Despite the success of last season, Tom Jurich says the University of Louisville can improve this season.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The University of Louisville's football game against Kentucky Sunday in Papa John's Cardinal Stadium is more than merely the season opener for the football program. The game also symbolizes the start of another year for the entire U of L athletics program.
Last season was packed with highlights in basketball, softball, baseball, soccer, swimming and other sports. Rick Bozich met with U of L athletic director Tom Jurich Friday to look back at last season – and look ahead to 2012-13.
Jurich talked about expectations, conference realignment, Charlie Strong, Rick Pitino, the new Big East commissioner, outworking people as "little brother" and the high praise he earned from Sen. Mitch McConnell.
1. BOZICH: As an athletic director, what did you take away from last season?
JURICH: I'm more proud of the coaches than I have ever been because I think from a team effort, meaning the athletic department team, they did an unbelievable job. When I took the job 15 years ago, that was my Number One goal. I wanted to have a comprehensive athletic department. I think I told you that. I didn't want to just be known for being a basketball school or a one-sport school. I wanted to be across the board. And I think last year was the epitome of it."
2. BOZICH: A lot of schools have those ambitions. How have you been able to succeed?
JURICH: "Any athletic director, any university president in the country can talk it. At Louisville, we better walk it. That's what we always do. Get up in the morning, look in the mirror and figure out how we can get better.
"I've always said that we're a blue-collar school. We're Avis. We're the little brother. Whatever you want to call us, that's what we are. Because we're going to try harder. I think by trying harder and giving that extra effort, it has really perpetuated this to turn it into something that is really special. All these teams really strive extremely hard to win championships, but they also strive to see each other do well. That's what I like most."
3. BOZICH: Eric Crawford and I talked to Sen. Mitch McConnell last week, and he was effusive in his praise of your performance the last 15 years, calling you a "genius," for the work you have done building the U of L program and brand.
JURICH: "I'm not a genius. You know me well enough that you know that I'm not a genius. All I try to do is facilitate success. The way you facilitate success is that you bring in people that fit.
"Fit is an easy word to throw around, but it's a word that I really believe in. I try to do it with every single hire. I try to make sure that our coaches not only fit with their own teams and make sure they check their egos at the door, but make sure they fit with the other teams that we have and that they're really a big part of the university."
4. BOZICH: The great thing as well as the challenge in sports is that last year is over. Now you have to prove yourself again this year. What goals have you set as your programs begin a new season?
JURICH: "I don't think anybody was satisfied with last year. The great thing is we won those championships and our coaches were saying we got second in three or four others, so why didn't we win there?
"That's the attitude we like. I don't think one of our coaches is looking in the mirror saying, ‘Boy, that was a great year last year.' They're all saying, ‘Boy, we've got to get better. It starts with Coach Pitino. He went to the Final Four, had a miraculous year, probably the best coaching job any coach has ever done, in my opinion. He's not satisfied with that. He's set the bar higher.
"Charlie (Strong) has set the bar higher. The same with Sandy Pearsall (women's softball) or so many of our other coaches. They want to get better."
5. BOZICH: You've been here for 15 years and have built the football program into a BCS bowl program, saw it falter and it's back in the Top 25 discussion. People are excited for Sunday and the game against Kentucky and for this season. What's your sense of where the football program is positioned?
JURICH: "I love what Charlie Strong has done with this program. He had that vision. He had a plan. He knew what he wanted to do and followed his plan. He's a very strategic thinker. He's obviously a tremendous recruiter and motivator. But most importantly, he's good man.
"He's good to those kids. Those kids respect him and they play hard for him.
"I don't want to put any expectations on them because we're a very, very young team. It's the first time in my career that we've been a young team that's experienced. I've never had that before.
"But to see what he's done and the strides that he's made. I'm really looking at next year. I think next year is going to be a heckuva team because they'll be very mature. But this year could be extremely exciting and we're looking forward to that."
6. BOZICH: People are picking you to win the Big East. They're picking you to go to a BCS bowl.
JURICH: "Great. Love it. Love the target. That's why we sign up for these jobs. That's why we buy scoreboards. That's what you're here for. Being picked last, that's no fun. It might be fun for the coaches, but it's not fun for me. We strive for excellence here and we want excellence."
7. BOZICH: Do you use the Kentucky game as a measuring stick? When you were really good, you dominated the series. Then you lost four in a row before last season.
JURICH: "Any time you play a rivalry game like this, it's extremely important. Everybody, even the Blue fans know how important this game has been for this state. It's done remarkable things for high school football in this state. I hope it always continues. I'm a huge proponent of playing it on the first weekend because of the hype that goes with it. It's a great measuring stick for all of us because it's the first game. You haven't had anybody to measure yourself against other than your own teammates.
