I guess you can call this the extended dance mix. This is what will run in the morning, except that the one in the paper will be about 150 words shorter. About the only differences are adding comments from Kragthorpe. Not sure what the headline will be.
PISCATAWAY, N.J. — The time has come for some answers.
The University of Louisville suffered its most lopsided loss in two decades last night, 63-14 at Rutgers, and the questions can no longer be addressed as the product of an unreasonable fan base or a knee-jerk media.
The thing is broken. Whatever it was, or however it got here, the ship, to use a favorite past metaphor of second-year coach Steve Kragthorpe’s, has run aground and been boarded by pirates.
The time has come for some answers.
I’m not necessarily talking about a detailed explanation of how things got to this point, though that would be nice. When a program goes from winning an Orange Bowl to being the butt of ESPN jokes in two seasons, fans reasonably want to know why.
Last nights’ game was the kind that U of L fans used to enjoy, watching their team try to score with restraint in the fourth quarter while the announcing team essentially talked their way through a half-hour U of L infomercial. But these downturns happen, have happened in the past two years, in fact, to more established programs than U of L’s (see Michigan, Auburn, Notre Dame.) And at this point, there are more useful questions.
Whether Kragthorpe will be back is not one of them. Tom Jurich told The Courier-Journal again last night that he’s going to “stay the course” with Kragthorpe.
Kragthopre said this: “I’m in it for the long haul. If I was going to leave, I’d have left last year. I’m not going anyplace. I’m going to continue to fight and continue to battle. That’s the way I am, the way I was raised. Obviously I’m very disappointed with where we’re at programmatically right now. We need to be better than what we are and I take full responsibility for that, but I want to get it fixed. I want to be here, I’m committed to being here.”
So be it. Let’s have some answers. If fans are going to follow, they need to have a road map. First and foremost: what is the plan for fixing it? What is the recruiting strategy? What is the offensive philosophy moving forward? What are the short-term goals and long term?
The time for generalities and insinuations of past mistakes has gone, and fans want to hear reasons for hope. ESPN last night kept focusing on a strand of hair yanked from Rutgers running back Jourdan Brooks’ head. They should’ve had some cameras back in Louisville, where fans have been pulling their hair out all season.
Just as worrisome as the undermanned team on the field are questions about where the replacements will come from.
For a second straight year, Kragthorpe is looking at the junior college ranks to fill immediate needs, and eventually, leaning on jucos will lead to a crash. Even worse, recruiting footholds that U of L established in talent-rich states like Florida, Alabama and Georgia appear to be drying up, and years of entrenchments that began with Howard Schnellenberger are in danger of being abandoned.
Next season will be even tougher. The schedule heats up. U of L will play Utah on the road. A year later, they go to Oregon State, and the next year to Gergia. Some of the team’s best players played their last games last night, and talented defensive coordinator Ron English might be too. Despite some gaudy defensive numbers given up over the season’s finale weeks, English took on a very difficult project in this defense, and has earned his chance at a head coaching job.
Last night, when asked to elaborate on keys, Kragthorpe listed depth, recruiting and “grinding, fighting and battling.” In the coming days, more specificity will be needed. Turnovers, penalties, toss-sweeps on 4th and 1, the questions mount.
And they deserve answers. Not generalities. Not “we have to do better.” But specifics. And perhaps the toughest questions should be asked in those offices on Floyd Street, about whether this is working.
While he inherited a program with momentum, Kragthorpe did take over a difficult job, keeping a program on a high plane during a transition year. In some ways, the situation meant that fans here never embraced him. But the situation he is in now is even tougher, and a segment of the fan base is disillusioned and doubting.
Jurich has declared his support for the coach, and that’s fine. Now it’s time to show a plan of action. And offer some answers.