CRAWFORD | New game plan: Stopping Louisville's cycle of scandal
Tom Jurich's handling of a Louisville coach's taking of game-plan information from a Wake Forest radio host was not good, but it comes against a backdrop of other problems for the university.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — Contrary to what you may have read, University of Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich is not the Worst. Person. Ever. And contrary to many University of Louisville sports fans I have talked (and Tweeted) with today, he is not infallible.
Jurich, in my experience at Louisville, hasn’t made many mistakes. He has made some. He made one when he hired that one football coach. And he made one on Wednesday, when he tried to address his football staff’s receiving of game plan information leaked by a Wake Forest radio analyst.
I’ve tried for much of the day to get a feel for how that statement came to happen. That statement, which acknowledged that offensive coordinator Lonnie Galloway got “a few plays” from Wake Forest radio analyst Tommy Elrod, then shared them with the defensive staff, did not put out the flame around this story. It poured gasoline on it, not so much because of the seriousness of the infraction -- and it is a breach of ethics -- but because of the dismissive tone Jurich’s statement carried toward it.
It was a mistake. It was wrong in its expression. It was wrong in its conclusion. Shoot, if you’re a public relations professional, you could even argue it was wrong in its execution.
There was no apology. There was no punishment handed down. There was no hint of awareness that this kind of action is wrong.
Jurich will have to own that statement. If he got advice on it, it was bad advice.
I haven’t spoken to Jurich. I’ve spoken to several sources at the university. One told me that the statement was, first and foremost, an effort by Jurich to be timely, and to acknowledge quickly that he had found evidence that a football staffer had been in communication with Elrod, and that he had apparently taken some information, but that it was negligible in nature.
But then, instead of moving on to an apology, there was some junk about “undue attention” on the coaching staff. Might as well just light a fuse for national media. And the heat coming Jurich’s way — from national writers who have been pretty complimentary of him in the past — has been intense.
University sources also told me that Jurich continues to look into this matter. That he learned of it with a phone call from the Wake Forest athletic director Monday night during a Heisman Trophy gala in New York City. He returned Tuesday to question football staffers, and asked more questions on Wednesday. Whether Louisville has yet received the full report Wake Forest generated or any written materials, I don’t know.
But I was told today by one university source, “ethical questions are something that Tom does take seriously.” That wasn’t communicated in the statement.
Sometimes, I feel like I’m in the wrong line of work. Is there money in writing apologies? Like the rest of us, probably, I’m terrible at writing my own. I’m as big a jerk as anybody when I screw it up and have to apologize. But, boy, am I good at writing these things for other people.
From that perspective, think about what might’ve happened had Jurich said and issued something like this:
“Our offensive coordinator accepted game plan information from a person with ties to the Wake Forest football program. Nothing I have found demonstrates that our football team benefited from this information. But the coach’s intent was to benefit from that information and it was wrong. The basic principles of athletic competition at U of L stand for the highest ideals in sportsmanship. One of the primary objectives of competition is to develop and foster respect for fellow participants, coaches, officials and spectators. Because of that, I am suspending the offensive and defensive coordinators for the upcoming bowl game, and will consider other action as deemed appropriate by the ACC commissioner. But more than that, I want to issue an apology to Wake Forest University, its players, its coaches, its fans and its administration, on behalf of University of Louisville athletics, and I would like to apologize to our own university community. I have further instructed football coach Bobby Petrino to personally apologize on behalf of his staff to Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson and his players, and I have mandated a course in ethics and sportsmanship training for our football coaching staff. I find this incident personally embarrassing, and not in keeping with our values as a department or as a university.”
Jurich says that, Louisville takes its medicine in the national media, for a day, maybe two. Petrino apologizes, and it’s on to the bowl game.
Instead, Petrino is facing increased scrutiny, and Jurich himself is in the crosshairs of the national media.
Those two lines in the statement I wrote in italics are there for a reason. They’re lifted from the U of L Student Athlete Code of Conduct. Yes, the school has one of those and every athlete must sign it.
Among the many items in that 40-page document is this one, under the “Academic Dishonesty” heading, subsection “Cheating,” that prohibits student-athletes from, “Procuring or using tests or examinations, or any other information regarding the content of a test or examination, before the scheduled exercise without prior authorization.”
I know a football game isn’t an exam. But this is what Louisville coaches did. They got the plays, from a source affiliated with an opposing team, before the game was played.
That’s not cool. In the past 24 hours, I’ve heard every form of ethical equivalence you can imagine.
— Other schools do it. This is a fallacious argument.
— Coaches call each other for scouting information all the time. (That’s fine. If Bobby Petrino called up Dave Clawson and said, “About these plays you guys were thinking about running against us, I have a few questions,” we’d not be having this conversation.)
— Coaches change jobs and give inside information all the time. That’s fine. But if they give away specific game plan information on the school they're working for, it isn’t fine, nor is it fine to take that and use it.
If I go on with these, we’ll be here for a while. I get, if you’re a Louisville fan, you’re tired of seeing your school dragged through the mud. I get that you think you’re being piled on unfairly because of Petrino’s past and other scandals at the school. Some of that is probably true.
