Kragthorpe’s Stumbles Cripple Louisville Football

From the moment he stubbed his toe on the way to the podium at his introductory news conference as the new football coach, things have not gone well for Steve Kragthorpe at the University of Louisville. That little stumble would become emblematic of a major two-year crippling of the football program.

His assumption of the reigns of UofL football was ill-timed at best, the first week in January, forced to select a staff, retain some key players, and get in the thick of the recruiting battles quickly before the February deadline. Kragthorpe also encountered significant pressure from the administration and fans to retain some people he had never worked with as a coach.

On top of that, he was replacing the most successful football coach in the university’s history, still celebrating the Orange Bowl appearance and its first BCS win while finishing eighth in the national polls. While his predecessor was not well liked, Bobby Petrino was a winner on the football field and could do no wrong as far as fans were concerned. Kragthorpe took the position in spite of the conventional wisdom of never following a legend.

The observer recalls standing in a long line at the Neutral Zone store in Middletown, waiting for the coach to sign a football for the grandson. We waited, waited and waited some more. The coach would be over an hour late before getting there. Word was that he was lost, trying to find the place.

No apologies, at least none that made it back to our place in the long line. The ball coach sits down at a table, methodically signing the memorabilia handed to him. A minimum of effort to get to know the fans, the coach rarely acknowledging the person standing in front of him, little time or no interest in fan introductions.

Then came a long string of mysterious dismissals of players from the team with minimal communications from the coach. Lackluster performances against the equivalent of Division II teams. Loss after loss, including losses to mediocre Division I football teams. Players missing games because of suspensions or injuries, again with little explanation.  As his tenure progressed, there were few signs of improvement on the offensive side of the ball. Too many recruits favoring other venues. The outlook for next season appearing even more grim.

The coach made minimal effort to win fans over to his side, expecting them to somehow understand the obstacles he was up against. The worn out clichés wore thin quickly. He was unwilling or incapable of relating to the fans’ frustrations, a martyr wanting to bear the burden while hoping he would have plenty of time to turn the program around.

These handicaps put his friend and boss Tom Jurich in the unenviable position of attempting to defend Kragthorpe. Certainly a football coach should have more than two seasons to build a program, but not when all available evidence indicates that the program is going in reverse.

Steve Kragthorpe may be a fine person. We have no reason to believe otherwise. But we may never know for sure, because Kragthorpe has been unable to relate to Louisvillians  and their expectations for the University of Louisville and U of L football. These shortcomings may have been his biggest stumbles.

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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.

19 thoughts on “Kragthorpe’s Stumbles Cripple Louisville Football

  • December 4, 2008 at 12:15 pm

    I think I was standing in the same line at Neutral Zone and thinking that it was not a good first impression for the coach. It is fairly typical of the lack of effort to get involved in the community to get to know people. Oh, I know the football team goes to the children’s hospital and does Habitat for Humanity projects, but those are things every football team does, largely symbolic. We have never had a chance to get to know him and he has not made much effort to get to know us.

  • December 4, 2008 at 12:21 pm

    SK may have written the book on how not to get along with fans. You can lose but still have fan support, just look at Phil Fulmer at Tennessee.

  • December 4, 2008 at 12:23 pm

    The silence this week has been deafening. There is definitely something going on.

  • December 4, 2008 at 12:25 pm

    Such a shame. The odds were stacked against him from the beginning. He never had a chance. Winning the fans over was like to trying to win with his resources. Pretty much nil.

  • December 4, 2008 at 12:56 pm

    Great article. College coaching is about relationships, dealing with players, familes, fans and boosters. A good coach, even if losing, needs to inspire the fan base. Kragthorpe has inspired no one.

  • December 4, 2008 at 2:03 pm

    This post sums up the difficulty that many of us have felt in wanting to support the Koach, despite his perceived inadequacies. He seems like a nice guy, but he hasn’t done much to endear himself to the fan base. I remember being very turned off by the Koach at first when he immediately began speaking of himself in the third person, telling reporters how Steve Kragthorpe was going to do things, how Steve Kragthorpe’s teams would perform, etc. That struck me as quite presumptuous, but I was hoping that his performance would ultimately justify the bravado. Alas, thus far that has not occurred.

  • December 4, 2008 at 4:02 pm

    Interesting perspective. I have tried to put my finger on Kragthorpe, but he really doesn’t get close to the fans. He doesn’t really give much of himself at all. I think that is why this has been frustrating. If we knew a little bit more, if information was forthcoming, I think people would be behind him. Give us some sort of plan, or idea. The losing is bad, but not caring is even worse.

