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.
One couldn’t watch the Tom Jurich interview on WHAS-11 News and not feel that a great wrong has been inflicted on Tom and University of Louisville fans. Such a miscarriage for him to go out this way.
Twenty years of total dedication to the school’s athletic program, building a national brand, providing premium facilities, attracting quality coaches and athletes. Tom Jurich out following a clumsy restructuring of the Board of Trustees and the crushing blow of still another basketball scandal.
Gone, 20 years gone, after a two- or three-minute meeting with Interim President Greg Postel, a letter with a bunch of trumped up charges, asked to exit the campus immediately, leaving his work and his personal belongings in an office that remains sealed to this day.
David Grissom, John Schnatter and Greg Postel can skate for a while. But sooner or later each of them is going to have to answer for their harsh treatment of a local hero recognized nationally for his good works. As well they should. The ugly treatment of Tom Jurich is felt and shared throughout the community.
Tom saying his family plans to stay in Louisville, that he still loves and will always cheer for the University of Louisville. No ill will, no words of disparagement for those who tossed him out like a sack of garbage, just bewilderment and hurt for a man who moved the program light years from when he accepted the job.
Asked if the fans were owed an apology for the scandal, Jurich took advantage of the opportunity to offer one. Taking advantage of a rare public appearance to say he was sorry — for something that was not his fault. His responsibility maybe, but not his fault.
Doubtful, however, that he will ever receive an apology for the way he was made to leave the campus without even a goodbye to his coaches and staff.
Louisville is extremely fortunate to have had Jurich. He’s not leaving the city. One can expect him to continue to promote the University at every opportunity if at all possible. It’s an integral part of who he is, a big part of his family, with three kids who graduated from the school, including son Mark who still works there.
Tom Jurich wants only what is best for the school, making his personal concerns secondary to the University. We’re fairly certain the same thing could not be said about many of the other characters in this ongoing ordeal.
Tom Jurich may have done his job too well at the University of Louisville, helping to transform a sleepy urban school into a dynamic university campus. Also making it a target for at least one business magnate, giving millions to the school on one hand while questioning the motives of UofL leadership on the other.
Jurich arrived as UofL Athletic Director in 1997, and under this leadership, the program enjoyed an era of growth unrivaled in the University’s history. Creating a plethora of new athletic facilities while claiming championships in three different conferences and thriving on a national stage.
His football hires would lead UofL to major BCS wins, including the Orange and Sugar bowls, and numerous top 20 finishes. UofL would return from obscurity in college basketball to national prominence, including four final fours, and a national championship in 2013. Baseball, soccer and women’s basketball were ranked among the top 10 annually. The swimming program well represented on Olympic teams.
Easily one of the most popular individuals in the Louisville area, Jurich used his popularity and the power that came with it to promote the school. A small group of individuals accused him of using bullying tactics but, if so, it was on rare occasions, most likely to overcome impediments to UofL’s growth.
While all these things were happening, UofL was becoming the most dynamic institution in the community, with prestige and influence at all-time highs. As great as that was for the school, the success was creating some resentment from some in the development community. Some believing they were competing at a disadvantage against a public institution. Including some people on the Board of Trustees.
Some key members of some old money families were also reported to becoming resentful of the school’s growth, as well as some of the nouveau riche, the new upstarts wanting to have their say. Some in elite circles purportedly wanting to get rid of President Jim Ramsey in favor of Matthew Barzun, former U.S. ambassador to Great Britain with family ties to old Louisville money.
Emily Bingham, daughter of former newspaper publisher Barry Bingham, Jr., joining forces in opposition to Ramsey as well. Some suspect they were using their political clout in Frankfort and their influence with the Courier-Journal in successful attempts to skewer Ramsey and to embarrass the school at every opportunity.
The inevitable result was the former Board of Trustees becoming factionalized and dysfunctional. Governor Matt Bevin would appoint a totally new board after Ramsey sought his help. But Ramsey’s efforts may have backfired with Bevin’s selection of new trustees, one of their first acts removing Ramsey from office.
That was probably the beginning of the end for Jurich, who on the day following Ramsey’s ouster celebrated the opening of the $17 million Thornton’s Academic Center on the south end of Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. Ramsey had trusted Jurich implicitly, giving him total autonomy, and suddenly Ramsey was gone.
