Tom Jurich with another milestone, a million for UofL baseball coach

Appropriate that the backdrop to a press conference announcing a big raise and contract extension for Dan McDonnell would be a blowup of a happy University of Louisville baseball player.

A day after Tom Jurich announced that he would fight any effort by the University of Texas to lure McDonnell away from UofL, the vice president of athletics was announcing a new $1 million salary and a 10-year contract for the Louisville baseball coach.

Dan McDonnell now among college baseball's highest paid coaches.
Dan McDonnell now among college baseball’s highest paid coaches.

The background photo just happened to be John Dao, a co-captain of the 2009 UofL baseball team which came within two wins of making it to a second College World Series. Appropriate that Dao is in a celebratory mood because McDonnell evokes that kind of support from current and former players.

“If there’s a better coach out there than Dan McDonnell in the baseball world, I have not seen him,” said Jurich. “His players are always excited, they always come to win. He instills his own confidence in them.”

Under McDonnell, who is 453-189 in 10 seasons at the helm, UofL has won seven regular season conference championships. including back-to-back ACC titles, and been to three College World Series.

Former UofL baseball player Mark Jurich joins current players for the press conference.
Former UofL baseball player Mark Jurich joins current players for the press conference.

“He loves winning, he’s averaged over 45 wins over the last 10 years,” Jurich continued. “But what I think what he’s done for those young men is more important than any of those wins or any of those world series’ trips. He’s very thankful, he’s very spiritual and he knows exactly what he wants. He’s just a great coach and an exceptional leader of young men.”

McDonnell said Jurich is always two steps ahead of him, anticipating the program’s needs and encouraging his coaches to aim high.

“You gotta have players,” said McDonnell. “Baseball is a players’ game. I can’t call a fancy offensive scheme, I can’t call a double pick, I can’t call an option or a screen pass. You hand the ball to the pitcher and say go get ’em … We don’t have a lot of signs, or make a lot of calls during the game. We trust our kids, we pat ’em on the rear and say play hard. And that formula has worked.”

McDonnell is believed to be among the top three highest paid college baseball coaches.

Jurich breaks silence in a big way

The best news in a few weeks for University of Louisville fans is that Tom Jurich remains aggressive and totally committed.

With all the noxious fumes emanating from the basketball scandal and the attacks on President Jim Ramsey, the University of Louisville’s athletic director had been quiet for a while. Publicly, anyway. But he has obviously been busy behind the scenes.

Tom Jurich fully engaged.
Tom Jurich fully engaged.

Jurich broke the silence on Thursday, announcing a new seven-year contract extension for head football coach Bobby Petrino worth $30.625 million and averaging $4.375 million per season. He also updated fans on the $55 million expansion plan for Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, reporting that almost $20 million has been raised, suggesting the stadium could possibly be completed in time for the 2018 season.

He obviously recognizes the importance of a successful football program to the university’s overall image, and will continue to be aggressive in ensuring that UofL will be a contender, not only in the Atlantic Coast Conference but on the national scene as well.

UofL’s athletic program has come a long way since the late Harry Jones was able to convince Jurich to come to Louisville in 1997. Were it not for Jones’ persistence — TJ turned him down four or five times — Jurich would still be out west. Colorado State, no doubt, would be in the Power 5 conference, celebrating numerous expansions and titles, instead of the obscurity the Mountain West Conference.

All of the turbulence engulfing UofL the past several months has had to have an effect on Jurich. Two of his closest associates — Jim Ramsey and Rick Pitino — have been under constant attack.  If ever there was a time for him to consider other options, no one would have blamed him if he had chosen to do so. He had to hurt personally by the sex scandal within the basketball program and mystified at the illogical attacks on a school administrator who has done wonders for the university, rivaling what Tom has done within the athletic program.

One also has to believe that he remains as privately supportive of Ramsey as he is publicly of his basketball coach.

Back in February, however, Jurich dismissed speculation that he had any interest in a vacancy at the University of Southern California, one of the most prestigious jobs in college athletics. “People say what they want because I’m from there . . . I’m staying right where I am,” he told a local TV station.

