Analyst Doug James said he's convinced Louisville football is moving in the right direction.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Doug James has been analyzing University of Louisville football games since Howard Schnellenberger was puffing on his pipe more than two decades ago.
He was there when Schnellenberger's hyperbole turned into history. He saw the Ron Cooper stumble, the John L. Smith turnaround, the Bobby Petrino dominance and the Steve Kragthorpe retreat.
When Charlie Strong started reassembling the pieces from Kragthorpe in December 2009, James was not obsessed with the offensive or defensive schemes that Strong favored. This is what James wanted to see:
"Coach Strong and his staff have brought toughness back to Louisville football," James said. "That was missing for a few years. Howard's teams had that toughness. So did Bobby Petrino's and John L's.
"You watch Louisville play and you see guys flying around, making hits and performing like they're focused. They're not getting pushed around. They control the line of scrimmage."
Not getting pushed around matters greatly to James. He is the rare former college football player who performed on the offensive and defensive lines. He played on the defensive line but eventually settled at offensive guard during his career at the University of Michigan from 1981-84.
James played for a coach who urged his guys to be tough -- brushing their teeth or making their beds. That was Bo Schembechler, who once told James he had the worst body in the history of Michigan football.
Didn't matter. James made the cover of The Sporting News for flattening a Notre Dame player, which, other than flattening somebody from Ohio State, is the greatest thing a Michigan player can do.
Toughness helps when your head coach, a Hall of Famer, talks like that. James followed William "Bubba" Paris from DeSales High School to Ann Arbor and knows that it was a life-changing decision. James played in four bowl games, including the Rose and Sugar bowls, for the Wolverines.
He left Michigan with his degree and eventually returned to Louisville, building a career in radio sales and management. Nearly 18 months ago, he left his hometown for New York City. James is director of national sales for WBLS and WLIB, two legendary urban contemporary radio stations.
He has an apartment in Midtown Manhattan and a home in his beloved South End. For the 22nd consecutive season, James will work as an analyst for at least one University of Louisville football game. In 2012, that game is the one the Cardinals will play Saturday against Missouri State in Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.
If you've listened to James' work, you know he is a network quality analyst, a former blocker who will explain why plays work or fail. His sense of play calling is so sharp that sometimes I wonder if James' is listening-in to a feed from the offensive coordinator's headset.
He's never been afraid criticize – make fun of himself. I'll never forget the Louisville-Houston game he worked at Robertson Stadium in Texas on Nov. 18, 2000. The rain started before kickoff and never stopped. The press-box roof leaked.
The official attendance was listed as 3,006. It was an exaggeration. By the fourth quarter, there weren't 50 people in the stands.
James was wrapped in all his electronic broadcast gear, standing in a puddle.
"Probably not too smart, is it?" he asked. "That's why I was a lineman."
When I talked with James this week, he had already studied the replay of Louisville's season-opening, 32-14, victory over Kentucky twice. He is comfortable considering Louisville a Top 25 team again.
"After the first two plays (on offense), nothing bad happened," James said. "(Quarterback Teddy) Bridgewater made a perfect throw and the receiver (Damian Copeland) made a great catch. After that they looked like a machine.
"The offensive line played really well. They controlled the whole game, which is important. It probably surprises you that I would say that."
The blocker in Doug James, ol' Number 73, paused to laugh.
"But they looked like a veteran offensive line. They gave Bridgewater time to make the right decisions. They had two backs run for more than 100 yards.
"Defensively, Louisville gave up some short passes but I thought their tackling was really good for a first game. I saw some other teams that didn't tackle nearly as well.
"I like what I see. I'm convinced the program is going in the right direction."