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.

Jurich refused to bad mouth UofL during some tough times

Tom Jurich remained loyal to his friends and to the University of Louisville even when at least one individual in his employ made major mistakes and after he was fired by the Board of Trustees and erroneously accused of wrongdoing by an interim administrator.

Loyal after his trust was betrayed, resisting the urge to be critical, remaining positive about the University. Told to leave a job he treasured, depart a campus he had transformed, and an athletic department that he had revamped and molded into a collegiate powerhouse during his 20 years on the job.   

Tom Jurich’s affinity for UofL remained strong despite everything that happened (Charlie Springer photos).

Doubtful Tom will ever fully recover from the awful shock and the hurt he suffered in the early morning hours of October 18  when he was dismissed from UofL. That was a dark day for everyone involved, everyone associated with the school.

Unfortunately, it took the threat of a lawsuit for the Board of Trustees to make up for some of the injustices. There were still no apologies, but the Trustees approved a settlement with Jurich. The arrangement stipulates that he will receive no less than $4.5 million, ending any litigation between the two parties.

Jurich deserved, and could have commanded, much more than he finally received.

The settlement also calls for Jurich to get no less than $911,000 from his Deferred Compensation Plan and another $1.76 million to be paid out over the next eight years, as well as health coverage until he and his wife are eligible for Medicare.  He will also receive eight club level season ticket licenses for UofL football and basketball games for the next 20 years.

Equally important, the agreement also changes the reason for his exit from the university from “fired with cause” to “terminated without cause due to resignation.”  The letter of dismissal will be removed from his personnel file.

Louisville is fortunate that Jurich is the person he is.  He could have allowed the lawsuit to continue, possibly collecting tens of millions in more dollars from the school. Jurich deserved, and could have commanded, much more than he finally received.

The gut feeling here is that Tom had no desire to inflict more than financial or reputational harm to the University than has already occurred. He’s just that kind of individual, and he continues to have strong feelings for UofL, still wanting the school to grow and prosper. 

We have missed seeing Tom and his son Mark around the campus. Let’s hope they will use those football and basketball tickets often in the future.

Tom and Mark Jurich’s gifting goes beyond their donations

Tom and Mark Jurich were enormously successful in getting their fellow Louisvillians to share their collective vision for UofL athletics, attracting tens of millions of dollars for new and improved facilities, enabling the school’s team to compete at the highest levels and in state of the art facilities.

Mark Jurich announces the addition of Thornton’s as the major donor to the Academic Center for Excellence. He also was instrumental in getting Makers Mark as a early sponsor of the project. (CardGame photo).

But how much did Tom and Mark personally contribute out of their own money to the school? We now know, thanks to an open records request to the University of Louisville. First, however, a brief reminder of what they accomplished for the University.

Tom, who was fired in October, will be remembered as the athletic administrator who guided the University of Louisville out of the wilderness of college athletics and the makeshift conferences to a seat at the big table and membership in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Over nearly two decades, Jurich transformed Belknap Campus with new, expanded or greatly enhanced facilities in every sport, including basketball, football, baseball, soccer, track and field, softball and lacrosse.  UofL is competing seventh season in the KFC Yum! Center and nearing completion of a third expansion of Cardinal Stadium.

His son Mark Jurich, who was fired earlier this month, was a All-America baseball player at UofL. He joined the Athletic Department as an intern in 2004, advancing to senior associate athletic director for development and overseeing the Cardinal Athletic Fund. It was easy to see Mark being offered an athletic director position at a major school or succeeding his dad at UofL.

The younger Jurich oversaw numerous major fundraising efforts, including Lynn Stadium for soccer, the expansions of Cardinal Stadium and Jim Patterson Stadium, as well as the Thornton’s Academic Center of Excellence.

Now about those individual financial contributions:

According to the Open Records response, Tom officially contributed a total of $5,040 to the University during his time at the University. The total included $3,940 for athletics and a one-time gift of $1,000 to the UofL Foundation.

Tom’s contribution total to athletics included a $1,250 check in 2005 for the expansion of Jim Patterson Stadium, a $1,360 donation in 2010 for women’s field hockey, two checks for $500 and checks for $250 and $80 for the women’s golf team. He also wrote a check for $100 for a dance marathon benefiting UofL Medical School research.

Mark officially contributed a total of $5,500 to athletic department projects starting in 2009. Those contributions include $2,000 for Cardinal Stadium expansion, $1,500 for Jim Patterson Stadium expansion, and $1,900 for women’s field hockey.