There will always be speculation in sports, but one has every reason to believe Jurich when he says he loves the University of Louisville, calling his current position the best job in college athletics. He has made possible some tremendous highs for the school while experiencing more than his share of extreme lows at the university.

Tom Jurich obviously has even bigger plans for the university.

Louisville, Bobby Petrino in contract extension talks

Looking down the road, navigating that collision course.

The University of Louisville Athletic Association has entered into discussions with football coach Bobby Petrino’s to extend his contract on a long-term basis. Terms are being negotiated by the attorneys, but UofL fans are eager to have Petrino around as long as possible.

Petrino signed a six-year contract with an annual $3 million salary in 2014. Since then, he has had two stellar seasons, including a 9-4 finish in his first year and an 8-5 mark last year.Bobby Petrino 11

On extending Petrino’s contract, Tom Jurich, vice president of athletics, said, “I just think he has done a great job.”

“He’s exceeded all my expectations when we brought him back. I knew he had a difficult proposition in front of him – certainly not from a talent standpoint – when he got here, but moving into a new league was a big upgrade for us.

“I’m very pleased with the direction we’re going, and I think we’re really poised for a great future with him.”

The Cardinals have high expectations on the heels of last year’s 8-5 season and the Music City Bowl win over Texas A&M. Louisville  has been included in numerous preseason top 25 forecasts. However, the most backed teams don’t always win, raising the possibility of UofL making it into the playoffs.

Again next season, the toughest two opponents in the Atlantic Coast Conference are included among the first five games – Florida State on Sept. 17 and Clemson on Oct. 1st.   They, along with Houston, are considered national contenders.

“We have six teams who played in bowl games last season and three teams that finished the year ranked in the top 25,” said Petrino in a statement to the press.

He welcomes the challenges, however. “We have a lot of work to do before we start playing games, but with an experienced team returning, they understand the challenges ahead of them and know what preparation is needed to be a successful football team.”

Louisville will kickoff the 2016 season against Charlotte on Sept. 1 at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.


Why Tom Jurich may have allowed the speculation

Good for the University of Louisville that Tom Jurich has clarified that he’s not interested in an opening for a new athletic director at the University of Southern California. That’s the best news fans have had since the escort scandal surfaced at UofL.

Apparently someone close to Jurich, or at least in his vicinity, was leaking information to numerous media outlets across town, telling them the rumor had legs, that Tom was willing to listen to an offer this time around. Some usually reliable reporters going with it, citing his Southern California roots, including John Ramsey and Mike Rutherford for a couple of hours on their 93.9 The Ville talk show.

Interesting, though, that he allowed the speculation to continue for several hours before putting an end to it.

One possibility is that Jurich, in an effort to finger the source of leaks at UofL, made a casual remark to a suspected staff member or contractor to test their trustworthiness. Another is that Tom may have wanted to send a message to some members of the board of trustees, providing them with a reminder of how much he values his relationship with President Jim Ramsey. Still another is that he was indirectly communicating with Rick Pitino, who has been playing both sides of the will he stay or will he go game.

Someone at the university has been supplying information on a regular basis to Matt Jones, the host of Kentucky Sports Radio. None of the information reflecting favorably on UofL. Could be a staff member or someone who does contract work for the university, or it could be both. It would be in Tom’s best interest to identify and cut all ties with the individual(s). Whoever is attempting to damage UofL’s name should not be receiving any financial benefits from the university.

The more likely reason is Tom’s respect for his boss. Jurich has a very close relationship with Jim Ramsey, often describing him as the best boss he has ever had, describing his own position as the best AD job in the nation. Jurich had told some people, including this observer, that he would, in fact, consider leaving UofL if there were certain changes in the President’s office. That’s something people calling for Jim Ramsey’s job need to keep in mind.

Finally, maybe Tom was sending a message to Rick Pitino for some reason, perhaps a subtle reminder that he has been supportive of the coach through some difficult times and that loyalty works both ways.