  • December 4, 2008 at 4:21 pm

    You’ve been a little slow to board, but welcome aboard the good ship Reality, Charlie!
    In Southern-style car racing, we used to have a philosophy of ‘Run what you brung.’ No matter the engine size or weight, we just did the best with what we had. When funds are low, you make the best of what you have.
    But did Koach ever try to use what he was dealt? Or did he try to assemble a ‘Kragthorpe-signature’ team, whatever the heck that is? I think the answer lies in records of 6-6 and 5-7, unless they get lucky tonight. And next year is going to be more of the same, unless TJ boards the same ship as you. But fat chance, so pass the basketball!

  • December 4, 2008 at 5:00 pm

    John, I’m not on the ship pushing him out the door, just making some observations.

  • December 4, 2008 at 6:27 pm

    The Gator Bowl and Orange Bowl teams each had over 30 players from Florida. K has signed two classes which include one from FL who really isn’t from FL as Nord grew up here in Louisville. From a school building a program around FL recruits to not being able to get one says a lot. And note the number of Louisville kids now playing and commiting to UK and not UofL. Kant Koach, Kant recruit. We are on the ski jump ramp and heading downward very quickly.

  • December 4, 2008 at 6:31 pm

    That’s the most disgusting part about the current situation, Louisville kids going to Lexington to play for UK? That needs to be turned around … soon.

  • December 4, 2008 at 6:34 pm

    You are so right, John…he has never tried to bond with his fanbase and he is so distant and vague about everything that, as fans, a lot of us feel as though we are actually outsiders. We have followed the Cardinals for 30 years and we expect the Head Coach to reach out to the fans….I hope the rumor that he is resigning win or lose tonight is true…has everyone read the blog on Card Chronicle about that? Interesting. We’ll see. As always and forever – Go CARDS !

  • December 4, 2008 at 9:31 pm

    Wow, 49-0! First half! What is it going to take for change? We have dropped so low so fast, I understand that change takes time but, how much is enough. We got rid of the trouble players and now we need some key kids that can play NOW! We can’t even keep the local kids, they would rather play down 64. Change must come, this program has hit rock bottom! Fastest 180 EVER SEEN!

  • December 4, 2008 at 9:32 pm

    I get tired of reading that Kragthorp had to come in and clean up the problems Petrino left behind. It seems the entire time Petrino was here you didn’t here of many problems with the players off the field or on. Those players had a fear for the boss and knew performance would make him a fan. This team does not fear the coach and have done the things they have been doing apparently for no fear of reprisals from the coach. I can except rebuilding but there is no sign of improvement so far in two year. If anything the is a downhill spiral that is picking up speed. Someone needs to do something soon because it is effecting recruiting. Who wants to come here if they don’t think they can win.

  • December 4, 2008 at 10:39 pm

    A friend of mine tells me that he has a good friend who has been friendly with Jeff Brohm for years. Supposedly Brohm has said that a lot of his play calls never get to the QB. Can’t say it’s true but if so that places blame for poor play calling on someone besides the OC.

  • December 10, 2008 at 10:17 am

    I really love Cardinal athletics, especially Louisville football. Being from OUT in the state there is not a whole lot of Cards supporters. Think about this: when Petrino was at the helm the Cards were becoming favorites across the Bluegrass State as the Team to follow and proud to back. So very much is at stake for the U of L and Jurich needs to move quickly now and find US a Coach not a family friend. If not the results will be devastating starting Fall 2009; then after finally firing his friend it will be another 2-3 years before things are turned around. One thing fer certain..We need to get rid of Steve Kragthorpe now. We need to start applying pressure by directing our displeasure towards Dr. Ramsey since Jurich is unwilling to realize the folly of his choice.

  • December 10, 2008 at 11:35 am

    L, I think most of the pressure has been applied and attention is shifting towards basketball. The fans have been heard but Tom believes the coach will eventually turn things around and restore the program to where it was two seasons ago.

  • December 10, 2008 at 4:36 pm

    As a head coach he now has a 45 win 40 loss record. Think that proves that all he is is a .500 coach. Fully expect a 4 win 8 loss season in 2009 or at best another 5 win 7 loss one.

  • December 13, 2008 at 7:19 pm

    How about Louisville kids going to Ohio St. where thay will more than likely sit the bench or play special teams for 3 years before givin the chance to start?

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