Getting ready to fly out of Las Vegas in what has been an eventful weekend — all of which has nothing to do with anything that happened in Vegas. In this particular case, what happened in Vegas . . . was nothing compared to what happened in Louisville.
Being out-of-town when the coaching situation hits the fan is nothing new for me. I was at The Masters when Billy Gillispie was hired as UK basketball coach. I was in Indianapolis when he was fired. And now, I found myself in Las Vegas covering basketball when Steve Kragthorpe got his walking papers from U of L athletic director Tom Jurich.
The bottom line on this whole thing, to me, is what I wrote in the final lines of my column today.
No U of L coach has ever taken over a better collection of talent than what Kragthrope inherited. No coach has ever had as much to work with in terms of facilities and resources. None ever was hired at a higher salary.The program did not need fixing when Kragthorpe took over. It does now.
I do think it’s important to get as much clarity as can now be gotten on what was going on for the past three years.
I also think it’s important to take an inventory of what is now left, to determine where exactly the team is, the talent level, the balance of classes, where the holes are, and what reasonably needs to be done. It’ll be interesting to see the new coach’s plan of attack, where he’ll turn first, whether a decision will be made to suck it up for a year or two and redshirt everybody, and whether fans would have any patience for that.
It’s interesting to me that Steve Kragthorpe will hold his own press conference Monday, and that he’ll do it from U of L, same time, same place as his usual Monday press conferences. Can’t be an easy thing to do. I don’t expect him to drop any bombs or scorch any earth on the way out.
A major component of what has happened the past three seasons is the enmity between some U of L fans and the school’s administration, particularly athletic director Tom Jurich. Both have been a little thin-skinned, though I can safely say that Jurich has caught far more venom in the exchange than fans have.
As a columnist, for instance, I can say flat-out that U of L fans tend to peter out (from an attendance standpoint) every season, and attendance drops every November no matter how good they are. I can say that they didn’t even boost the size of their game-attending fan base even through the Orange Bowl years. I can do that because they’re statistically provable facts.
Jurich, however, can’t do it. At one point Saturday he brushed aside a question over what went wrong under Kragthorpe by saying he didn’t want to dwell on the past. At another time, when asked about fans, he brought up a little too quickly for fan comfort the first time U of L fans ever booed Kragthorpe (his first game — but let’s be fair. That was more raucous blood-thirsty, almost mock booing wanting Hunter Cantwell to throw the ball. The real first boos came in the second game, when U of L trailed Middle Tennessee.)
But Jurich can’t say that. He shouldn’t say it. He needs to be courting his fan base now, not trying to win a point. And that fan base is putting everything he says under a microscope.
At any rate, it would behoove both Jurich and fans not to dwell too much on past slights. Tom Jurich has done more than any single individual to remake the Belknap Campus in the modern era. He has brought U of L into compliance in gender equity, brought football into a BCS conference and took it to a BCS bowl. He hired Rick Pitino and got men’s basketball back to the Final Four, and got women’s basketball, amazingly, into the national title game. Baseball has been to the College World Series.
Now, he did all those things because of great fan support. But the community and alumni have always been there, and none of these things were done until Jurich arrived.
Football could lose for a long, long time and the Jurich tenure would be a huge net gain for the university and its fans. Frankly, fans whose feelings are hurt to the point where they can’t realize what has taken place on their own campus for the past dozen years is inexplicable.
These two sides owe support to each other. And I think once a new football coach is in place, that process will likely begin. But it won’t happen overnight.