Not Closure, But Open Season

Tom Jurich seems to be going out of his way to make sure the world knows that he stands behind football coach Steve Kragthorpe. The decisionmaker for University of Louisville athletics reinforced his support today for the third time in a week.

Funny, he needed a news conference to repeat what every UofL football fan already knew.

Tom Jurich
Tom Jurich

Makes you wonder what else is going on. It wouldn’t be the first time an athletic director has given a coach a vote of confidence and then axed him a few weeks later. But Jurich is not going fire a football coach after only two seasons for any reason other than unethical conduct. Doing so would make finding a successor much more difficult now than later.

While Jurich’s assumed purpose was to quell talk of a coaching change, he inadvertently or purposefully — only he knows for sure — may have reignited the speculation all over again. When asked if Kragthorpe would be returning, he replied: “Yes, Steve will be back next year … if he wants to be.”

That may be all the encouragement the Kragthorpe haters need to turn up the heat. My guess is that Kragthorpe has already decided, one way or the other.

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Construction on stadium expansion could conceivably begin as early as Monday. Jurich said only that construction would begin after the football season. This month? Next month? The guess here is the answer will come about the same time as the answer to the coaching question.

Jurich Standing Firm On Football

Even the most adamant critic of University of Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich would have to admit that the man stands behind his words in the face of growing criticism that would have lesser people running for cover.

Jurich confirmed in an interview with Big East blogger Brian Bennett Wednesday that the football program is in a rebuilding mode, seemingly putting to rest any speculation that he will relieve football coach Steve Kragthorpe of his duties anytime soon:

“My expectations were not high this year because I knew the reality,” Jurich said on Wednesday. “One thing I didn’t want to do to the fans was lie to them.

“When I said we’d spend the next two years rebuilding, there was a lot of flack that came with it. Nobody wants to hear that. [But] it’s a long haul and I knew that and I buckled up for it.

“It’s hard for some people to hear that when one year you’re going to the Orange Bowl and now you’re not. Our fans are so new at this, they thought we’d be going to the Orange Bowl every week, but it’s not like that.”

The last sentence is sure to severely irritate those who were already beside themselves in demanding that Jurich fire Kragthorpe for what they consider rank incompetence. They see a team going backwards, not rebuilding. Their ranks include many who supported the team for years, including at least one couple who had never missed a home game in 42 years and traveled to many road games.

Jurich anticipated the ire that comes with rebuilding, saying before the season that he just wanted to get through the next two seasons. He is not surprised or shocked by the reactions. And no one can say Jurich didn’t warn them.

This observer believes the worst fear is that UofL football will descend into a bottomless pit from which it would difficult to ever recover. It is a concern based on few signs of progress over the past two seasons.

However, Tom Jurich believes the rebuilding process will be successful. Jurich has been around the block a few times, and he’s staking his reputation on it. But he faces an equal challenge in maintaining the loyalty of fans who disregard what he’s telling them.

Ugly Underbelly Discourages Fans

Not To Attend Louisville-Cincinnati Game

Disclaimer:  No one here is blaming the fan base for anything that has happened on the football field, not even close.

It is understandable that many University of Louisville football fans are upset and angry about the way the season is going. The outlook for the anything better than three more losses is bleak. This dismal outlook is painful.

Deterred briefly by a surprising win over South Florida, numerous fans have resumed calling for Steve Kragthorpe’s removal after the two most recent losses. In fact, if some noisy malcontents had their way, Kragthorpe would be gone, jerked out of practice in front of the players, before the next game.

What’s mindboggling is that some irate fans are suggesting that Tom Jurich, vice president of athletics, is negligent. It didn’t take long for the underbelly of the fan base to reveal its ugly side, did it? Mind you that’s the Tom Jurich, the man behind changing the landscape on Floyd Street, getting U of L into the Big East Conference, and recognized by his peers as Athletic Director of the Year in 2006.

Tom Jurich is a big boy. He can take care of himself, and we trust him with the athletic program, even though he may have created a monster in terms of fan expectations.

What’s unacceptable, however, is that a few of the more vociferous people are discouraging other U of L fans from attending this Friday’s game with Cincinnati. They want to send a “message” to the athletic administration, as if Jurich were not acutely aware of the challenges.

People who stay home will send a message all right, demonstrating to potential recruits and current players that U of L is just another school with more than its share of fair weather followers – unlike those of a traditional power such as University of Tennessee where 90,000 fans will show up at the next home game despite the Vols’ 3-7 won-lost record and being an underdog to Kentucky, of all teams.

