U of L football, some experts speak . . .

Today’s story on U of L football wasn’t an attempt to change the conversation, but to take a little bit of a different look at the program’s situation at the moment, from a wider perspective.

I talked to three men who know more about building Louisville football than anybody: Tom Jurich, Howard Schnellenberger and John L. Smith. I also talked to some national pundits.

I wanted to move beyond the present difficulties, for a moment, and ask what exactly is U of L’s rightful place in the college football landscape. Because with the program where it is now, one could easily say that it used a set of fortunate circumstances to spike on the national scene, Bush and Brohm coming along at home, with several other hometown talents, the return home via transfer of some big-name talent that had left. Nobody’s saying U of L wasn’t well-positioned to take advantage of it, and Bobby Petrino was fantastic.

But even if this program wasn’t in need of rebuilding two years ago — and I don’t accept that it was. Was it nonetheless heading for a valley with the departure of some of this talent? And was that natural dip not exacerbated by the loss of 20-some players for disciplinary reasons?

Frankly, the debate locally has reached a stalemate. One side thinks Steve Kragthorpe can do no right and should be replaced immediately. The other thinks Kragthorpe has been a victim of bad luck and bad circumstance and deserves a chance to ride it out.

Where do I fall? This is one of those unfortunate times as a columnist where both sides are backing themselves with a lot of truth. I think Kragthorpe could’ve pulled out better records in each of these first two seasons, and thus avoided this whole conversation. I also think that 20-plus players out for disciplinary issues is more than a spin or an excuse. Those are real bodies that aren’t on campus. And, as you’ll read in a column Monday based on an interview I did with outgoing defensive coordinator Ron English, the dearth of talent is dramatic.

Nobody sets out not to win. The notion that Kragthorpe ran off good players because he wanted to is ludicrous. The notion that Jurich is watching the program slide and not making a move because of friendship is also ludicrous. Frankly, the easy move for Jurich to make at this point would be to cut Kragthorpe loose.

I think U of L fans and Jurich are destined for disagreement on this one for a while. But I still think it was worthwhile to get thoughts from him, from Smith and from Schnellenberger, as well as Lee Corso and others who are watching this program from varying perspectives.

My own voice in this piece was minimal. It’s longer, twice as long, probably, as my normal column, and in trying to piece together so many opinions, adding my own would’ve served just to muddle issues further.

So I let the principals have their say, but as always, there’s more to it than you can get into the newspaper. So my next few entries will be expanded versions of the interviews I did.

More to come . . .

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