BOZICH | For Jurich, the art of the deal, the Heisman, the KFC Y - WDRB 41 Louisville News

BOZICH | For Jurich, the art of the deal, the Heisman, the KFC Yum! Center

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U of L athletic director Tom Jurich was more conciliatory in his comments about the school's position at the KFC Yum! Center Thursday. U of L athletic director Tom Jurich was more conciliatory in his comments about the school's position at the KFC Yum! Center Thursday.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — This should be a delightful time for Tom Jurich to talk enthusiastically about the Heisman Trophy that the football world expects University of Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson to win Saturday night in New York City.

Jurich did.

“I don’t think anything’s easy (in winning the award),” said Jurich, who will join Jackson in Manhattan Friday afternoon. “I think there are a lot of great candidates for it. I think his numbers are terrific and his body of work is fantastic.”

There is always plenty for Jurich to discuss. Simply look outside his office. You’ll see something visitors have regularly seen during Jurich’s 19-year run as U of L’s athletic director: 

Construction fences, this time clearing space for upgraded work around the Student Activities Center. At U of L, the jackhammers never sleep.

But there is one topic that always seems to percolate and splash bile into the local sports and political discussion:

The financial issues surrounding the debt payments at the KFC Yum! Center, with the inevitable debate about whether U of L is paying a reasonable share.

Five days after Jurich was a guest on a WLOU 1350 radio show and wondered if his men’s and women’s basketball  programs were “wanted” downtown and he also used the word “criminal,” to describe the criticism directed at U of L, the athletic director pivoted and took a more conciliatory tone Thursday.

“For the most part, that building is fantastic,” Jurich said. “It’s a great treasure of the city, so we want to do everything in our power to see it continue.”

It was not the tone of a guy who had just said that he would “love to,” build an arena on campus, likely near the silos that have been flattened southeast of Floyd Street and Eastern Parkway.

“We’ve never once tried to get out of our lease,” Jurich said. “That’s never been part of any of our intentions at all …”

Can this marriage be saved?

“Sure,” Jurich said. “Sure. I think anything can be worked out and everybody feels the same way that I do, and I want to see it work.”

What’s going on here?

Some would call it The Art of the Deal.

Jurich understands it is no secret that his basketball program has benefited financially and competitively from the sparkling downtown facility where the Cardinals started playing six seasons ago. 

It’s been good for Rick Pitino’s men’s program and Jeff Walz’s women’s program. It’s been good for two University of Kentucky NCAA Tournament runs. It’s been good for local sports and the concert landscape.

That’s the sports portion of the story. The financial portion is as sobering as a morning blast of northwest wind. The arena needs more events. The tax increment financing (TIF) created to help pay for the facility has not performed as well as projected or promised. Refinancing the debt at a better rate would help.

The default remedy remains the same: Persuade Jurich and U of L to contribute more to the Arena Authority.

I’d be surprised if that does not occur. Jurich said he was open to an increase in Louisville’s contribution, although he was unwilling to say how much additional money the athletic program would contribute. 

“We’re going to find a way, any way we can to find a solution,” Jurich said. “We just said we’ll be in there for a significant amount. We’re still talking about what that amount is going to be.”

My sense is Jurich would like to negotiate this situation one final time and end the conversation as the arena moves to a more solvent fiscal future. Get all the essential players at the table, reach a reasonable consensus and agree on a solution.

The end.

Louisville is not leaving downtown. Louisville is not building an arena on campus. Negotiating is a contact sport. There will be swelling and bruises. That is what we saw in Jurich’s comments Saturday.

“He likes to kick you in the shins to see how you react,” said one source who has negotiated with Jurich. 

“Sometimes his philosophy is ‘Ready, fire and then aim.’ That’s just part of who he is. He wears his emotions on his sleeve.”

Interesting that Tom Jurich also said this about Tom Jurich: “I said my piece and that’s how I felt. I think you all know me well enough that I wear my feelings on sleeve. I’m not going to mince any words.”

Nobody who has watched Jurich work is surprised by those comments.

That is why Jurich has long been ranked one of the top athletic directors in America.

This is a guy whose facilities sparkle on the U of L campus, a leader who navigated his athletic programs into the Atlantic Coast Athletic Conference, a boss who expects his coaches to compete for national titles and an athletic director who is bound for New York City to watch his quarterback win the Heisman Trophy.

Jurich will disagree with any characterization that he cut a sweetheart deal for the school or that he won the negotiations when U of L left Freedom Hall for Second Street and River Road. He did his job.

“I wouldn’t say I did my job well, bad or anything,” he said.

Jurich will do his job again.

Said Jurich, “We want to make sure of one thing: We’re not the only ones sitting at that table.”

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