People who fail to show up aren’t hurting the university financially because, with eight home games, U of L has already sold more tickets this year than any season in the school’s history. They do, however, harm the reputation of the fan base and the program they claim to love.

Show up.

A Few Softball Questions For Jeff Walz

Our intrepid reporter was not armed with any deep probing questions but she did gain some interesting insights into the mindset of Jeff Walz, coach of the University of Louisville women’s basketball team. She interviewed him a few weeks before Chauntise Wright was injured.

By Sonja Sykes
You’ve been the Lady Cards head coach for 20 months now. How are things going?
Our time in Louisville has been a very fast but exciting time.  So much has happened in such a short period that my staff and I are trying hard to make sure we enjoy every moment.  I am very fortunate to work for a great athletic department with Tom Jurich and Julie Hermann.  They have both made this a very smooth transition.

What’s the biggest challenge about being a head coach?
The hardest thing are the months May through September. During the season, the daily schedule is pretty much set and you know when your next trip is, who your next opponent is and you prepare.  The other months consist of lots of speaking engagements, RECRUITING and many nights spent out in the community.  I have loved every minute of my time here and once I get adjusted, I know it will become easier.

Where are you in regards to your career?
I am very excited where I am at this point.  I have had the opportunity to work at Western Kentucky, Nebraska, Minnesota and Maryland as an assistant before becoming the head coach at Louisville.  I know that my time at those four schools and winning a National Championship at Maryland helped me get ready for this job.

If you weren’t coaching basketball, what would you be doing?
If I was not coaching basketball I would be a teacher.  My undergraduate degree is in Secondary Education with and emphasis in Business Education and I have a Masters Degree in Education from Western Kentucky.

Do you get pre-game nerves, and if so, how do you overcome them?
I really don’t get pre-game nerves as a coach.  I used to more so as a player but have learned to relax more before the games as a coach.  I have a great staff and we prepare as hard as anyone to make sure our players are ready for game day.  When the players are prepared, it allows a coach to focus more on the game instead of being nervous.

Continue reading “A Few Softball Questions For Jeff Walz”

Jurich’s Warning Wasted On The Rabid

Tom Jurich warned University of Louisville football fans three weeks before the season began that the next two seasons would be rebuilding years. Fans heard him, grumbled and complained while indicating they had actually listened and understood what he said.

The season began with the Cards having only nine players with starting experience in the opening lineup against Kentucky.  A youthful inexperienced group on players on both sides of the line. A green quarterback was calling signals, one who had started a few games a couple of years ago but played less than five minutes last season.

Through their first seven games, they showed signs of improvement, fans taking note of what appeared to be significant improvement in defense, the quarterback slowly growing into his starting position despite all his fumbles and interceptions. Then, amazingly, their team defeated the 14th ranked team in the country.

The fans figured that Jurich had simply been trying to lower expectations, that the Cards were already back on the fast track again, picking up a few votes in the national polls. Conference title expectations, visions of a bowl game, happy days were here again.

The Lady  Cards opened their
season with a 94-69 win in an
exhibition game. See Sonja’s report.

Wrong. The Syracuse debacle  left no doubt that much work remains to be done. Maybe Jurich knew what he was talking about when he said he just wanted to get through the rebuilding period.

Hello. Was anybody listening? The reaction of many fans to the unexpected loss had reached a crescendo on the message boards before the game was over and hasn’t let up since. They were among the many folks who traveled to Miami for an Orange Bowl less than two years ago. They had arrived only to be deserted by a vagabond coach whom this observer firmly believes hunted new jobs more vigorously than he recruited new players.

This particular group of fans refuse to believe another coach would have had a similar experience with Bobby Petrino’s leftovers. Any fan brave enough to admit he or she wants to see beyond the current frustration to better days down the road is instantly labeled a Kragthorpe apologist.

Can you imagine the reaction of potential recruits? They visit the school, like the coach, get to know the players, like the dormitory and campus. Out  of curiosity, they check the message boards. What they find are people calling for firings, some actually hoping the team loses more games to expedite terminations while urging other fans to stay away from games.

These same fans wonder why recruiting is a challenge, naively thinking they have no role in a recruit’s perception of the school. Not saying the chronic complainers are in any way responsible for the disappointing season. But they are not helping to make the two-year rebuilding process any easier either.

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