Denny Crum a cool relief to rivals' heat

Would you eat bologna tacos with Denny Crum?

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistMay 16, 2010 

Back in the day, Denny Crum's Louisville basketball teams were known to really cook. Nowadays, it's the former University of Louisville hoops coach himself who does the cooking.

On nights when his schedule of charity events and appearances on behalf of the U of L development office allow him to be at home, Crum says he has dinner on the table when his wife, the Louisville radio/TV broadcaster Susan Sweeney, gets home from work.

"I make the best mashed potatoes you've ever put in your mouth," Crum said last week. "And you should really try my bologna tacos."

Bologna tacos?

Really?

"I saw them being made when I was a kid," Crum said. "It may sound funny, but, trust me, they're good."

As I chatted with the coach of Louisville's only two NCAA championship teams (1980 and 1986), I found myself thinking that on two major fronts the state of Kentucky owes a current and hearty thanks to Crum and his radio sports talk show co-host Joe B. Hall.

The atmosphere around the University of Kentucky-Louisville rivalry may never have been more toxic than right now.

Things long since became frosty between Mitch Barnhart and Tom Jurich. Long before the Battle of Teague, Rick Pitino and John Calipari loathed each other.

The message board culture ensures that the Internet component of the UK and U of L fan bases are always at each other's collective throat.

Amid all this heat, the congenial morning talk show syndicated around the commonwealth featuring Crum and his former UK rival Hall is a welcome example that the great Blue and Red divide doesn't have to be surly.

The other area in which much is to be gained from the current lives of the two well-seasoned coaches is their approach to "retirement."

Hall attends more public events here in Lexington than candidates in a political season.

When Crum started reading off his schedule for last week — a speech in Prestonsburg; judging a Louisville version of Dancing With The Stars; playing in a charity golf tournament for former Cardinals player Roger Burkman — my pen started smoking from trying to write them all down.

Acknowledging it must be easier to do if one is a nationally famous former college sports coach, the best approach to a fulfilling retirement seems to be not allowing one's self to become "retiring."

"I have something every day, every day," said Crum, 73.

As part of a $7 million separation agreement that U of L gave Crum when he agreed to step down as Louisville coach in 2001 after an acrimonious negotiation with Jurich, the former coach works for the university's development office.

"I don't ask people for money myself," Crum said, "but I attend the events where people do get asked."

When he left John Wooden's staff at UCLA to become Louisville head man way back in 1971, Crum says one of the enticements was talk of a new basketball arena.

Almost four decades later, U of L will move into a new $252 million, 22,000-seat downtown arena next season.

"It's going to be fantastic," Crum said of the KFC Yum! Center. "What I like, as much as anything, are the facilities that surround the actual arena. You have two rows of corporate boxes. There are numerous rooms, rooms that will hold 700, 800 people that can be used for a lot of events. It's a first-rate, modern facility."

After Louisville's dramatic upset of No. 1 Syracuse in what was the Cardinals' final game in Freedom Hall in March, Pitino was addressing a post-game celebration.

At the end of his remarks, the current U of L coach handed the microphone to Crum, saying that the man who had coached 30 seasons of Cardinals basketball in Freedom Hall deserved to have the final say in the building.

"He didn't have to do that, it wasn't a planned thing," Crum said. "Rick and I have always had a good relationship and I really appreciated that."

Amid his non-stop schedule, Crum allows that he misses the competition from coaching basketball games and the relationships a coach forms with players.

"But I'm really happy with how things have turned out," he said. "I'm really, really fortunate."

And the coach who made six Final Four trips swears up and down that his bologna tacos really do make for some good eating.

"I have this little fishing lodge out in Idaho and I always make bologna tacos for the guys I invite out there," Crum said. "In all that time, only one person hasn't liked them. And he just didn't like bologna."

Reach Mark Story at (859) 231-3230 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3230, or mstory@herald-leader.com. Your e-mail could appear on the blog Read Mark Story's E-mail at Kentucky.com.

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