With all the new facilities and competitive gains achieved under the current athletic administration at the University of Louisville, one of the people who oversaw one of the most significant is often overlooked.bill

That individual is Bill Olsen, who served as Athletic Director from 1980 to 1997. He was in charge when Howard Schnellenberger was hired head football coach in 1985, symbolizing a major commitment to the program’s future. When Schnellenberger suggested a new football stadium, Olsen was quick to embrace the concept. He would spend several years galvanizing support for the idea.

Recognizing that U of L would receive little assistance from the state, Olsen knew that the stadium would be built only with the involvement of the local business community and local fans. The effort would take 10 years but he was determined and persistent. He was greatly assisted by local banker Malcolm Chancey and a group of business leaders.

More than 4,000 fans pledged nearly $15 million for lifetime seating rights in the initial phase of the stadium fundraising effort in May of 1993. These were followed by major gifts from Papa John’s, Brown & Williamson Tobacco, the Brown Foundation, Anheuser Busch, Bank One, Kiel Brothers Oil Inc./BP, and United Paracel Service. Significant contributions also came from McDonald’s, Pepsi Cola, Dr. Ben Reid, Kentucky Kingdom and the City of Louisville and Jefferson County. The only assistance from the state came in the form of a land swap for adjacent acreage.

Olsen’s administration also conceived the idea of Cardinal Park, the complex that today includes many new athletic facilities, getting to dedicate Dan Ulmer Stadium for the women’s softball team.

It was also Olsen who in 1996 contracted with Lamar Daniels, one of the nation’s leading consultants on gender equity issues, to audit the athletics program and to make recommendations for pushing U of L to the front. Those dreams would also be largely realized under Jurich.

Sadly Olsen would not be around for the stadium’s debut, leaving less than two months before the opener. He had been victimized in the first of a series of  NCAA rules violations in the basketball program. He retired rather than put additional pressure on his former boss, basketball coach Denny Crum.

Bill Olsen had the vision and started much of the work. He lives happily in retirement, knowing that much of his vision has become reality.

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By Charlie Springer

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

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