University of Louisville fires longtime athletics director Tom Jurich
The trustees did not explain their decision, and the vote was not unanimous.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The University of Louisville board of trustees voted Wednesday to fire athletics director Tom Jurich, ending a two-decade career in which the school's athletics program made giant leaps forward, but also became mired in back-to-back scandals involving the men's basketball program.
The decision, on a 10-3 vote, came after trustees deliberated for roughly three hours behind closed doors, including about 10 minutes during which Jurich's high-powered legal team was allowed in the room.
The board fired Jurich "for cause" -- meaning he failed to live up to his employment duties -- but without specifying what Jurich did wrong.
The trustees who voted to oust Jurich did not publicly explain the reasons for their decision.
Board chairman J. David Grissom, who normally fields questions following meetings, declined to comment.
"We want to thank Tom for his years of service and many contributions to the university," U of L interim President Greg Postel said in a prepared statement read to reporters following the meeting.
Postel repeatedly declined to elaborate on the reasons for decision.
Jurich’s attorneys issued a statement after the vote, saying they were “disheartened” by the board’s actions.
“We believe that their vote to terminate his contract was done in haste with inaccurate information that should have had no bearing on continuing his employment,” the statement said, adding that the Jurich family thanked the U of L community and fans for their support.
“With that said, Tom has instructed us to vigorously defend his rights and reputation under his long-standing contract with the University of Louisville.”
Jurich, 61, was hired by U of L in 1997. He greatly expanded the school's athletics budget, built stadiums on campus and engineered its ascent into the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Postel placed Jurich on administrative leave Sept. 27, a day after authorities linked the men’s basketball program to a federal investigation into paying recruits. Prosecutors allege at least one U of L basketball coach took part in a plan to send $100,000 from university apparel provider Adidas, to a prospective player.
The latest issue for the basketball program comes on top of an escort scandal , revealed in 2015, that led to major NCAA penalties handed down earlier this year.
The three trustees who voted against firing Jurich said during the meeting that the recent problems with the basketball program do not outweigh all the progress the university’s athletics department made during Jurich’s tenure.
“I look at the history, having lived here in Louisville, with what the athletic facilities have done over the last 20 years -- getting in the ACC. It’s kind of unbelievable to me that the university has been transformed in that manner,” said Brian Cromer, a business attorney with Louisville firm Stites & Harbison. “That doesn’t mean that everything is perfect in athletics. There are major issues in basketball; we all know that.”
Cromer said he favored a “revamped arrangement” that would allow Jurich to return to work with greater oversight.
Dr. Ronald Wright, an obstetrician-gynecologist, said Jurich “is owed some thanks for those things that he has done” to transform the landscape of the campus.
Diane Medley, co-founder of MCM CPAs & Advisors, one of Louisville’s largest accounting firms, said the value of her U of L diploma has increased due to the success Jurich spearheaded in athletics.
She said his tenure hasn’t been perfect, but, “I feel like a lot of those ups and downs should be talked through (and) worked through.”
Jurich's attorneys have said the university lacks "cause" to fire him under his contract, which runs through 2026.
In a memo submitted to the board before the meeting, they said Jurich had no knowledge of the misconduct alleged in the pay-for-play scandal described in a federal criminal complaint made public last month, nor the escort scandal that engulfed the program beginning in late 2015.
"The extraordinary and unprecedented alleged wrongful behavior was kept from Tom precisely because everyone in the Athletics Department knows that Tom will not tolerate any violation of law or NCAA rules," Jurich attorney Alison Stemler wrote in a Sept. 29 memo.
In a letter explaining Jurich’s suspension, Postel mentioned the alleged wrongdoing in the basketball program as the main reason for sidelining the U of L athletics director. He also accused Jurich of negotiating a 10-year, $160 million extension of the athletics department’s deal with Adidas without telling Postel or the board.
But, in fact, Jurich discussed the Adidas deal and its “broad terms” twice with Postel last April and worked with U of L attorneys and Postel’s staff during the negotiations, Stemler told trustees in an Oct. 11 letter.
High-profile donors to U of L athletics had lined up in support of Jurich, including businessmen James Patterson and Dr. Mark Lynn – both of whom have stadiums named after them.
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