Frank Minnifield packed up and left but wasn’t gone for long

During the University of Louisville’s most recent graduation ceremonies, President Jim Ramsey paused to recognize a former U of L football player from the early eighties.

At 5-foot-10, 140 pounds, he was considered by many schools to be too small for college football. But then UofL coach Vince Gibson was impressed with his speed, giving him a shot as a walk-on in 1979. 

He was Frank Minnifield,  and the odds were heavily stacked against him.

“At one point he wondered if it was worth it – he packed his bags and headed home,” said Ramsey.  “But, he stopped his car before he got home to think about his future.  As he reflected in his car on the side of the road, he realized the importance of continuing his education, so he turned his car around and returned to school at UofL.  The rest is history – a great history.”

Minnifield would go on to become team captain, lead the team in kickoff returns in  1981 with a 30.4 yard average and 15 yards per punt return.  He would be signed as a free agent by the Cleveland Browns where he would enjoy a nine-year career as a cornerback and make four consecutive Pro Bowl appearances.

After football, Minnifield would start a construction company in Lexington. Today, he runs Minnifield Enterprize, which is a purchasing agent for multiple Toyota manufacturing plants and makes parts for a Toyota supplier.

He has served as a member of the U of L Board of Trustees for five years, and last year was elected to Chairman of the Board.

Frank Minnifield to lead U of L board of trustees

Today, his former number, No. 1, is among the honored jerseys on display at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.

Frank Minnifield’s name wasn’t on any recruiting lists when he attended Henry Clay High School in Lexington. He badly wanted to play college football but no scholarship offers were forthcoming.

He would catch the eye of Vince Gibson who would let him to walk on the University of Louisville in 1979. Making the most of that opportunity, Minnifield would have an outstanding career as a corner back and punt returner. He would go to play for the Cleveland Browns for eight seasons, earning Pro Bowl three years in a row.

Minnifield’s persistence and skills have earned him the respect and admiration of his fellow members of the U of L Board of Trustees. He was recently elected Chairman of the Board, the first former U of L football player to ever hold the position. He fills some big shoes as he succeeds Owsley Brown Frazier.

He still resides in Lexington, where he owns Minnifield Enterprises, a construction company.

Louisville football a little quiet lately

Season ticket invoices were sent to University of Louisville football fans a month ago. After procrastinating a while, I finally write the check Thursday and mail it in, hoping everybody else is doing the same.

As one who has closely followed U of L football for a few decades, the observer may perhaps be overly protective. But I’ve been a little uneasy about the lack of buzz around the program lately.

Interest seemed to pick up a bit during the spring camp for a couple of days during the public practice sessions, then died down until the spring game when less than 3,000 people showed up. A couple of days of followup, but then all quiet again.

Maybe the concern has do with all the attention college basketball gets around here. Rick Pitino, his assistants or players have kept that program in the headlines. As I noted a few days ago, the basketball-leaning U of L fans haven’t quite gotten over the disappointing finish. Then Pitino goes out and hires three super recruiters as assistants. Something to get excited about? You bet. Does it detract from football? You bet.

'The U of L job requires the individual in charge to be as much a promoter as he is a coach.

Other than the occasional news about football verbals, we’re not getting much from the football complex. And that’s somewhat concerning, especially when football season ticket holders are supposed to be renewing for next season. At a time when the economy is still lackluster, with few signs of getting better.

Back in my post-graduate years, I did a study on football attendance trends at U of L games. The program always did best on Saturday evening games.  But also during seasons when the head coach was out vigorously promoting the program. Lee Corso, Vince Gibson and Howard Schnellenberger were among the best. Bobby Petrino wasn’t around then, but he didn’t need to promote because he was winning. Not much has changed over the years to alter my earlier conclusion.

There won’t be many Saturday night games in 2011. Nor will there be the excitement of a newly-expanded stadium or a new coach. The home schedule won’t include games with rivals Kentucky or West Virginia, and not much experience returns on the offense except for the receivers — the kinds of things that are instrumental in getting fans excited about Louisville football. Still very much in a building mode for the foreseeable future.

I’ve always been of the opinion that the U of L job requires the individual in charge to be as much a promoter as he is a coach. Charlie Strong has proven he’s a good coach with an excellent staff. And we’re confident they are doing everything necessary to prepare for the upcoming season. However, if we are to meet and exceed the record average of 50,600 fans per game last season, some promoting needs to start happening … and soon. Get in the news somehow, some way.

I know it’s the off-season and maybe I’m just being paranoid, but I would like to see the face of U of L football more often. Good attendance at Louisville football games isn’t something that just happens.

Vintage Louisville Football

Vince Gibson Spawned The Red Rage

The image of flag girls waving “Red Rage” banners for the University of Louisville band stirred memories of Vince Gibson for many veteran fans at the football opener.

Vince Gibson and Red Rage gear.
Vince Gibson and Red Rage gear.

Gibson coined the “Red Rage” phrase when he took over U of L football in 1975 to market the football program. The symbol caught on, appearing on everything from the team’s uniforms to fan gear. Even Denny Crum liked it, using the imagery with his basketball program.

A couple of years later, athletic director Dave Hart would introduce the concept of tailgating at Louisville football games. The idea took off immediately, with U of L later recognized by a national publication as one of the best tailgating programs.

Vince Gibson, the Red Rage theme and the tailgating concept couldn’t have converged at a better time. The NCAA’s football powers, in 1977, voted to split into two divisions — Division 1A for schools averaging more than 17,000 fans, and Division 1AA for everybody else.

Louisville would make the cut for Division 1A in 1978, with an average attendance of just over 19,790 per game.

Gibson left after the 1979 season and a won-lost record of 25-29-2 for the head coaching job at Tulane, where he would coach for three seasons. He resides now in New Orleans where he was in the travel industry for several years. Earlier this year, he attended a reunion with Bobby Bowden at South Georgia College where they began their football coaching careers together.