Tom Jurich understands how to make a college football program succeed.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Charlie Strong is a formidable football coach who has driven the University of Louisville program into a Bowl Championship Series game only three seasons after the Cardinals were losing games to Rutgers, South Florida and Kentucky.
He's done excellent work while flipping U of L's record from 4-8 to 10-2 in only three seasons. Strong has delivered change you can believe in, and now has the Cardinals positioned to play Florida in the Allstate Sugar Bowl Jan. 2.
But as we await Strong's decision about where he will coach next season, let's not forget that the guy who is most important to the program's recent and future success has been committed to U of L for 15 seasons – and will likely stay 15 more.
That is U of L athletic director Tom Jurich.
Strong is the coach, but Jurich is the general manager. Nobody should ever question Jurich's commitment.
If Strong stays, Jurich will work with his coach to keep building momentum within the program. If Strong leaves, Jurich will find the Next Great Coach and continue the push to maintain a Top 25 program here.
Jurich is the guy who gave Strong his first head coaching opportunity as well as the tools to succeed. Jurich recruited John L. Smith, Bobby Petrino, Rick Pitino, Dan McDonnell, Jeff Walz and so many others in so many sports. Tom Jurich could share recruiting tips with John Calipari. He's been that good.
Jurich is the guy who directed U of L into the safety of the Atlantic Coast Conference, the most critical move made by the program since Bill Olsen recruited Howard Schnellenberger from South Florida nearly three decades ago. Jurich is also the guy who got Louisville into the Big East. Do not forget that was a necessary step to make the ACC pay attention to what has been going on here since Jurich arrived from Colorado State in 1997.
Jurich is the guy who expanded Papa John's Cardinal Stadium. He's the guy who makes certain that Louisville has other five-star facilities to impress recruits. Basketball used to be the first thing people talked about when they discussed U of L athletics. Under Jurich, football no longer sits in the second row.
He's separated the program from places like Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. It wasn't that long ago when Smith didn't have to think twice about leaving U of L for Michigan State. Petrino bolted for the NFL after four seasons. The decision to leave U of L today isn't nearly as automatic.
That doesn't mean Jurich has not made mistakes. Steve Kragthorpe was a mistake, a mistake Jurich recognized after three seasons and fixed by bringing Charlie Strong here from the University of Florida.
California, Minnesota, Mississippi State and other schools had considered Strong as a head-coaching candidate – and they passed.
Maybe they were not impressed by the way Strong interviewed – or by his interactions with the media. Something had held Strong back. He had done too much good work at Florida to be stuck as a lifetime assistant coach. He built some of the best defenses in the country. He had the Urban Meyer stamp of approval. It didn't make sense.
Jurich looked at Strong's complete resume. He did considerable homework. He asked dozens of questions. He moved on Strong – with his checkbook and his public votes of confidence. He has never backed away with his support.
Charlie Strong has delivered – just as Tom Jurich was convinced that he would. Charlie Strong has done great work here the last three seasons. Tom Jurich has quarterbacked Cardinal football splendidly for the last 15 years.