Who knows? But Wednesday’s period of uncertainly startled a lot of people , including those fans calling for Ramsey and Pitino’s jobs. That crowd was dealt a heavy dose of reality, suddenly confronted with the stark possibility of losing all three UofL leaders. Never doubt that Jurich is loyal to his boss and to the people he hires and oversees himself.

As Howie Lindsay has noted, since Jurich arrived, Louisville has been to three Final Fours, two BCS games, three College World Series, a College Cup, two women’s Final Fours and produced a half-dozen NCAA Champions. He, along with Ramsey, also made it possible for UofL to become a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference and transformed the eastern boundary of the University of Louisville campus.

The fact that Tom Jurich remains committed to the University of Louisville is the most positive development that has occurred since the rash of bad news began. He has the unique leadership skills, along with the trust and respect of his colleagues at other universities, required to get UofL through this mess. He recognizes the enormous challenge confronting UofL, and he is best qualified to navigate the rugged terrain.

Some Louisville basketball fans would make the punishment worse

Thankfully the banner has been removed at Patrick O’Shea’s.

Some people need to step back from the brink. There’s much more at stake than just this year’s post-season play.

Specifically the segment of University of Louisville fans signing a petition calling for UofL to rescind the self-imposed probation, others seeking a court injunction to block the ban, and the ones requesting that the NCAA not accept the punishment.

The worst possible scenario for everybody, including Jim Ramsey, Tom Jurich, Rick Pitino and the fans would be for the NCAA to vacate the 2013 national title won by the University of Louisville and to vacate all the wins that occurred over four seasons involving the offending players. On top of that, the NCAA could impose a one- or two-year suspension on post-season action, extending the punishment two more years into the future.

One can understand the hurt the petitioners feel for Damion Lee and Trey Lewis, the fifth-year players who transferred to UofL so they could enjoy the NCAA tournament. They’re good players, great individuals. But if any of these groups got their way, the punishment could be far worse than disappointing a couple of single-season players.

They want to be a part of a solution, but they lash out at the people most committed to protecting the integrity of the University and the basketball program.

No one in a position of authority pays much attention to petitions these days unless they’re required to by law. If one judge were to issue an injunction, another judge would simply overturn it. And since when has the NCAA ever done anything but pile on to self-imposed penalties of offending schools?

They want to be a part of a solution, but they lash out at the people most committed to protecting the integrity of the University and the basketball program. Some of them want to fire Jim Ramsey who has taken decisive action to limit the damage.

Patrick O’Shea’s, a local restaurant, hangs a large banner outside the entrance proclaiming, “Jim Ramsey is a coward!” The sign is a cheap shot and the proprietor shows he has no clue about the definition of a coward. A coward is someone who runs and hides when things get tough. Ramsey has done the exact opposite, penalizing the most popular program in the community knowing there could be an enormous backlash.

Others want to be rid of Rick Pitino, as if the coach should have known a loser on his staff would bring hookers into Billy Minardi Hall. A coach who wanted to give another player a head start on a good career, only to have that individual bring ridicule and shame on his co-workers and players. More than two dozen of Pitino’s proteges have gone on to very successful careers of their own, none of them tainted by kind of stench wrought by Andre McGee.

As the drama continues to intensify, can Tom Jurich be far behind in their quest for some relief or vengeance? Pitino says Jurich was the one who actually made the decision to self-impose the penalties and that Ramsey merely went along with the recommendation. Based on Chuck Smrt’s findings, the University had little choice but to take immediate action, whether it was Ramsey or Jurich who made the decision.

Never mind that the violations largely occurred as the result of  one individual or a select few, the NCAA has always held the institution responsible for the actions of people attached to the program. The penalties are never fair to the current group of players and fans.

Does the group of fans calling for fairness want UofL to be the first program to ever vacate a national championship? The answer should be obvious. Lifting the ban on post-season play this season might enable Damion Lee and Trey Lewis to realize their dreams. Maybe so, maybe not. There were never any guarantees. We’ll never know because the post-season ban is here to stay.