John Clay

Kragthorpe using his own playbook

Howard Schnellenberger left some big shoes to fill, but John L. Smith slid his toesies into the tips and Louisville football kept boot-scooting straight ahead.

When Smith headed north to Michigan State, Bobby Petrino slipped on those shoes and promptly ground his heel into a vast majority of foes, including the cross-state Cats.

But since Petrino peeled out first for the NFL and then for the Hog-calls of Arkansas, successor Steve Kragthorpe has had trouble finding the right fit in Louisville footwear.

Meanwhile, Cardinal fans would be happy to boot him right out the door.

In two seasons, the 44-year-old Kragthorpe — disgruntled Louisville fans often change that "g" to a "p" when discussing their grid coach — has won one less game at the 'Ville than Petrino won his final season.

Coach K is 11-13. He hasn't been to a bowl game. He's lost twice to sad-sack Syracuse. His team last year tied for the Big East cellar with a 1-6 record. It lost its final five games, including an embarrassing 63-14 smoking at Rutgers in which the 'Ville trailed 49-0 at the half.

Blame injuries and mismatches and previous discipline problems. Buy into athletic director Tom Jurich's statement to a U of L booster club that Petrino's string of 41 wins in 50 games "masked a lot of problems."

Still, many believe that this year is make-or-break for Kragthorpe.

And if Coach K is going down, he's going down in shoes of his own.

"I like the chemistry we have now," the Louisville coach said Thursday at the Governor's Cup Luncheon in Simpsonville.

Emphasis on "now."

Out at Louisville is the last of the Brohm shadow now that Jeff, the former Cardinal quarterback and last year's offensive coordinator, was pushed out the door and pointed south, where he's now Schnellenberger's offensive architect at Florida Atlantic.

In are six first-year assistant coaches, including defensive coordinator Brent Guy, former head coach at Utah State, and Matt Wells, the team's new quarterbacks coach and passing-game coordinator.

But not offensive coordinator. Kragthrope has added that role to his job description. The former NFL quarterbacks coach will write the game plan during the week and call the plays on game day.

"That's what I hired him for," Jurich said. "That's his background, offensive football. Even ( Indianapolis Colts general manager) Bill Polian asked me, 'Why isn't he calling the plays?' It's a big task for a head coach, but I think it's something the program needs."

"I'm excited about it," said Kragthorpe. "I enjoy the chess match of calling a game."

It will be a challenging chess match. Louisville turned the football over 30 times last season, most in the Big East. Its turnover ratio was a minus-12. It cliff-dived from sixth nationally in total offense in '07 to 45th in 2008. It ranked an un-Louisville-like 63rd in passing offense. The Quarterback U. string of Chris Redman to Dave Ragone to Stefan LeFors to Brian Brohm to Hunter Cantwell has become Question Mark U.

And Louisville fans think they know who to blame.

Can Coach K survive?

"He's a very tough guy, first of all," said Jurich, who steadfastly refuses to place a win requirement on Kragthorpe's return. "Now he's got his own people in here, his own coaching staff, and I think that's going to be of big value to him."

If Steve Kragthorpe is going down, he'll go down on his own two feet.