Mark Story

Should an ex-UK player running athletics at Louisville be an insult to Cards’ fans?

Louisville acting athletics director Vince Tyra lettered in baseball at the University of Kentucky from 1985-88.
Louisville acting athletics director Vince Tyra lettered in baseball at the University of Kentucky from 1985-88. Associated Press

Now that he is the University of Louisville’s acting athletics director, former Kentucky Wildcats baseball pitcher Vince Tyra seems intent on providing reassurance of where his deepest loyalties lie.

“I’m as excited to beat the Big Blue Nation as anybody,” Tyra said on an early-morning appearance Thursday on radio station WKRD-AM 790 in Louisville.

He later made a point of adding “I’m a Louisville guy.”

In a rational world, where a person went to college would matter a lot less in a new employment scenario than whether one was equipped to do the job.

Where major college sports rivalries are concerned, rationality is close to non-existent.

After U of L interim president Greg Postel announced Tuesday that businessman Tyra would, on an acting basis, be filling the seat long occupied by the suspended Tom Jurich, one could not go on a Louisville Cardinals internet sports message board and not find threads complaining about “a UK guy” running Cards athletics.

Now the acting athletics director at the University of Louisville, Vince Tyra had an impressive moustache as a University of Kentucky baseball player in 1987. That season, Tyra pitched in two UK wins over U of L and was the winning pitcher in one. Lexington Herald-Leader file photo

These things can fester into real problems.

Now-former Tennessee Athletics Director Dave Hart Jr. never seemed to gain acceptance from a segment of the Rocky Toppers because he was an Alabama graduate who had been hired at UT from a job in the Crimson Tide athletics department.

There is irony in Tyra having to prove his U of L “bona fides.”

In 1984, when then-UK baseball coach Keith Madison made his in-home recruiting visit with the Trinity High School pitcher and his family, he felt trepidation about entering such a strong Louisville Cardinals home.

Tyra’s late father, Charlie Tyra, was an iconic U of L basketball player in the 1950s who averaged more than 20 points and 20 rebounds per game his final two seasons.

“For a young coach, it was a little bit intimidating,” Madison said Wednesday. “Charlie Tyra was the first U of L basketball All-American. And Charlie, he was a bear of a man, just a big guy. But I hit it off with the family, and Charlie was totally open (to his son coming to UK).”

Keith Madison coaching Kentucky baseball in a game against Yale in 2000. JOSEPH REY AU Lexington Herald-Leader file photo

Vince Tyra pitched for Kentucky from 1985-88. As a sophomore, he led the UK pitching staff with seven victories. However, arm and shoulder problems sabotaged his subsequent seasons.

Tyra was a senior on UK’s 1988 team that missed a trip to the College World Series by one NCAA Tournament win.

“He was a tough, physical guy and tried to pitch through his injury,” Madison said. “But he just wasn’t the same pitcher that he had been. It hurt us, because we ran out of pitching in that (1988 NCAA) tournament.”

The whole time Tyra played baseball for Kentucky, Madison said his impression was the pitcher was rooting for Louisville in the other sports.

“I don’t remember him actively rooting against the other (UK) teams,” Madison said. “But I always felt like he was a Louisville fan. With all his Dad meant to U of L, how could he not be?”

To the chagrin of some, graduates of the University of Kentucky have long played major roles in University of Louisville athletics.

Howard Schnellenberger, the “father of the modern U of L football program” as Cardinals coach from 1985-94, was an All-America player at UK whose jersey is retired.

Howard Schnellenberger, right, the father of the modern Louisville football program, talked with current Cardinals head man Bobby Petrino before a game in Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. As a player, Schnellenberger was an Associated Press First Team All-American at the University of Kentucky in 1955. Garry Jones Associated Press

The search committee that brought Jurich — the AD who transformed Louisville from a commuter school with a high-level men’s basketball tradition into an all-sports power that earned entry into the ACC — was headed by former UK football standout Harry Jones.

Even longtime U of L radio play-by-play announcer Paul Rogers is a Kentucky alumnus.

Now Tyra, another UK alum, is tasked with guiding Louisville athletics through its darkest hour.

U of L was already awaiting a ruling from the NCAA on the university’s appeal of penalties in the strippers/escorts for men’s basketball recruits scandal.

Then came the stunning news last week that an FBI sting operation allegedly showed a Louisville men’s hoops assistant conspiring with others to funnel a six-figure payment to secure a prized recruit.

The accumulation of scandals cost Rick Pitino his job as U of L head men’s hoops coach and has the future of Jurich in limbo.

So regardless of where the person went to college, what Louisville requires in the AD’s chair presently is someone who can impart a sense of normality and bring people together.

“Vince Tyra is a stable, positive person with people skills,” Madison says of the former UK pitcher. “He’s perfect for what Louisville needs now.”