Sadly, a small group of University of Louisville football fans believes Tom Jurich owes them an apology for a few comments. Yes, that Tom Jurich, the vice president of athletics, the person who over the last dozen years has made Louisville a major player across the board in NCAA athletics.
Weâ€™ll rehash the comments later. Suffice it for now to conclude that a boisterous minority insults the collective intelligence of the Louisville fan base. Before TJâ€™s arrival in 1997, Louisville was still considered by some outsiders to be a mid-major school, even in basketball with two national championships.
Juirchâ€™s most significant accomplishment was getting Louisville into the Big East Conference, elevating the programâ€™s national stature and improving scheduling for all sports programs on Belknap Campus.
Integral to his efforts was completion of the Owsley Frazier Cardinal Sports Park, which was very much still in the blue-sky dreaming stage in 1997. Yes, Bill Olson had the blueprints and the vision, but the project was very much in limbo after completion of the womenâ€™s softball stadium.
Fast forward to today. A year from now, U of L basketball will move into a $238 million downtown basketball arena in downtown Louisville, underscoring his vision of the importance of the universityâ€™s athletic program to the community. Jim Host’s involvement has been absolutely critical but without Jurich’s involvement, the project would still be a distant dream.
The hiring of Rick Pitino as menâ€™s basketball coach was initially considered a pipe dream, becoming a reality only because of TJâ€™s persistence. His hirings in other sports have led to an unprecedented number of U of L appearances in NCAA post season play, most notably baseball and womenâ€™s basketball.
As for football, Jurich brought in John L. Smith and Bobby Petrino, making it possible to aspire to the highest levels of college football. Multiple appearances in the Liberty Bowl. Then on to the GMAC Bowl, the Motor City Bowl, the Gator Bowl, and a win in the BCS Orange Bowl..
Pre-Tom Jurich, followers of Louisville football could never in their wildest dreams, despite Howard Schnellenbergerâ€™s promises, have realistically envisioned U of L being among the nationâ€™s top 10 football programs for two consecutive seasons, let alone a viable contender for the national championship game in 2006.
Success, however, does strange things to some fans. After following a team through thick and thin for decades, fans were ecstatic that the football program had finally arrived in 2006. How sweet it was until Petrino deserted the program just two days after the Orange Bowl victory.
Three seasons later, the football program appears to be churning aimlessly in a downward spiral. The fan base is disheartened, sensing little chance of a turnaround. The athletic director, while recognizing the frustration of fans, is also cognizant of the feeling that it would be unprofessional to fire a coach after two seasons. Defending the decision to retain Steve Kragthorpe, he says something about fans expecting to go to the Orange Bowl every week and people outside of Louisville knowing that Kragthorpe is a great coach.
Not the best way to placate angry football fans. But one must face facts. Jurich probably made the Orange Bowl comment in jest. And he still may not have been convinced that Kragthorpe was wrong person who could turn the program as the third season began.
If some fans were really offended by those comments, they need to grow thicker skin.
Tom Jurich is the administrator who reinforced and encouraged the high expectations. Jurich has given Kragthorpe every chance to show progress. Despite what he says for media consumption, Jurich knows when the evidence on the field indicates otherwise. Until this season is over and Jurich has announced his verdict on Kragthorpe, he must publicly support the coach.
But he will still not owe Louisville football fans any apologies.