Among the new trustees was John Schnatter, whose company’s name had adorned the stadium from the beginning. Over the years, Schnatter had become more demanding, wanting to make personal appearances, driving his souped-up Camaro, engine roaring, into the end zone at half times, passing out pizzas in the stands. He even demanded that his company’s name be gaudily painted in giant letters on the roof of Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.
Schnatter, it was suspected, was not happy that the parent company of a competitor had its name on the KFC Yum! Center where UofL plays basketball. The company that owns Pizza Hut also has its name on the UofL basketball practice center on Belknap Campus.
He also had argued from the beginning against the location of the downtown arena on the riverfront, siding with leading businessman David Jones, Sr., that the best location was the water company site. Having the name of a competitor wind up on the arena in that exact location had to be even more bothersome.
By some reports, Schnatter and Jurich had had as little to do with each other as possible. The fundraising for the latest expansion of Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium was so successful that a contribution wasn’t sought from Schnatter for the north end zone addition.
Schnatter, meanwhile, always making a big show of arriving at the stadium in his helicopter, usually late, several minutes after kickoff, circling the stadium before landing near where the old silos stood. He reportedly never received a go-ahead for a closer landing spot to the stadium but he was attracting attention.
Instead of praising Jurich and hailing the athletic department’s success as an example for the rest of the school, Schnatter was an early detractor. It was Schnatter who made the initial accusations that there were major problems in the athletic department. Made them after meeting with Interim President Greg Postel. Saying Postel had told him Jurich was invisible. Schnatter told the board that the athletic department was a major cause of the problems at UofL. “Get the athletic department in line and everything else at the school will fall in line,” he said, or words to that effect.
Some suspect the real problems in the athletic department were a figment of Schnatter’s imagination. That he wanted more recognition and respect for all the dollars he had contributed to athletics and the school. He never indicated what his real beef was with Tom Jurich.
We will never know if Governor Bevin was aware of Schnatter’s concerns when he appointed him to the new board. It may have seemed like a logical choice at the time, with Schnatter having donated almost $25 million to UofL academics and athletics. One has to wonder, however, if the appointment was a major mistake on the Administration’s part, unnecessarily adding to the chaos at the school.
Despite Jurich’s successes, his fate was sealed when the Justice Department suddenly became interested in the world of college basketball recruiting, leading to quick suspensions of him and Coach Rick Pitino. That would give their detractors all the cover they needed to get rid of them.
All of the enormous accomplishments of Jurich over 20 years not counting for much. The board hadn’t been a part of the success, and lacked perspective. It did, unfortunately, include one of the school’s wealthiest contributors not happy with the athletic director.
One has been told that Schnatter is not the wise acre that he comes off as in board meetings, that he’s a smart individual who didn’t luck into becoming a billionaire. He has yet to prove, however, that he has the best interests of the school in mind, with his seemingly wild accusations about a program that had come so far under Jurich.
Earning the respect and gratitude of people passionate about the University of Louisville will not come easily for Schnatter. Many of UofL’s fans and supporters are hurting and angry right now, apprehensive about the future with Tom Jurich no longer around.
Leadership is about preparing for the future, not laying waste to the past.
Make no mistake, there should be no confusion. Keeping Tom Jurich is the right thing to do.
Surely common sense will prevail, and the Board of Trustees will retain him as Vice President of Athletics at the University of Louisville. There are no guarantees, however, that what’s best for the school will prevail these days.
The notion of someone seriously entertaining the notion of firing Jurich is outlandish, insulting to the school’s alumni and supporters. Over two decades he has garnered unprecedented support, making UofL the most dynamic institution in the community.
But these are not normal times, what’s up is down, what’s backward is forward, what’s out is in, bad taste is in good taste, what was once repugnant is considered the norm, and good people are often construed as bad actors. Crazy times.
Why Tom Jurich would want to go back to work for David Grissom and Greg Postel, the people reportedly wanting his job, is almost beyond comprehension. These are individuals who apparently consider the success of the athletic department a negative, unable to comprehend the positive role of sports in UofL’s rapid growth.
