In a bit of NFL Network banter, Rich Eisen and Michael Lombardi let slip a nugget that Tom Jurich had tried to buy out the contract of U of L head coach Steve Kragthorpe last year, but been turned down.
Sorry, I’m not buying it. And if you do buy it, you’re also buying some pretty disturbing things about the way Jurich has handled things since last season.
For starters, I simply don’t buy the notion that Jurich would keep a coach he doesn’t want to keep. Let’s say the buyout was for the rest of his contract, $4.2 million. Jurich could have raised it, paid it and probably had enough left over to run for mayor with the popularity that would’ve ensued.
Secondly, I don’t think the money can be claimed as an issue. As it is, to buy Kragthorpe out at face value this year would be $2.8 million, and if you believe Lombardi’s report that the Cards will pursue Jon Gruden (one rumor had them ready to offer $3.6 million), then you’re likely looking at more money to make a coaching switch this year than last year (assuming they would’ve found some indigent coach to take it for a paltry $2 million a year).
But there’s more than that. Jurich’s defense of Kragthorpe over the past year has been not just supportive, but passionate.
He has made it a point a couple of times to note publicly that the team got an “upgrade at offensive coordinator.” A subtle shot at Jeff Brohm, who wasn’t just demoted, but removed from coaching duties, before taking another job.
I won’t pull all the clips, at least not now.
But there’s the interview I conducted with him just before Christmas last year. This would’ve been after a supposed buyout was offered. Yet Jurich doesn’t sound like someone who would rather have someone else. You can read some lengthy excerpts of that conversation here. But a taste of it follows.
Q: What is Steve doing that you like, and are there things you’d like to see him do differently?
A: Steve knows right now that we just have to move on, and that’s why I’m so impressed with him. He’s a trooper. He just keeps going straight ahead. He works hard, and everything I see — and you know I’m watching things closely right now — he’s doing right. Eric, I did a lot of homework before I hired him. People don’t realize how much work I put into that. I talked to Bob Stoops, Greg Williams, Dan Henning. I can give you lists and lists and lists of what people thought of him.
Q: About Steve. Tell me what you’ve observed of him, learned about him the past two years.
A: He’s a tough individual. A hard-nosed guy. I’ve seen a lot of people who really would have cracked. You know, this is a very difficult town for him to live in, because of his children. That’s makes it tough. I’ve been through it. I went through it with the Crum thing, so I know what it’s like. It’s not any fun.
I know him. I don’t know him as well as people like to perceive it, but what I know of him I really appreciate because he’s not pointing any fingers. Every issue here, we take it head on, and we will find a way. All the kids, I know what they think of him because they come in here and tell me. He’s got a lot of people shooting at his back, and that makes it very tough. A lot of people shooting at me. And I get it, I get it.
Q: I tell you, I wondered what was going to happen after Rutgers, not necessarily because of what was happening on the field, but because of what he might be going through away from it.
A: He rolls up his sleeves. I’ve never seen anybody like him. I’ve seen a lot of coaches go run and hide. Not this cat.
Q: If you’re asked, and I’m sure you are, what brings you to the office and gives you the hope and belief that that things will get back to where they were, what is it?
A: Because I think he’s so focused on building the infrastructure and he knows how to do it and what to do. He knows the type of kids to go after. That’s just what we have to get. And I know it sounds like such a cop out, Eric, but it’s the numbers. In basketball, you can get by with 8 or 9 guys. In football, you just can’t be down in numbers. From my standpoint (knocking on desk) our discipline issues I think are gone. I’m not naive enough to think there aren’t some that crop up. But I think they’re pretty much gone. I love the strength and conditioning people we have in place now. From an academic standpoint they’re doing everything right. We just have to translate everything into W’s.
Q: But you’ve got people suggesting things like, “Well, he’s sitting there watching this program be dismantled and not willing to make a move because the coach is his friend,” things like that —
A: Yeah, that’s really what you want. That’s what you really want — somebody to come in and tear up everything you’ve worked for and poured your life into. Listen, I’m paying a lot of attention to this program. I don’t know, internally, if you can find any bad words about Steve.
In short, I’ve watched Jurich operate for a long time. I think if he’s not the best athletic director in the country, he’s among the handful of best. The gap between idea and action is shorter with him than just about anybody I’ve ever been around. He takes things from the drawing board to reality as quickly as anyone in his business.
If he wanted Kragthorpe out as football coach, then Kragthorpe would have been out. I don’t know where this came from, I don’t know what Lombardi’s sources are on this one. It’s not something he has put in print. But it’s a damaging thing to have out there, and may be something U of L would want to address.