35 milestones for University of Louisville athletics

Hard to believe where the University of Louisville athletics were when a teenager started following the Cardinals in earnest in the mid-fifties to what the program has become over the past decade or so.

UofL had a long, long way to go as it entered the second half of the century. The basketball team was playing in the downtown Armory and the football and baseball teams at Parkway Field. Pathetic facilities, low attendance, lack of energy, resulting from decades of indifference and a dearth of local political leadership.

That would begin to change, thanks to involved corporate leaders and visionary groups like the Louisville Development Committee, Leadership Louisville,  and the University of Louisville Foundation. The community would gradually awaken to the possibilities that a growing and vibrant University could bring to the community.

The biggest game changer of all would come with the hiring of Tom Jurich as Athletic Director by President John Shumaker in 1997.  Jurich would create an unprecedented level of momentum over 15 years, changing the face of the University while earning for him the respect and awe of the community, the alumni and fellow athletic directors across the country.

A few milestones along the way. Feel free to add to the list if some are missing:

  • 1956 – Louisville wins National Invitation Tournament
  • 1956 – Basketball team moves from the Armory to Freedom Hall
  • 1956 – Football moves to Fairground Stadium.
  • 1959 – UofL basketball makes first NCAA Final Four
  • 1971 – Denny Crum hired as basketball coach
  • 1973 – Fairgrounds stadium expanded from 21,000 to 36,000 for football
  • 1974 — Tailgating begins at Louisville football games
  • 1980 — First NCAA basketball championship
  • 1984 – Freedom Hall renovation to allow VIP suites
  • 1984 – Hiring of Howard Schnellenberger as football coach
  • 1986 – Second NCAA basketball championship
  • 1991 – Football team defeats Alabama in Fiesta Bowl
  • 1992 – Athletic Director Bill Olson begins fund drive for football stadium
  • 1995 — John Shumaker hired as University President
  • 1997 – Tom Jurich hired as Athletic Director
  • 1998 – Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium opens
  • 2000 — Owsley Frazier Cardinal Park opens
  • 2001 – Rick Pitino hired as basketball coach
  • 2002 — James Ramsey hired as University President
  • 2003 – Bobby Petrino hired as football coach
  • 2005 – UofL joins Big East Conference
  • 2005 – Jim Patterson Stadium opens for baseball
  • 2007 – Football team wins BCS Orange Bowl
  • 2007 – Baseball team goes to the College World Series
  • 2007 – Jeff Walz hired as women’s basketball coach
  • 2009 – Women’s basketball team runner up in NCAA tournament
  • 2009 – Charlie Strong hired as football coach
  • 2009 – Papa John’s Stadium capacity increased to 55,000
  • 2010 – Basketball moves to KFC Yum! Center
  • 2013 – Construction of soccer stadium begins
  • 2013 – Football team win BCS Sugar Bowl
  • 2013 – Third NCAA men’s basketball championship
  • 2013 – Women’s basketball national runner-up
  • 2014 – Bobby Petrino rehired as football coach
  • 2014 – UofL joins Atlantic Coast Conference
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Charlie Springer

Charlie Springer is a former Louisville editor and sportswriter, a public affairs consultant, a UofL grad and longtime fan.

8 thoughts on “35 milestones for University of Louisville athletics

  • May 14, 2014 at 1:18 pm

    A few I would consider adding to your list, Charlie:

    1951 Johnny Unitas begins play for UofL

    1970 (?) Hired Lee Corso (who showed the local fans that UofL football could be fun and successful)

    1998 Hired John L Smith (who again brought exciting football to UofL…thus expanding the fan base…and got us to a bowl game every year)

    2013 College World Series

    I would also add Ron Mann’s arrival for Cross Country/Track & Field coaching and the huge success of at least a couple of his athletes (Korir) as well as the recent national championship of one of our swimmers!

  • May 14, 2014 at 2:50 pm

    Nice additions, Tom. Johnny U was certainly a milestone, though I was starting from my early association with the program. Certainly many others that could be considered.

  • May 16, 2014 at 2:59 pm

    You missed an obvious milestone; U of L receives the attention of a local observer who covers the Card’s games.

  • May 17, 2014 at 1:26 pm

    LOL Rick, thanks for a great compliment. You are much too kind.

  • May 19, 2014 at 9:29 pm

    I enjoyed reading your list. If starting in the mid-fifties, the only item I would add is the first final four in 1959. However, a few of your dates are off. Fairgrounds Stadium expansion was not until at least 1973. I remember attending the Tulsa game in 1972 (only loss that year) and the new seating had not been added. Freedom Hall renovation was summer of 1984. Howard was hired in late 1984. The Fiesta Bowl victory was actually in 1991 (to be consistent with dating of the Orange Bowl and Sugar Bowls). Papa John’s opened in 1998.

    • May 19, 2014 at 9:44 pm

      Thanks for the updates, Steve. I appreciate your efforts and have made appropriate changes.

  • May 20, 2014 at 7:05 pm

    Johnny U didn’t make a name for himself until the NFL.
    The biggest game changer was not Tom Jurich, it was Denny Crum. Without Crum building UL basketball , many of the advancements in UL athletics would have never happened and Tom probably would never even have considered UL.

    • May 20, 2014 at 7:13 pm

      Denny Crum made an enormous contribution but he was on the downhill when TJ arrived.

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