To people who have been a part of this success, enjoyed all the new facilities, all the outstanding athlete and all the wins during Jurich’s tenure, the intentions of Grissom and Postel are counterproductive. So intent on seizing total control of the University that they are willing to sacrifice someone who can ensure the school’s development continues.
What I have never understood is why Grissom and Postel could not appreciate the success of the athletic department. Why they couldn’t look at that success and want to emulate it for the rest of the University. Why they felt compelled to challenge the individual who made it happen. Why they wouldn’t want to get this individual in their camp, work with him and get him involved in resolving many of the school’s other challenges.
Grissom and Postel appear to share a similar management philosophy, wanting to clean house of people in power from the previous administration. Ignoring what they have done and what they can do, believing they know what’s best. Based on some obscure business principles from some antiquated management courses. What they haven’t been able to do, however, is convince UofL supporters and fans that they have the school’s best interests in mind.
The only agenda Tom Jurich has is to continue the incomparable growth and success of the school’s athletic program. He wants to be there when UofL cuts the ribbon on the 10,000-seat expansion of Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium and when another 3,000-seat expansion of Jim Patterson Stadium is completed.
He wants to be there when UofL teams are competing for national championships, when UofL athletes are competing for gold medals. He needs to be there to ensure the right person is hired for the next UofL coaching vacancy. He wants to be there to help guide the basketball program back from the current crisis.
“I love this University, the Louisville community and all of our fans,” said Jurich in a recent statement. “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 … ”
That is why he wants to return, even if means answering to Grissom and Postel. Something anyone other than a UofL fan would have a hard time believing.
Based on his track record, Tom Jurich deserves the opportunity to return to do the job he loves. There is no better option for members of the Board of Trustees, nor for the University of Louisville.
We may never know how many people were interviewed by the school to fill the acting athletic director’s role during Tom Jurich’s suspension.
Nor should we care because Vince Tyra appears to have been an amazing hire.
Uniquely qualified in so many ways, for either the short-term or the long haul, ready to totally immerse himself in his new post as Acting Athletic Director at the University of Louisville.
He’s a life-long UofL fan who closely follows the school’s academic and athletic programs, wanting to take them to the highest levels. He hails from a UofL family and the son of the basketball program’s first consensus All-American basketball player.
And he admires and respects Tom Jurich for what he has accomplished at UofL, considering Jurich among the best in the business.
“I’m passionate about UofL athletics, I grew up a Cardinals’ fan, raised my kids as Cardinals’ fans,” he said during a Tuesday press conference at Bigelow Hall on Belknap Campus. “Tom is a good friend. His legacy is all around us. While this has been a difficult period for us, it’s a time for our fan base to dig in even deeper. It’s a time for us to be even more supportive.
“While this is a difficult process of what we’re going through, we have a terrific set of athletic programs all across the board. One of them may have a flat tire right now, but we will prop it back up. I’m looking forward to work with David Padgett.”
Tyra’s 80-year old mother still attends every UofL basketball game and he said she cheers like her late husband Charlie Tyra is still playing for the Cardinals. His father averaged more 20 points and 20 rebounds per game during his junior and senior seasons, leading Louisville to a National Invitation Tournament championship in his junior year.
Vince has blazed his own trail, has been enormously successful in business, serving as Chief Executive Officer for five companies, most recently as operating partner in Southfield Capital and as an advisor to ISCO Industries where he served as president. He was also president of retail and active wear at Fruit of the Loom.
When a new board was appointed for the University of Louisville Foundation last year, Tyra was named chairman of the ULF’s finance committee, establishing new guidelines to control spending and to restore credibility with major university donors.
After leaving a ULF board meeting last week, Tyra walked down to the baseball field where he met with UofL Coach Dan McDonnell. “We stood on the field and just talked. I know he’s a leader among our coaches. We’ve got a great group of coaches, many of them have been here more than 10 years. I’m going to enjoy working with all of them.”
It was obvious during his introductory press conference that Vince Tyra is an individual who has considered himself a part of the University of Louisville family. He was convincing when he said very much appreciates what Tom Jurich has done for the school.
One got the feeling that while he would devote a great deal of energy to the job and probably be enormously successful, Vince Tyra would have no problem stepping aside if Tom Jurich were allowed to return and continue his life’s work. They share a common interest, first and foremost, in seeing UofL thrive and prosper again.