"They'll be a very good team. They're very well coached. I know they have a lot of players who'll be playing in the game that we recruited. Obviously if they're playing for them, they certainly could have played for us."
8. BOZICH: You mentioned that you wanted to see the series continue.
JURICH: "We still have a contract in place. Mitch (Barnhart, the Kentucky athletic director) and I have never had any discussions about discontinuing it. I hear those rumors all the time. I think it's too valuable. I don't think anybody in the state would let the game be discontinued."
9. BOZICH: Even if Kentucky went from eight to nine SEC games?
JURICH: "I think if they went to 11 or 12, it wouldn't matter. We've got to find a way to play. We owe this to the state of Kentucky. We owe this to the people here."
10. BOZICH: Even if you went to eight or nine Big East games?
JURICH: "No. Wouldn't even think twice about it. We have to play that game. To me, that's not a discussion point."
11. BOZICH: There is ongoing conversation among Louisville fans about the future, what conference is best for the program. What do you tell fans who are worried about the future?
JURICH: "I think right now what we have to do is the best that we can possibly do. That's all that we can control. I'm a big believer in that. Control what you can control. We can control what's going on at the University of Louisville.
"Obviously if I had a magic wand, things would be a lot different. I don't have that magic wand. On the national landscape, things have to change before we can do it. We can't go anywhere unless they invite us. The only way they can invite us is if we keep doing the right things. The thing that we have to do is be good at everything that we do."
12. BOZICH: Has the conference realignment merry-go-round stopped?
JURICH: "I don't think expansion has stopped yet. But I want to make sure that we all caution ourselves: We want to do the best thing for the University of Louisville, too. The Big East has taken a lot of kicks in the face. No question about it.
"But their round is coming up. The TV negotiations have propped every other conference up. The Big East is the last to go … Once that happens I want to see how that plays out. I like a lot of things the Big East has done. Right now the Big East is our home, so we've got to make it the best home it possibly can be."
13. BOZICH: Have you spoken with Mike Aresco, the new commissioner of the Big East, and what do expect from his leadership?
JURICH: "I've had a few visits with Mike since he's taken the job. I've known Mike for 20-to-25 years. He's terrific person. He's got the right skill set to do this job. I think he's going to do a wonderful job, once he gets settled in.
"But again this is a different part of his life right now. He's got different things he's got to learn. There's a learning curve involved. But I think he's got all the skills to do a great job."
14. BOZICH: On Thursday Aresco said the Big East wants to add a 14th member for football and play a conference championship game next season.
JURICH: "I think that's totally irrelevant. I think they'll add a 14th, 15th, 16th, 17th. I don't think it matters. Numbers are irrelevant. Just get the right schools in. That's the important thing."
15. BOZICH: The right schools according to geography, tradition, ambition?
JURICH: "I think geography is out the window right now. That one is done."
16. BOZICH: So what qualities should the league be looking for?
JURICH: "What they have done so far is they have really attracted some great cities. Television is going to start driving everything. Television is going to the markets. You add Dallas, Houston, Orlando and then you have Philadelphia and you become a much bigger player. It's going be great."
17. BOZICH: You believe that Temple (which is based in Philadelphia) adds value to the league?
JURICH: "I was doing an interview this morning and that was a big topic. They asked me who the big winner was going to be in expansion and I think Temple is."
18. BOZICH: Why?
JURICH: "They're the fourth biggest city in the country. Now they're going to have a good home base for football. That presence is really going to grow them, much like the Big East was for us when we left Conference USA and how much our program grew."
19. BOZICH: How does all this shuffling affect Big East basketball?
JURICH: "I think it's as strong as ever. I think it's going to be terrific. Letting Memphis back in was a great move. What they're doing down there is fantastic. They've got great facilities. Temple was a top 20-25 team last year, and they're in a great city.
"The thing that people underestimate is what the Big East will do for them. Look what our program did in the last seven years. Start with budgets, championships, national profile. It's grown incredibly. I think that will happen with all these other schools.
"Right now is the time you can kick this league in the face because there is no argument. You don't have anything you can compare it to. Once you start traveling and our coaches are able to recruit those areas like Orlando and Tampa, the whole state of Florida and having the presence in other large markets, I think you're going to see things change quite a bit."
20. BOZICH: Has it been difficult to hear the Big East get kicked in the face?
JURICH: Yes, it is. It is. Because I know there is another side. It's hard to be patient. I'm the most impatient person in the world. I want everything right now, boom, boom, and I want success. It (major changes in the Big East) is not going to happen (right now). And it's not going to happen until this TV contract comes."