CRAWFORD | Crum puzzled by U of L exit, but moving forward
After a 30-year coaching career and 16 years working as a special assistant to the president of the University of Louisville, Hall of Fame basketball coach Denny Crum says he's done all he can, and wishes the school well.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Denny Crum’s 46-year association with the University of Louisville didn’t end with a bang, but an email.
The Hall of Fame coach had met with acting U of L president Greg Postel in the spring, and was told then that the university was not going to renew any of the job arrangements that Kathleen Smith, a former chief of staff to then-university president James Ramsey, had made. But Crum wasn’t clear whether that meant his own job was gone.
He coached basketball at the school for 30 years, won two national championships and went to six Final Fours, then spent 15 years as a special assistant to the president through his retirement agreement signed in 2001, assisting with fundraising and other community relations from his office in the University Club on campus.
When that job ended, he stayed on at a reduced salary last year to raise funds out of the alumni office through an arrangement with Smith, who said he’d have a job for as long as he wanted.
Smith was placed on leave last September and fired officially in June. Crum’s employment ended on June 30. During a conversation at his East Louisville home on Monday, the coach said he’ll embrace the freedom that retirement gives him, and wish the best for the university he spent nearly a half-century working to help build.
Crum sat in his study overlooking a small lake, his dogs at his feet, in good spirits after having what doctors said was a small stroke last week in Alaska. He responded quickly to medication and appears to have recovered with no ill effects.
“I was working, then I wasn’t,” Crum said. “But I worked 46 years, that ought to be enough for anybody. I did as much as I could do, the best I could do. I’m really kind of happy right now. I’ll be able to more fishing and hunting and spending more time with my family and doing all kinds of stuff.”
Crum started a scholarship foundation to give tuition money to deserving students from the Louisville area to attend U of L, but says recent uncertainty around the U of L Foundation leaves him unclear what will happen with that fund. In addition to $550,000 in scholarships paid to the university over the years, Crum said his fund gave $600,000 to the foundation last year.
“That’s a question that I haven’t really come to grips with yet,” he said. “I’m not sure. I gave them a lot of money that we had raised. And . . I’m not sure what I’m supposed to say. It wasn’t enough maybe, I don’t know. I don’t know what it was. I just know that I’m happy and things are good. I’m content to be able to have the freedom in my life.”
Crum’s wife, Susan, had approached the university this summer, asking if she and Denny needed to meet with someone to find out what was going on. Soon afterward, she received an email referring her to human resources for questions and outlining final payments.
Crum was paid $338,000 annually for 15 years as part of his retirement agreement. He also received a lump sum payment last year of $3.88 million, as part of a deferred compensation agreed upon at that time.
It might seem exorbitant to some, having a former coach on staff as a fundraiser at such a high salary (though his salary last year was cut by a third, with another 33 percent being paid to his scholarship fund instead of to the coach himself).
Moreover, others at the university have received large deferred compensation or even separation packages without having to continue working for the university. Crum originally came to U of L for an offer from athletic director Peck Hickman of $20,000 a year and a membership in a country club. The country club membership didn’t materialize. Crum had been offered $40,000 by Virginia Tech at the same time, but thought Louisville was the better job, and came for less. Several times during his career he turned down chances to leave.
Crum was worth his salary, and then some, in terms of fundraising clout and community goodwill.
The same thing could be said of Darrell Griffith, the Louisville native and star of the 1980 NCAA championship team who was employed in a similar fashion at a salary of $107,870 as director of advancement for community relations. Sources tell WDRB that Griffith was notified by email that his position was being eliminated in a cost-cutting measure by the university, which froze hiring and instituted other cost controls in June with the expectation of lower-than-expected enrollment. Griffith has not responded to messages from the station.
Crum said he leaves satisfied he did his best, but hopeful that the university can get back on track as it works its way out of questions over excessive spending in the foundation and turmoil over the actions of past leadership. Crum has not worked for U of L’s athletic department since he left as coach, and gave no opinions on athletics, but did speak about the university as a whole.
“I did everything I could to help make it a better place,” he said. “I’m not sure I did a good job because things aren’t looking real good right now. It’s kind of tough. Nobody’s real happy with the way things are going. We just have to get through it all, and, I don’t know, if they start over or how you do it, but I’m sure they’ll eventually get through it one way or another and hopefully we’ll come out of it OK and be able to get started over or do what we have to do. It’s just a tough time for the university right now.”
Crum said he’s not going to spend much time fretting over those issues. He said that university leaders have a right to make the decisions as they want, and he’ll support the school he has worked for his whole life.
“They’re doing what they think they need to do,” he said. “I know I gave them a whole lot more than what it cost them to have me there, I can tell you that. But if that’s the way they want to do it, that’s their doing. That’s OK. I’m not complaining. I’m not unhappy. I’m about as happy as I can be, other than having a little semi-stroke. But I have all kinds of great memories, and I’m just doing great.”
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