LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- When everything hit the fan at Miami -- you remember, back before Penn State's scandal and Johnny Manziel and Oklahoma State, back in those halcyon days of 2011 -- University of Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich told assistant football coach Clint Hurtt that U of L would stand behind him regardless of mistakes he made at Miami, so long as he told the NCAA the truth in its investigation of the mess.
In the intervening years, Jurich said he felt like it was the right thing to do, to stick by a coach who had done nothing wrong at U of L, even if he was the recruiting coordinator behind the biggest recruiting scandal of the decade.
On Tuesday, the NCAA issued its long awaited ruling. It said Hurtt lied. It said he misled. It said he was not forthcoming with its investigation. It found him guilty of its unethical conduct clause, not just back in 2007 or '08 or '09 when he was coach at Miami, but in 2013, as an assistant at the University of Louisville.
Jurich, in a press conference announcing he would retain Hurtt, explained how he could square doing that with what he told his coach about telling the truth by saying that the NCAA's assertion was "up for debate."
That phrase set the Orwellian tone for the explanation that followed.
Here's what's not up for debate: U of L can keep its coach, but it can't at the same time keep its "culture of compliance" moniker, not entirely. It can't say it is zero-tolerance where significant NCAA violations are concerned, not without some semantic gymnastics regarding Hurtt's continued presence given the NCAA's public report on Tuesday. Because to provide false or misleading information to the NCAA is no parking ticket. Ask Bruce Pearl. Ask Jim Tressel. It's more than a point of contention. It's a point of principle. And it was one of the last remaining major no-nos in NCAA Enforcement Land, until Tuesday. Henceforth, show cause might well be amended to show pause where NCAA rulings are concerned.
Jurich says that, essentially, he doesn't agree with the NCAA's assertion that Hurtt lied, that he believes his coach, takes him at "face value," but that he also has great respect for the NCAA, and won't fight its finding of unethical conduct by his coach.
Jurich says he's keeping Hurtt because he hasn't done anything wrong at U of L (unless you count misleading the NCAA, which Jurich, again, does not admit) and because the NCAA signed off on it. "They had the authority to do anything they wanted -- and they really do. . . . They just accepted our status quo."
That can't be dismissed, and also shouldn't be overlooked. What is the NCAA thinking, handing out its stiffest penalty, then negotiating a way for a coach to weather it? Make no mistake, Jurich kept Hurtt with the NCAA's blessing, no matter what the Committee of Infractions sanctions might say. If you're going to question Jurich on keeping his coach, you can't do so without giving the NCAA the same treatment.
Hurtt, after U of L's football practice on Tuesday, was apologetic, to Miami, to Louisville, to everyone. He also defended himself, said his testimony to the NCAA was truthful, that it was the same story throughout.
Jurich said he takes Hurtt at face value. Here is the face value of what went on at Miami.
-- Hurtt worked with booster and (now) convicted Ponzi-scheme artist Neavin Shapiro to provide impermissible benefits to recruits and players, some of which included entertaining athletes at the booster's home, on his yacht, in restaurants, nightclubs, strip clubs and a bowling alley. (Many U of L fans today wrote me to talk about Shapiro being an unreliable, dishonest character. Hurtt was his friend. Hurtt worked alongside him toward the same end, at least where Miami football was concerned.)
-- As recruiting coordinator whose responsibility it was to report potential NCAA issues to higher ups, Hurtt dismissed concerns brought to him by at least one assistant over possible violations.
-- Hurtt got an interest-free loan from Shapiro himself.
-- Hurtt, according to a prospect, used an unregistered cell phone he referred to as "the bat phone."
-- And finally, the NCAA said Hurtt was not forthcoming with its investigators and provided misleading information to them.
"In some instances, the information provided by (Hurtt) directly contradicted the information provided by the prospects," the NCAA said in its decision. "Former assistant football coaches . . ., like the prospects, have the same obligation to tell the truth."
Jurich said he believes his coach. He says it's Hurtt's word against the word of some recruits. He says Hurtt has been a good coach at Louisville, a "model citizen," and done what he's been asked to do. He didn't say that Hurtt is a fantastic recruiter in south Florida. Didn't have to.
Jurich can say what he wants. Hurtt can say what he wants. Here's my say, for what it is worth.
At some point, words have to mean things. They have to represent something. Jurich said U of L found out about allegations against Hurtt when Yahoo! Sports reported them in August 2011, only to have compliance director John Carns acknowledge moments later that the university already was taking measures against Hurtt in the spring of 2011 for improper phone calls at Miami. What had been described as an administrative leave for Hurtt in the spring and summer of this year now is being called a "suspension."
Jurich is nothing if not shrewd. From the letter of the NCAA law, keeping Hurtt makes sense. He's an effective recruiter and loved by his players and fellow coaches. When it comes to NCAA penalties, he already has missed the 2013 recruiting season and missed parts of 2011. From the standpoint of sanctions, U of L and Hurtt already have weathered three-quarters of what the NCAA will dish out. Why put in all that time only to pull the plug?
The problem with all of this is that it cracks open the door. What if you were an athlete at U of L who had been suspended from his team, and given a condition for return? Clint Hurtt was given conditions for his continued employment. Let's say an athlete is found to have come up short on one of those conditions. What do you do now? Do you overlook it? Do you determine that in your judgement he met the condition even if some other authority, or the NCAA itself, says otherwise? What if the player flat-out doesn't walk the prescribed road and then says, "So, it's all right for a coach to do whatever he wants, but a player messes up and it's not?"
I'm not saying it's right. I'm just saying it is.
I don't think everyone should be perfect. I assume everybody messes up, a lot. I assume everybody needs second chances and maybe even third. I have no problem with sticking up for your people and being loyal. I get it. And I also get that fans who howl about Hurtt would be perfectly fine if the same thing were happening at their school.
But we're not talking about their schools here. We're talking about Louisville, and about what is acceptable there and what isn't.
Since 1998, U of L has not had a whiff of NCAA trouble. Maybe the thought is that Jurich's history and track record should earn him some leeway to do what he thinks is right with Hurtt, whose "mistakes" were at another school.
This story will, surely, run its course over the next day or two. In fact, it may already have. Pretty soon, the only people who will ever bring it up will be rival fans. The heat got pretty warm on Rick Pitino several years back, though he had broken no NCAA rules. Three years later, with the NCAA championship nets cut down and the coach going into the Hall of Fame, there was plenty of credit to go around. Detractors can say what they want. College basketball history spoke loudly with Pitino. Everyone talks about risks. Jurich could also experience some rewards where sticking with Hurtt is concerned. He has some experience in such things.
Those who know Hurtt will tell you that the cheating started at Miami long before Hurtt got there, that he got caught up in the culture, but that he did not create it.
The thing about culture is that it changes little by little, by degrees. You now can be found guilty of providing false or misleading information to the NCAA and still continue working at Louisville. That's just a fact, not my opinion. That's what has happened here. I don't see how that can keep from having an effect on the culture, even if it is not intended. For Jurich and U of L, no matter how much they like Hurtt, that's a door that shouldn't have been left open.