But this is not the hill you want to take a stand on. This is not what you want your school to stand for. You defend this, you give even more ammunition to critics who believe that a win-at-all-costs culture has taken over.
I think what you’ll see in the future, is Jurich speak again about this subject, and use more serious language, and perhaps take more serious action. I don’t think we’ve seen the last of this issue, because I think more details will emerge as the public records process takes its course.
Now, one more issue. Context is everything. And nothing that happens with the University of Louisville these days stands on its own.
I need to give you a bias on my part. My bias is for the University of Louisville as an institution. Not its sports teams. Not its star coaches. And I should say, I have the same bias for the University of Kentucky as an institution, and Western Kentucky and all the others. These places, I will tell you, I want to succeed and thrive. Higher education is the answer to a good three-quarters of the problems we have in this state, and in this city. We have no more valuable institutions than these. In every case, these schools are far more than their athletic programs, and far more than any single scandal that fires up. There is a bigger picture, always.
In the case of U of L, my history with it extends far beyond the reach of most — though not all — involved in its athletic department. And it extends far beyond athletics into buildings and offices and people you never see in the news.
So everything I say is said with that bias — I want what is good for that university, because the success of that university — not its sports teams, but the university itself — is good for the city. I can get web hits and TV viewers whether the teams are winning or losing. But if the university struggles, it’s bad for everyone.
In a television segment this week, I said I feel bad for faculty, staff and students who have to deal with the embarrassment of these kinds of episodes. I feel bad for fans who have to see the program they support so loyally trashed. I feel bad for acting president Neville Pinto, who has been dropped into the middle of a ring of wildfires and is having to manage them all before turning the keys over to someone once they’ve been put out.
These aren’t just sports problems. He has the question of the board of trustees, the school’s accreditation, Foundation problems, including a forensic audit. Two football players were shot Saturday night at an off-campus party. One of them, James Hearns, was a defensive leader all season. Neither Bobby Petrino nor Tom Jurich has so much as expressed any public support.
Then the athletic director issues a statement about a surreptitiously obtained game plan and the university again is back on the front burner, with the heat turned up.
If I were Pinto, at least until some of these fires are extinguished, after this fiasco, no major statement would come from any major university source without first going through the school’s main media office.
And secondly, the athletic department should understand what any academic department on that campus would be able to tell you outright without a second thought — taking a secretly obtained opponent game plan and attempting to use it for a competitive advantage is wrong. The university sets its standards, and they are to be upheld throughout the university, even in sports. If the coaches have a problem with that, all a president or athletic director have to do is post a job notice with the words, “Who wants to coach a Heisman winner?”
This university has to stop tripping over stumbling blocks that it has put into its own way. it can’t even enjoy the remarkable accomplishment of winning a Heisman Trophy without brushfires taking up the oxygen back home.
This is not the fault of the media. It was Jurich appearing out of touch with the university culture, because his stance was defiant instead of deferential.
One of the great things about working for Tom Jurich is loyalty. He will go to bat for you. Coaches know they will not be hung out to dry. Jurich's default position is to protect his coaches, and I'm sure that was a big motivator in this statement. All of that is well and good.
What I don’t see as often is coaches being loyal to Jurich. If you’re an assistant football coach at Louisville, and you know the big picture at the university, and you know Petrino’s history and the scrutiny he is under, you don’t get anywhere near some worthless bunch of information from a Wake Forest radio guy, even if it’s your friend.
If you’re loyal to Tom Jurich, you’re vigilant to repay the loyalty he has shown you by not having the NCAA show up at his doorstep, or the media at his throat. You do the right things. And if I'm Petrino, and Jurich hired me when few others would, I sure as heck wouldn't let him go out to make a statement about what my staffers did -- even if he wanted to do it, which I'm sure Jurich did.
Frankly, Jurich went out too far on a limb here for Petrino and his staff, and the limb broke.
I’m not saying he’s a victim. Nobody at U of L is a victim in this Wake Forest deal.
One more thing sources at Louisville told me — there’s a lot of anger in the department at criticism being thrown at the program. That’s natural. You’re always a bit angry and defensive when criticized. But in this case, Jurich would be well-served by turning some of that anger inward and getting his people locked down.
His athletic department, and his university, can’t afford this kind of thing right now. It already has squandered a wealth of national goodwill over Lamar Jackson’s Heisman.
This is a program that should be celebrating its arrival in the big time. It is hardly acting like it.
When a radio guy calls from Wake Forest peddling game-plan info the sound on the other end of the phone, if you’re a bit-time program, is laughter. If you feel like you need that edge to win, you’re not big-time enough to coach at Louisville. Not anymore.
I know there are fans defending this as business as usual. I also know there is a silent majority of fans, alumni, students, faculty, staff and administrators who are looking at this cycle of scandal and saying insistently: Make it stop.
And in that effort, the words “by any means necessary” are applicable.
Copyright 2016 WDRB Media. All Rights Reserved.