Whether those contribution totals are commensurate with the money they were making from the school or soliciting for UofL is for someone else to decide. Some would argue that individuals are not expected to make financial contributions to their employers. Others would counter that they should have been giving more when they were so frequently asking for money from the community. 

Difficult to argue against either of those positions. What no one can seriously question, however, is how much better the University of Louisville is today because of their work and overall contribution to UofL athletics.

Enormous and far-ranging, forever raising the bar for those who will follow Tom and Mark Jurich at UofL.

Schnatter could benefit from tour of University of Louisville campus

Despite all the negativity occurring in the administration building across campus, the expansion of Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium is continuing — right on schedule and within budget — much to the chagrin of at least one prominent local resident.

Thanks to the vision of Tom Jurich, former Vice President of Athletics, the University of Louisville football program will have one of the finest facilities in the country. The 10,000-seat addition to the north end zone will be concrete reminder of what Jurich accomplished during his 20 years and a symbol of what the University can become again.

John Schnatter in a position to make some positive things happen at UofL, offsetting some of his previous actions.

However, John Schnatter, who heads the company that branded the stadium, continues to badmouth the expansion. His logic is that expanding the stadium is bad when faculty salaries have been flat over the last decade — the old argument of academics vs. athletics. Never mind that the $55 million expansion is fully funded by private donations.

Schnatter appears to be unaware of construction of a new four-story, $83 million classroom facility which will be open for the fall semester of the 2018 academic year. That’s the same date as the completion of a $30 million update and expansion of the Student Activities Center.

These academic facilities, combined with the stadium expansion, will greatly enhance Belknap Campus, making UofL a much more attractive destination for prospective students. The campus has already been recognized as one of the nation’s most beautiful campuses by Travel & Leisure magazine.

Schnatter continues to be a negative voice on the Board of Trustees, despite being the driving force behind the inexplicable dismissal of Jurich. One suspects that Schnatter was angry because he was not asked to donate to an expansion of the stadium that bears his company’s name.

If that’s the case, Schnatter had exacted his revenge. As a member of the Board of Trustees, it is time for him to get about the business of helping to restore the University to its former greatness and financial stability. There should be no place on the UofL board for someone who seems to hold a grudge against the school.

Many of the current issues, including the decline in donations, have exacerbated since the David Grissom-headed board was appointed in January 2017. Schnatter, apparently at Grissom’s encouragement,  has allowed himself to be used as a wedge, further damaging the reputation of  the athletic department.

He resigned from the UofL Athletic Association board in April 2017 without any explanation. However, he’s still on the UofL Board of Trustees and the University of Louisville Foundation Board of Directors. One wonders if he is so unhappy with the school how much longer he will continue in those positions.

Schnatter has done a lot for UofL, having contributed almost $25 million to the school, including $19.1 for naming rights to the stadium. He’s obviously wealthy enough and in key positions to do more. There is so much much he can do, and UofL has never needed his support more than it does now.

Time for some constructive leadership from Papa John.

Tom Jurich should be there for first game in expanded PCJS

Tom Jurich watches as his son, Mark, announces the Thornton’s sponsorship of the Academic Center in 2013 (Charlie Springer photos).

The massive edifice of the north end zone expansion at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium is impressive. Even more so under the lights during a recent home game. A striking preview into the future of University of Louisville football.

When viewing the concrete and steel framework, it’s impossible not to think about Tom Jurich’s impact on the University.  Making UofL athletics nationally competitive in almost every sport, consistently among the top 20 in basketball, baseball, soccer and football.

One has to regret that Tom, who had the vision and the optimism to tackle the project, will probably not be on hand for the official opening on the stadium, which is scheduled Sept. 9, 2018.

Of all the projects TJ has undertaken, this may have been the one he wanted the most. The expansion will be a stunning addition to the stadium,  with the addition of 10,000 seats, including 1,000 club seats, 70 premium boxes and 12 exclusive field-level suites.

One is optimistic that Tom’s son, Mark Jurich, will be an integral part of the ribbon-cutting ceremonies and for the opening home game. Tom had put him in charge of the project, fundraising and all, and he appears to be right on target in terms of fundraising and construction.

What would make the event even more special would be for Tom Jurich there as well. Interim Athletic Director Vince Tyra has said Tom is a good friend and he greatly admires what he accomplished at UofL. Tyra should do everything he can do to make that happen.