Mending wounds of old friends important to healing at UofL

One of the great things about the growth of the University of Louisville over the past couple of decades was that one always felt like he or she was an integral part of helping to transform UofL from a sleepy urban school to a dynamic and growing university.

It hurt and hurt deeply when some of the architects of that movement, the people in leadership roles, the people one got to know so well, the people one respected as friends and visionaries, were unceremoniously dismissed despite of what they had accomplished at UofL.

'They really didn’t care (about the loss in donations). UofL in the Atlantic Coast Conference became a crown jewel; they wanted it and they got it.'

Not surprising that some influential individuals in the community would want to exercise control over the University. Not surprising either that many supporters want to keep an arm’s length from people who forced  change, sometimes traumatic, upon the institution.

Dr. Bob Hughes, former chairman of the UofL Board of Trustees and the UofL Foundation, often indicated that the “wine and cheese crowd in the East End” was behind the upheaval at the school, wanting their own people in charge. 

“That was the goal from day one when they came on,” he told Card Game in a recent email. “It is only becoming more obvious with time; however, the delta on donations from the negativity it took to take control is about $50 million annually in donations to the foundation. They really didn’t care. UofL in the Atlantic Coast Conference became a crown jewel, they wanted it and they got it.”

With the Board of Trustees now under the thumb of J. David Grissom, a financial advisor to many of the community’s wealthiest families, Hughes’ theory definitely has credibility, even given all the charges of financial mismanagement and malfeasance that has been alleged. There’s no denying that UofL is now under much different oversight.

Not that that is necessarily a bad thing. Getting the community’s blue bloods invested in the future of the school would be a very positive development. Opening up new relationships and even deeper purses may be just what the University of Louisville needs to achieve higher levels of excellence. Some have criticized the school’s success in athletics, believing it may have impacted UofL’s lack of respect in academic circles. Some believed Tom Jurich’s fundraising success in athletics was crippling contributions to academics. Ironic coming from John Schnatter, who pledged $19 million in Papa John’s stock to UofL athletics.

The board most prominent recent hire, that of Neeli Bendapudi as the school’s 18th President, appears to have been a master stroke. She’s an individual with a successful track record of fundraising at the University of Kansas. But equally important, she seems to have the ability to communicate effectively with people from all walks of life. Plus, she has indicated that she very much wants UofL’s success in athletics to continue.

It’s going to take a while for Vince Tyra to  be loved by Louisville fans as much as Tom Jurich. But Tyra has been effective in retaining successful coaches and unquestionably wants UofL athletics to continue competing at the highest levels. Consider the school fortunate to have such an individual eager to step up when UofL needed him most.

Chris Mack, the new UofL basketball coach, is the exact opposite of Rick Pitino in many ways. But like Pitino he’s certainly not bashful when it comes to challenges while acknowledging the Louisville job and fan base as among the best in the nation.

Even some of the board’s most ardent critics have admitted that these hires were great choices, giving many of them second thoughts about the motivations of some board members. Could it be that the old money crowd actually knows what it’s doing, cares about the school and wants UofL to pursue even higher aspirations?

The people currently in control have had much to deal with over the past two years, making some difficult decisions. They’ve done it in a difficult environment, and their decisions have not always been popular.  Be they business or civic leaders, they are responsible to putting UofL back on the right path to respectability and prosperity.

Grissom recently decided the board, having successfully dealt with many of the school’s issues, would no longer have to meet monthly, going back to the old schedule of meeting quarterly. That’s another good sign, indicating that the Board of Trustees has high levels of trust in Neeli Bendapudi’s leadership abilities.

Now with so many of the problems in the past, the University can begin to restore many of the relationships that made the progress possible in the past two decades. Bendapudi may be the right person in the right place at the right time, with her unique ability to relate to the old money crowd and the everyday fan and supporter.

Time to look forward again, this time with a deeper base of support.

McDonnell, Tyra share high expectations for Louisville baseball

No last minute pitches unnecessary when one of the game’s traditional powers came calling. Dan McDonnell and Vince Tyra have been discussing the future of University of Louisville baseball for quite a while now. 

“I’ve enjoyed our conversations about the program and a relationship we’ve developed going back to when Dan first arrived in Louisville, and certainly over the last eight months,” said Tyra at a joint press conference Thursday.

Dan McDonnell reflects on past season, looks to future with Louisville baseball (Charlie Springer photos).

“That relationship has made the last few days it very comfortable for us to talk openly about what we would like to see for the Louisville program.”

McDonnell told fans Wednesday that he had talked with John Cohen at Mississippi State about the job but he wanted to remain at Louisville. 

A grateful Tyra said UofL wants to provide a great atmosphere for players, as much as facilities and more seats. “We’re exactly on the same page … We want to make sure we’re together with Dan for a long time, and that this is where he is going to stay. I’m going to do every thing in my power to keep him here and keep producing the kind of kids and winning teams we’ve had.”

He added that he has kept new UofL President Neeli Bendapudi informed about discussions. “She has been terrific,” he said. “Neeli has been hand in hand with both of us, and she has been supportive of someone who represents what we want this program and this university to be.”

When we get to Omaha, I want them to say, 'There's Louisville again.'  There's the bird with teeth, and there's their fans ...

McDonnell has received Tyra’s support for a new pro locker room addition to Jim Patterson Stadium to accommodate former UofL players now in professional baseball. There are approximately 30 of them now, many returning during the off season to study and to hone their athletic skills.

