On October 17th, 2017, the University of Louisville Board of Trustees voted 10-3 to dismiss Tom Jurich as the school’s Vice President of Athletics. The move was a colossal blunder, ending a period of unprecedented success for UofL sports. The decision was an insult to the fan base, knowing what Jurich had done for the program. More and more obvious, even today, and the University owes Jurich and the fans an apology.
The firing of Jurich was a low blow, felt deeply by everyone, including fans, businesses and other supporters, who enthusiastically supported one project after another. From the football stadium expansions and soccer stadium construction to the KFC Yum! Center, each was a giant step forward for the athletic program. Unparalleled in the history of the University.
Only when the school takes action to rectify the mistake and honor Jurich for his enormous contributions can the healing process begin. Until then, the separation is an open wound in need of attention. Ideally the person to admit the mistake would be David Grissom, Chairman of the Board at the time. Grissom or his long local business associate James Rogers (still on the board) who made the motion to fire Jurich.
Ignoring the voices of generous donors to the school and coaches of 22 sports, as well as large segments of alumni and fans. No one outside of the board having much input. Not even the lawyers hired to protect Jurich’s interests. The nay votes coming from Brian Cromer, a University of Kentucky Law School graduate, Dianne Medley, a UofL graduate and Dr. Ron Wright, who earned his doctorate from the UofL School of Medicine.
Don’t expect Grissom or Rogers to humble themselves, hailing from a business tradition of cleaning house during times of crisis. They wanted Jurich gone because he didn’t fire Rick Pitino immediately after the FBI disclosed allegations of recruiting violations. The shortsightedness was unbelievable, with neither able comprehend the enormity of what Jurich had done in his 19 years at UofL. The athletic program was a model of economic success at a time when the school was struggling to recover from the effects of President Jim Ramsey’s dismissal.
WDRB’s Eric Crawford recently summed up some of Jurich’s achievements at UofL:
Louisville’s athletics budget grew from $16.5 million to $104.5 million. Its athletics graduation success rate went from 66% to 83%. The value of its apparel deal went from $18,000 to $16 million. Cardinal Athletic Fund seat donations rose from $3.8 million to $16.9 million. TV revenue went from $1.4 million to $10.9 million. Sponsorships and merchandise sales grew from $328,000 to $9.14 million. Scholarships and financial aid provided by athletics went from $767,000 to $5.5 million. And in that two decades, $278.8 million were invested in facilities.
Crawford noted that UofL also won 67 conference championships, 42 conference tournaments and had teams finish seasons ranked in the Top 25 no fewer than 125 times. Basketball went to three Final Fours and won a national championship (later vacated). Football won an Orange Bowl and a Sugar Bowl, and had a Heisman Trophy winner. Women’s basketball went to two Final Fours and played for the national championship twice. Baseball went to the College World Series four times. Men’s soccer played for a national title in 2010. Louisville had 30 Academic All-Americans and 191 athletes selected in professional drafts.
One of Jurich’s crowning achievements, of course, was getting the University of Louisville an invitation to join the Atlantic Coast Conference, one of the premier conferences in college athletics. Before Jurich arrived on Belknap Campus in 1997, no one, not even the school’s most die-hard fans, could have imagined UofL being invited to the ACC. Ever.
The Trustee leadership in 2017 apparently had little knowledge or appreciation of UofL’s institutional history. Shocking that Rogers, who headed an investment company and earned a BS degree in business from UofL, was unable to grasp the scope of Jurich’s accomplishments. Even more surprising that Grissom, former chairman of Citizen’s Fidelity and current chairman of Glenview Trust, was equally clueless. One has to doubt whether the passage of time has inclined either of them to admit their mistake or amenable to making an apology to Jurich.
Grissom, especially, still wields considerable power in the community. The Glenview Trust is heavily involved in managing funds for the Brown distillery families, as well as the Brown Foundation. Don’t expect any of his current or future contacts on the board to be making any apologies either. It’s going to take someone with intestinal fortitude (guts) to buck Grissom.
Courier-Journal sports columnist C. L. Brown recently made some suggestions about how to honor Jurich:
Whether it’s renaming the strip of South Floyd Street that runs through campus, a scholarship, a plaque or bust, or a building. Something, anything, permanently associated with the university or specifically the athletic department needs to say “Jurich” as a thank you to recognize what his tenure did for the Cards.
Nice ideas but they don’t go far enough. How about naming a future building after Jurich, like maybe a new Tom Jurich Athletic Building at the site of where the grain silos were located? Or maybe a campus hotel complex with conferencing facilities? Or how about an 18,000-seat on-campus athletic facility bearing his name?
“I gave every ounce of blood, sweat and tears to that program,” Jurich told Crawford. “And my loyalty, I think, hurt me. You know how many jobs I turned down, Eric. And I think that’s probably the biggest mistake I ever made at Louisville was I should have taken one of those jobs and left and just run out of there. But I wanted to be extremely loyal. And I kind of wanted to make a point to people outside of Louisville that Louisville now is a destination, that you don’t have to come to Louisville to go somewhere else. It’s a destination place. And that’s what I always wanted to do.”
Tom Jurich never cut corners on quality. The University needs to think big when it comes to finally honoring him. His legacy is large, with his fingerprints all over the school’s athletic facilities.
The time has come to begin the healing process.