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.

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Jurich still prefers an on-campus basketball arena for Louisville basketball

Would anyone be surprised if Tom Jurich has not already commissioned artistic renderings of a new basketball arena for Belknap Campus in case the University of Louisville agreement with KFC Yum! Center were to fall through.

The rendering would be of a first class, state-of-the-art arena, of course, with all the “wow factors” that Jurich insists on when considering any new facility. My guess is that the new campus arena includes approximately 19,200 seats and will fit comfortably on the 13.5-acre site previously occupied by the silos.

UofL already owns the land and an arena at that location would be much easier and affordable to construct than downtown. Plenty of room on the site, too, for a hotel and conference center, including all the parking spaces needed for all the new facilities. 

The site would be convenient for the men’s and women’s basketball teams, just minutes from the practice facilities and the dormitories. Great for the volleyball team, too, as well as for other indoor sports.

 Jurich is not in any rush to abandon the KFC Yum! Center where UofL men’s and women’s teams have competed since 2010. But he is tired of hearing some city officials blaming UofL for financial problems with the the arena.

He addressed the issue recently during a meeting of the Central Cardinal Club at the PNC Club at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.

“We have exceeded by many, many steps everything the city has asked of us,” said Jurich. “We brought more events in there, we raised our prices, we’ve given them much more revenue than they could have dreamed, and we’re still the bad guys.”

The likelihood of UofL building an on-campus arena is probably pretty remote, unless the city were to somehow manage to attract an NBA franchise to the city. Some people have been talking about it for 40 years, with no NBA owners or general managers ever expressing serious interest in the city.

Jurich proved a decade ago that he was a “team player” by going along with the downtown arena, despite badly wanting the arena on campus in the first place. He went ahead despite his reservations and better judgement but was able to negotiate excellent terms for UofL. 

No one should doubt Tom Jurich will do everything he can to make the current arrangement with the KFC Yum! Center a long-term success. But they also should not doubt that Jurich firmly believes the best possible place for a basketball arena is on the University of Louisville campus.

Louisville football approaches another crossroads

Another one of those “biggest games in University of Louisville football history” coming up Saturday. If UofL wins, there will be several more monster games this season, each bigger that the last.

The Cardinals are facing a Herculean challenge this weekend, facing a fifth-ranked Clemson team that has won 18 games in a row at home. The official capacity of Memorial Stadium is 81,500 but the stadium can accommodate close to 90,000 for a major showdown.

Why is Bobby Petrino smiling?
Why is Bobby Petrino smiling? (Cindy Rice Shelton photo)

This game means everything to Clemson which came within five points of winning a national championship last season. The Tigers know what to expect, they will be highly motivated, and probably playing in front of a record crowd. They will be confident, charged up and expecting to win.

Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, once considered the hands-down favorite for Heisman Trophy, has something to prove, having been overshadowed by UofL’s Lamar Jackson during the first four games. Watson been in the national spotlight many times, and it’s proving time, he’s ready for his moment.

The time for wishful thinking, the coulda, woulda, and shouldas, are hopefully in the past.

The Cardinals rank first in scoring offense (63.9 points per game) and total offense (with 682 yards per game). Clemson, however, ranks among the top 10 in scoring defense (11.0 points), passing defense (125 yards) and is allowing only 92.7 yard rushing per game.

Louisville is currently ranked No. 3 in the Associated Press poll for the second week in a row. The last time UofL was ranked that high was in the poll following a Thursday night win over West Virginia at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium in 2006. The Cardinals weren’t there long, losing a nailbiter the following week at Rutgers.

As much as this game means for Clemson, it means so much more to the University of Louisville. The media frenzy surrounding UofL will become even more insane if the Cardinals beat Clemson, starting out 5-0 overall and 3-0 in the Atlantic Coast Conference, with wins against two teams ranked among the top five in the country.

Ten years between top five rankings is a long time, both times under Bobby Petrino’s leadership. An affirmation of Tom Jurich’s belief that Petrino is one of the best football coaches in the nation. UofL fans have seen a lot of ups and downs, not wanting to gamble on another decade.

Pardon us if we seem to be more than a little anxious about actually beating Clemson. Hard to act like one has been there before when we haven’t been there before.

The time for wishful thinking, coulda, woulda, and shoulda are hopefully in the past. The future is front of us. This Saturday at Clemson.

Adversity takes back seat to Jurich at University of Louisville

When he’s announcing a contract extension for one of his coaches, Tom Jurich often says he likes to judge people on how they handle adversity. The University of Louisville athletic director has been quite adept at negotiating through tough times himself lately.