“Louisville is like a second home to them,” said McDonnell. “We want to provide a comfortable environment for them. We enjoy having them around in the locker room but it’s getting a little crowded with so many professional players now. They need to have their own facility.”

Tyra said he hoped a Request for Proposals could be submitted within the next 60 days, and indicated that the project could funded by a combination of private donations, athletic funds and the Dugout Club, a fan support group.

McDonnell said expectations for UofL baseball are at an all-time high. “The fans expect it, the media expects it, and I want college baseball to expect it. I want them to expect Louisville to be in a regional, hosting a regional, in a super regional. When we get to Omaha, I want them to say, ‘There’s Louisville again.’  There’s the bird with teeth, and there’s their fans and they’re a regular. We want to be knocking on the door to Omaha every year.”

Pretty obvious that Tyra and McDonnell have much in common with their aspirations for the program. 

Tyra leaves no doubt he’s in charge of Louisville athletics

One has to be impressed with Vince Tyra in his capacity as Interim Athletic Director when it comes to  managing issues. All business, straightforward, unapologetic about wanting what’s best for the University of Louisville. A calm force in the midst of the storm.

Tyra may never completely win over a segment of the UofL fan base. Primarily because he replaced Tom Jurich, one of the most popular administrators in UofL’s history. But if Tyra remains as open as he was in Thursday’s press conference, he will have earned their respect at a critical time for the school.

Vince Tyra prefers facts to second-guessing, updating fans on developments in UofL Athletic Department (Charlie Springer photo).

The son of a former UofL All-America basketball player, Tyra seems to be keenly aware of the concerns of fans and supporters. This is a vital quality, given the priority of the Board of Trustees in managing finances. He’s qualified on several fronts — he’s a lifelong fan, a major donor and an executive who has successfully managed numerous businesses.

Tyra’s current challenge, in a job that is likely to become permanent in March, may well be his biggest ever, maintaining a program that has grown by leaps and bounds over the past two decades. Restoring confidence won’t be easy for a fan base that has been brought to its knees by the scandals involving the school’s administration, a premier basketball program, and abrupt dismissals of popular employees.

The job is made even more difficult with the absence of open leadership from J. David Grissom, the Trustee Chairman, who seemingly operates in a vacuum. Grissom keeps everyone guessing about his goals for the University, either believing people will inherently trust him and assume that he knows what’s best for the school. That hasn’t worked out well for Grissom, with some observers suspicious of his motives and apprehensive about his real leadership qualities.

Doubtful he would have taken the job if he thought there was an agenda to diminish Louisville athletics.

Tyra, on the other hand, is candid when it comes to addressing the issues and his aspirations for the athletic department. Noting that the recent dismissal of three key employees, including Mark Jurich, was aimed at reducing costs and making the department more efficient. He also took a $350,000 decrease in salary, putting him more in line with other athletic directors in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

He also took advantage of the press conference to clarify that the expansion of the football stadium would add 6,000 seats instead of 10,000 as publicized for the last three years. It was an admission directly addressing what could have become another embarrassing issue later. A get the facts, deal with them publicly, put them in the past approach.

As for UofL remaining competitive, Tyra has taken steps to ensure stability in the coaching ranks, extending the contracts of Soccer Coach Ken Lolla for five years, Women’s Soccer Coach Karen Ferguson-Deyes for two more years, and Volleyball Coach Dani Busboom Kelly for another year. He will, however, wait until the end of the basketball season before making a decision about that position.

One gets the impression that Tyra is in total charge of the athletic department. He is not looking over his shoulder, worried about either Grissom or Interim President Greg Postel. Doubtful he would have taken the job if he thought there was an agenda to diminish Louisville athletics.

If there is a concern, it would be that Tyra is more of a business person than a people person. Unlike his predecessor, he will never win people over with his love for the University, but selling them on the school from a business perspective.

Tom Jurich’s approach worked well, moving UofL out of the shadows of the also-rans into national contenders in so many different sports. He built all the necessary facilities, enlarged the fan base, and greatly enhanced the brand name. His low-key approach worked well in gaining friends and supporters of the program.

Tyra doesn’t have to concern himself about building new facilities, and the fan base has been so strong. He  can focus on maintaining and building upon what has been accomplished. But first, he must go about earning the confidence of fans and donors and restoring faith in the leadership of the athletic department. He seems well on his way those objectives. Not there yet, but getting there.

Tom Jurich should be there for first game in expanded PCJS

Tom Jurich watches as his son, Mark, announces the Thornton’s sponsorship of the Academic Center in 2013 (Charlie Springer photos).

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.

Negatives just kept adding up for Kellie Young

Quite frankly I was under the impression that Kellie Young’s problems as coach of the University of Louisville lacrosse team had gone away since she was first accused of being overly aggressive in applying discipline back in 2014.

Apparently not, not with reports that at least 15 members of the team had transferred or left the team in the past eight months.   She had also been sued by a former player who had become physically ill, passing out during a practice session.

All the problems attracting too much attention. Young was fired Monday by Interim Athletic Director Vince Tyra. She started the program from scratch, compiling a 106-68 won-lost record in 10 seasons. It was time for her to go.

Her dismissal coming just days after the conclusion of the 2017 season in which UofL had an 11-8 record, making its fourth consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament.

While building a winning program, Young obviously missed opportunities to instill loyalty and trust from players and their parents. Too many distractions on and off the field.