fans when it comes to thoroughbred horse racing and prep school and college basketball. The academy is moving here from Scottsdale, Ariz., for the 2017-18 academic year.

While Jeremy was attending the Kentucky Oaks with his good friend Luke Hancock last Friday, Michael was selling his selections and analysis for the Kentucky Oaks, the Kentucky Derby as well as the 25 under-card races that made up this two-day racing extravaganza.

Michael, better known as “The Wizard,” is considered the most successful and respected professional handicapper in the world. He has been selling his thoroughbred racing selections since 1987, including the last year’s partnering with The Daily Racing Form, horseracing’s premier horse-racing publication.

“Jeremy and Luke are the closest of friends,” said Michael. “Luke is like a second son to me.”

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