Three quick takeaways from a sad day for Louisville athletics:
1. The inglorious end for Rick Pitino and Tom Jurich
Don’t be fooled by the “administrative leave” label. That’s legal wording for the time period in which economic and contractual obligations will be met before termination. That U of L interim president Dr. Greg Postel announced that both Pitino and Jurich were both being placed on leave is the first step in the firing.
It’s a steep fall for both men who have helped build Louisville athletics to the point where the school was accepted into the ACC, something few would have thought of a few years ago.
When Jurich took over as Louisville’s AD, the athletic program was basically a mid-major in every sport but basketball, where Denny Crum had lifted it to unprecedented heights. Nearly from scratch, Jurich built the entire program, from Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium to new facilities for baseball, soccer, etc.
He hired baseball coach Dan McDonnell, who has taken the Cards to three College World Series. He hired Jeff Walz, who took the Louisville women’s basketball program to Final Fours and national championships games.
He hired John L. Smith, Charlie Strong and Bobby Petrino (twice) in football as the Cards became a Top 25 power that produced a Heisman Trophy winner in Lamar Jackson.
Jurich also hired Pitino, who gave him a national championship in 2013 but also led to his demise. Pitino is a great basketball coach, but by the end the scandals became too much to take, from Karen Sypher to the “Stripper Scandal” to now this FBI investigation that implicated the Cardinals once again.
Once again, Pitino said he didn’t know anything about it. If that excuse shouldn’t have flown before, it certainly doesn’t fly now.
2. Who will be Louisville’s interim basketball coach?
Interim president Dr. Greg Postel said that the school would name an interim AD and an interim basketball coach in the next 48 hours. He gave no hints to who the interim candidates might be.
One name being thrown around here is ex-Indiana coach Tom Crean, who was fired after last season. Crean is certainly an experienced coach with proper credentials and one who has not been in any NCAA trouble. He’s also free.
But even if U of L is interested, would Crean want the job? Even without Brian Bowen, whom the school will hold out as the FBI investigation continues, the Cards have plenty of talent. Many preseason prognosticators placed Louisville in the top five or top 10 for the 2017-18 season.
Yet there will be plenty of distractions this year, from the appeal of NCAA sanctions leveled against the program over the summer, to a probable whole new NCAA investigation over the FBI’s findings. There will also be expectations, even for an interim coach.
What coach would want to walk into that situation? I guess we’ll find out soon.
3. What happens to the rest of the Louisville athletic department?
Dan McDonnell was hired by Tom Jurich. Jeff Walz was hired by Tom Jurich. There are other successful coaches at U of L who have a strong allegiance to Jurich. Will they leave? Will they stay? Will they wait to see who the new permanent AD will be after the interim period has been completed?
And what of Bobby Petrino? Many eyebrows were raised when Jurich hired Petrino for a second stint at the school, a year after Petrino was fired at Arkansas in a scandal of his own making.
Football continues to be a major money maker for college athletic programs and Louisville is in the middle of expanding Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. Will a new AD want the opportunity to hire his own football coach?
There is also the KFC Yum Center, plagued by financial problems, to consider. Louisville’s basketball program is its top tenant. The school just re-did a deal with Yum in an effort to ease the financial burden. What will this negative publicity and the possibility of more NCAA sanctions do the crowds down by the river?
Jurich and Pitino won’t be around for the aftershocks from Tuesday’s earthquake, but there will be plenty of them in the days and months ahead.