At the Bobby Petrino press conference,  Jurich said he was most impressed with how Petrino handled himself when his team was 0-3 at the beginning of the 2015 season.

Tom Jurich and Matt Thornton at ribbon cutting for the Thornton's Academic Center for Excellence.
Tom Jurich and Matt Thornton at ribbon cutting for the Thornton’s Academic Center for Excellence.

“We were winless and the ship could have gone in a much different direction,” said Jurich. “Bobby kept everybody together, kept the kids’ heads raised up high, with great attitudes, and we finished very strong, beating Texas A&M in that bowl game. I really look to evaluate people when the chips are down.”

Like when there seems to be a dark cloud hovering over Belknap Campus for a while now. A time that creates uncertainty on many fronts, that would not surprisingly pose a severe test of loyalty from an individual as highly respected as Tom Jurich nationally.

The local newspaper, knowing UofL is popular with its readers, has become predictable lately, posting any and all bad news about UofL on the front page.  Issues like a dysfunctional board of trustees. the dumping of one board for another, employee thefts and lawsuits, the NCAA investigation of the basketball program, the state audit of the UofL Foundation, a President who defied the media and was forced to resign, and, most recently, the announcement of IRS investigations.

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Bill Olsen made football survival and growth his priority at UofL

Good to see Bill Olsen again at the recent Crawford Gym reunion for former University of Louisville basketball players. He was a former player himself and an assistant to Denny Crum, but his most lasting contribution may have been to the UofL football program.

Bill Olsen created foundation for Louisville football.
Bill Olsen created foundation for Louisville football.

Among the highlights during his tenure as Athletic Director from 1981 to 1997 was the hiring of Howard Schnellenberger, who would serve as head football coach for a decade and thrash Alabama in the 1991 Fiesta Bowl.

Olsen would also launch the effort to obtain an on-campus stadium for the football program, convincing local banker Malcolm Chancey to head the fundraising campaign. More than 4,000 fans pledged nearly $15 million for lifetime seating rights in the initial phase of the stadium fundraising effort in May of 1993.

These were followed by major gifts from Papa John’s, Brown & Williamson Tobacco, the Brown Foundation, Anheuser Busch, Bank One, Kiel Brothers Oil Inc./BP, and United Parcel Service. Significant contributions also came from McDonald’s, Pepsi Cola, Dr. Ben Reid, Kentucky Kingdom and the City of Louisville and Jefferson County. The only assistance from the state came in the form of a land swap for adjacent acreage.

His primary challenge upon accepting the post was just keeping football viable.  The basketball program was at its zenith, having captured national championships in 1980 and 1986. When he became AD, football tickets sold for $3 each. Attendance was about 15,000 per game.  His goal was to amp up the football program in a big way.

“The only games we ever made money were those against Western Kentucky, and we didn’t play them every year,” he says. “We were facing some significant challenges.”

Birth of Tailgating at UofL

He recalled that Tommy Carroll, former president of the University of Louisville Associates, conceived the idea of tailgating. A marketing committee was created by Charlie Herd, of the Chamber of Commerce. Among the members were Maury Buchart, then Vice President of Marketing at the Courier-Journal, Bob Goetz, also of the CJ, and Mike Brown, of Pepsi.

“The marketing committee suggested that we start promoting the tailgating concept, making them social events as well,” said Olsen. “Many other schools were tailgating but we had just never done it.”

The committee urged Chamber businesses to get involved. Among them was WHAS Radio. Wayne Perkey, Milton Metz and other station celebrities manned a tailgating area, selling sandwiches and cold drinks for 84 cents. U of L also encouraged the cheerleaders and Lady Birds to mingle with crowd and got the band to march through the crowd around old Fairgrounds Stadium. Many groups of friends and families quickly gravitated to the idea of food fests, and it ballooned from there.

“We also put up billboards,” he says. “The images on the first billboard consisted only of a leaf falling on a football. The theme was ‘Six Super Saturdays.’ We stayed away from the inferior product on the field and focused on the atmosphere surrounding the game.”

“Tailgating just continued to grow. People loved it. Some of them enjoyed it so much they never went into the stadium for the game. We became one of the best tailgating schools in the country.”

Football attendance had grown to between 28,000 – 30,000 in the years when Olsen retired in 1997, providing a foundation for even more phenomenal growth under Tom Jurich, his predecessor.

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Tommy Carroll, Sr.
Tommy Carroll, Sr.

Tommy Carroll, mentioned above, passed away this week at the age of 93. He was a member of the UofL Athletic Hall of Fame, having played football, baseball and track. He was also honored with the Hickman-Camp Award for his support and volunteerism.