U of L athletic director Tom Jurich (left) and school president Dr. James Ramsey quarterbacked the school's move to the ACC.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Connecticut was the landslide pick to fill the king-sized hole left in the Atlantic Coast Conference when Maryland made the conference realignment merry-go-round spin again by jumping to the Big Ten less than two weeks ago.
UConn had considerably more TV households. Wasn't that absolutely essential, the Number One reason all this craziness was going on – TV market size?
UConn had a superior academic profile. UConn was parked down the road in the same state with the college sports puppeteers at ESPN. UConn had a longer and more intense flirtation with the ACC.
Connecticut has women's and men's basketball programs that pursue and often snag national titles as well as a football team that came into Papa John's Cardinal Stadium last weekend and defeated U of L.
UConn was a cinch.
"It wasn't written in pencil," Jurich said. "It was written in ink."
What did Louisville have?
Louisville had Tom Jurich.
UConn never had a chance.
Tom Jurich didn't build and upgrade all those facilities on the Louisville campus to be left behind. He hasn't chased all those nationally recognized coaches in every sport to be told, "No." He didn't agree to move the U of L basketball program to that elegant new arena by the Ohio River to be told that it was time for his school to resume scheduling East Carolina and Tulane.
How did Louisville snatch an invitation from a league that was alleged to turn its nose up at the Cardinals' credentials, especially its academic credentials?
Tom Jurich, with the assistance of school president Dr. James Ramsey, sold the folks in the ACC on his vision for U of L sports – the same way Jurich has sold his vision to Rick Pitino, Charlie Strong, Jeff Walz, Anne Kordes, Ken Lolla, Dan McDonnell and all the other coaches he has lined up.
Jurich sees the field like a seasoned quarterback, directs the defense like a veteran catcher and runs the show like a poised point guard. He needed time to recover from the initial unexpected hit that Louisville took when Syracuse and Pittsburgh announced their decisions to leave the Big East in September 2011.
But Jurich never panicked. He got his program where it needed to be, where it is more likely to succeed. He signed Rick Pitino to a contract extension and made certain everybody knew that he wasn't going anywhere. In a time of unrelenting national instability, everything about his program suggests stability.
UConn never had a chance. Jim Calhoun, the Huskies' Hall of Fame basketball coach, needs to take some of the blame in this one.
Calhoun clashed with former UConn athletic director Jeff Hathaway, a guy who left the school last year while he was serving as the chair of the men's basketball NCAA Tournament selection committee.
Hathaway was replaced by Warde Manuel, a solid guy who came to the school from Buffalo last February.
Manuel has been on the job for less than 10 months. Jurich has been building his vision for more than 15 years, from the moment that he arrived from Colorado State.
Manuel is still making his way into the big-time level of the game. Jurich knows everybody, building a dazzling network of connections in administration, coaching, television and the communication media.
Manuel and UConn were trying to sell the superiority of their school's academics at the same time that the Huskies are ineligible for the Big East and NCAA Tournaments because of a sub-par APR score in Calhoun's program. Jurich's programs have been solid in the classroom and have stayed off NCAA probation since he got to town.
Now Louisville is looking forward to upcoming rivalries with North Carolina, Florida State and Notre Dame. UConn is looking for a life raft. If Charlie Strong decides that he doesn't want to play in the ACC, Jurich will find and hire another coach who will. Louisville doesn't have to worry about losing coaches. It has to worry about Jurich.
Now Louisville is better positioned for more all-around success than Kentucky. The Cards are parked in a football league where they can win and sitting in a basketball league that will continue to enhance their program.