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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Get Out Of Bolen’s Way

If there is one player who embodies what University of Louisville fans want to see from their football team this fall, it is Brock Bolen, a six-foot, 230-pound gladiator. He’s a bruiser with the physical skills and just enough quickness to punish opposing defenses. DSC_0349

The news that Bolen is being switched from fullback to tailback to give him more touches this season is reason for optimism for fans who believed Bolen’s talents were not fully utilized last season. When he makes it past the line of scrimmage, he’s like a freight train. You don’t want to be the guy who gets between him and daylight.

We suspect that offensive coordinator Jeff Brohm knows what he has in Bolen, a powerful force to go with the natural instincts of Bilal Powell and the lightning speed of Victor Anderson. The tough guy will soften you up, while Hunter Cantwell is going over the top and Powell and Anderson are going around you.

Bolen, a senior, was the second leading ground gainer with 485 yards last season. He transferred to U of L from the University of Illinois after the 2004 season when the Illini fired Ron Turner and hired former Florida coach Ron Zook.

As a high school senior, he was considered the nation’s No. 1 fullback by recruiting analyst Tom Lemming for his achievements at Valley View High School where he amassed 6,099 yards rushing and scored 108 touchdowns.

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Bolen either inherited his toughness or had it pounded into him by his old man, Jim Bolen, an ex-Marine who maintains a “war room” in the family home in Spring Valley, Ohio. The room includes disturbing graphic images of enemies who crossed his path during armed conflicts. The 8,000 square-foot house also includes a fully-equipped gym, which is said to be better than most high schools, according to a Courier-Journal report.

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Giving Birth To Tailgating

Bill Olsen popped out of retirement briefly to give this observer a call a few days after reading some recollections on his tenure at the University of Louisville. We talked about several things that Bill was involved with, some of which will be shared in future blog entries.tailgata.jpg

His primary challenge in the eighties was football because the basketball program was at its zenith, having captured national championships in 1980 and 1986. When he became AD in1980,  football tickets sold for $3 each. Attendance was about 15,000 per game.  He made it his goal to ramp up the football program in a big way at U of L.

“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.”

He recalls that Tommy Carroll, former president of the University of Louisville Associates, conceived the idea of tailgating before he arrived. 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 doing it but we had just never done it.”

The committee urged Chamber businesses to get involved. Among them was WHAS Radio, which promoted the concept of 84-for-84 (840 is station channel). 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.”

Oh, and football attendance had grown to between 28,000 – 30,000 in the years before Olsen retired in 1997.

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U of L also ran with an idea suggested by Charlie Herd, the “Kids & Cops” promotion with Pepsi’s backing, with the police passing out trading cards with pictures of the football players. The program promoted U of L football while also building good will between the police and children and youth around the city.

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Maury Buchart, mentioned above, also was the person who introduced the cabooses that line the back of Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. The cabooses lease for about $10,000 a year for tailgating purposes. Some of them are available for rent for private parties. This observer celebrated a milestone birthday party there (the best ever) a few years ago and the cost then was $300 for the night.

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Chalk Up No. 40, Advance To Championship

Justin McClanahan is feeling no pain. The thumb is just fine now, thank you.  The back? no problem.

McClanahan appears to have fully recovered from the thumb injury that sidelined him for the first nine games this smcclanahan.jpgeason. as well as an aching back that bothered him in recent weeks.

The proof came Friday as the University of Louisville baseball team mowed down Villanova 13-6 to move into the championship game of the Big East Tournament, McClanahan leading the way, U of L improving its record to 40-19.

Check this out: Two home runs, including a grand slam. Five hits in six at bats. Seven runs batted in. Eleven total bases. Three runs scored.

The pride of amateur baseball in Annapolis, Md., has raised his batting average to .379, with 93 hits in 247 at-bats. He has 10 homers and 56 runs batted in.

ul-cardinal-head-logo2-thumb11.jpg   Thomas Royse, the freshman righthander from Lexington, picked up his fourth win without a loss in relief, scattering four hits, striking out three, and allowing three runs over six innings.

ul-cardinal-head-logo2-thumb11.jpg  Righthander Zack Pitts (6-5), once considered the ace, is not as effective as he once was, lasting only two innings, giving up three runs in the second. Somewhat of a concern in post season play.

ul-cardinal-head-logo2-thumb11.jpg  Chris Dominguez smashed his 20th home run this season, along with a single, pushing three runs across the plate.

ul-cardinal-head-logo2-thumb11.jpg  Championship game against Cincinnati Saturday at 1 p.m. The game will be telecast on ESPN-U. Get the yard work done early.

Construction Constructive

Should be getting the word very soon on the expansion of Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium from 42,000 to 63,000 seats, according to Business First of Louisville. The University of Louisville is expected to announce construction schedules during a reception today for Minority Business Enterprise and Women Business Enterprise-certified organizations interested in participating in the project.

Gonna happen, naysayers, stick your heads back in the sand.

ul_cardinal_head_logo2 Some concerns about the future of the downtown basketball arena project remain, with major bond insurers having been hard hit by the sub-prime loan lending crisis. The Museum Plaza project has been indefinitely postponed as the developers await lower interest loans. Metro Council President Jim King, a banker, has said there’s a big difference between the stalled Museum Plaza project and the Louisville Arena — the Arena has plenty of time to get its financing together and it has significant state and local guarantees.

Maybe so, maybe not. The expected timeline for obtaining bond insurance keeps getting extended. The best news is that Jim Host, who has already navigated this project through some major hurdles, is determined to make it happen.

Take good care of yourself, Big Jim.

ul_cardinal_head_logo2 About 15 years ago, Joe Elliott, then the evening talk show host at WHAS [yes, the station that sold out to UK] pronounced the U of L football stadium project dead. That was before Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corporation (a former employer) pledged $3 million for the club and Papa John’s Pizza pledged $5 million for naming rights.

I enjoyed calling Elliott the evenings before opening games for several years to tell him we would be on our way out to the stadium. The message was to never doubt the determination of the University of Louisville, the administration and fans.