CRAWFORD | First day post-Jurich, Tyra, Louisville athletics, get back to business
On the first day after the firing of Tom Jurich, University of Louisville interim athletic director Vince Tyra and coaches talked about the challenge of moving forward.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – One day after Tom Jurich was fired as athletic director at the University of Louisville, the sun rose on Floyd Street, and it was on with business – even if it wasn’t quite business as usual for anyone.
Vince Tyra, now the interim athletic director, said he felt no different driving to the athletics offices on Floyd Street and setting up shop, as he has done the past two weeks, in a conference room, with Jurich’s office still sealed as a precaution to preserve any evidence needed in an investigation. He met with the department staff, and with coaches.
“I think it’s a day, probably, for us to talk about what’s next,” Tyra said. “We’ve been coming into work every day like I was going to be here forever, so I think that’s the way I’ve treated every day with them. The things we talked about – back to the same fundamentals, that we have a lot of emotion going on, particularly today. It’s going to be a day of healing for sure. Guys are going to go in and out of offices and chat with each other, and I’m good with that. It’s human nature, right? We really talked about that process, but really getting on with it.”
The department staff and coaches were closer to Jurich than anyone on campus. A letter in support of Jurich was sent from 15 of the coaches to the university board of trustees. Several had spoken out in favor of keeping Jurich, including some prominent names, like football coach Bobby Petrino and baseball coach Dan McDonnell.
“I’ll look back on the past couple of weeks as a lot of phone conversations with coaches, with donors, with fans,” McDonnell said Thursday. “I’m just proud that many people stood up and fought and supported Tom because it was the right thing to do.”
Tyra said he had no problem with that kind of support for his predecessor, nor with donors like Mark Lynn and Jim Patterson and others voicing their support for Jurich.
“I knew what Mark wanted to do in terms of his letter, I knew what coaches wanted to do with their letter, they counseled with me on those,” Tyra said. “I had an opportunity to get a peek, and had no issues.”
And McDonnell said that after all the upheaval in recent weeks, it’s actually a closer-knit group of coaches when they get together like they did on Thursday.
One by -product of the adversity -- coaches who didn’t have a whole lot to do with each other’s programs now have a better understanding of each other.
“Sometimes when a bad thing like this happens, you rally around and become even closer,” McDonnell said. “I know as coaches, I’ve become even closer to other coaches in the athletic department, just over what’s happened, because we’ve talked, we’ve shared, we’ve told stories, we’ve learned more about each other in just these few weeks, and for that, we’ll be stronger.”
They all have jobs to do. Tyra talked to his department about projects ahead, what he can do to help them in their various efforts. He recognized Mark Jurich in front of the group and commended him for his focus and work during a difficult time for his family.
“I came in today with the same energy, similar agenda with a packed schedule to get through a lot of stuff,” he said. “But I would back up and say that it felt a little different last night. I went to a (board of trustees) meeting and didn’t know the outcome, whether I would come back and pick up a few binders and leave, or whether I would go back and need to have a full day ahead. So last night, not knowing where the board was going to go – certainly didn’t have a vote, wasn’t part of that discussion, didn’t want to be a part of that discussion – that was probably where I felt maybe a little bit of emotion at that point.”
Louisville fans, many of them, took to talk radio and social media on Wednesday and Thursday to express a different kind of emotion. There’s a good bit of frustration because there was no explanation of why Jurich was let go. Any number of reasons could be listed or speculated, but for the university to offer nothing is difficult for fans to get their heads around. In fact, it was even tough for some coaches to accept.
“No doubt, initially, you have to be frustrated,” McDonnell said. “Will we ever know? I don’t know that. I don’t blame the fans for their frustration. They’re fans. They pay for their tickets and they give their support and they cheer. It’s like I tell our kids . . . when there’s 4,000 people in the stands, when it’s more important to the fans, it has to be more important to us. We love the fans in this city. They should be emotional. But they’ll support. You’ve heard all the cheers for David (Padgett) and this basketball team.”
“It’s difficult because you don’t know everything,” soccer coach Ken Lolla said. “I don’t have all the information, don’t understand exactly why decisions were made. I have disappointment because of how supportive I am of Tom and what he’s done here, but I recently got a quote from my sister that said, ‘The bend in the road doesn’t have to be the end of the road unless you don’t make the turn.’ And for us right now, we simply have to continue to turn with what’s going on and the transition of it. It’s part of life, there’s seasons of life, and obviously for the athletic department and the university, we’re going through a different season, weathering some of the bad times to get to the better times.”
Tyra has as daunting a task as any athletic director in the nation to guide a program through not only a federal investigation but through internal investigations and, most likely, more NCAA investigations.
At the same time, he’s analyzing the athletic department, trying to figure out how things are done, how decisions are made, and applying his own experience to those. He came into the job with his eyes open. Where there were donors who pushed hard to keep Jurich, it’s likely that they’ve also gotten a call from Tyra, just to keep contact, and to offer assurances that the athletic department would be on a solid course.
“I spoke to Mark Lynn about this opportunity before I accepted the opportunity,” Tyra said. “. . . And I met with Dr. Lynn last Friday in his office for an hour and a half. We chatted about a lot of things. In terms of donors, I’ve been over to John Schnatter’s office, had lunch at his desk. We talked a lot about his values and how he’s developed his business and how those relate to what we’re trying to get done at the university. Those conversations will continue as far as donors. But there’s a lot of smaller ones that need attention too.”
When some football players expressed their frustration via Twitter that Schnatter voted to remove Jurich, Tyra reacted quickly to contact Petrino.
“It’s easy to get wrapped up in the emotion, particularly 18-, 19-, 20-year old kids are going to see things and they’re going to follow on or Tweet things,” he said. “Bobby was in front of me in terms of that conversation, but he and I did speak about it. These things are going to happen. It’s unfortunate. The kids don’t mean any disrespect, and I think they respect that John Schnatter’s been terrific to this program, Papa John’s is across that stadium that they get to play in. It’s my job to make sure that they understand that and where I stand on it.”
Tyra also said he has been in frequent contact with ACC commissioner John Swofford, with a half-dozen phone conversations. Last week, before the ACC meetings in Miami, Swofford called Tyra after one of their chats and proposed that he speak to the gathering of ACC athletic directors the next morning.
Tyra said Swofford changed the agenda to add him, because he said the commissioner told him, “you’ve got a different viewpoint than I’ve heard before.”
“I had the floor for that meeting on Tuesday morning,” Tyra said. “So at the opening sessions, when they introduced people there, I was given the floor to speak to them and talk about the number of things that we’re doing here to be proactive.”
In this, Tyra can rely on some of his experience with the U of L Foundation. He was brought on to chair the finance committee of that beleaguered group, and has been working since the spring on straightening out the mess of agreements it had with various individuals and companies.
In the athletics department, he doesn’t have a financial mess to fix, but he does have some issues just as serious. If there have been worries that somehow Jurich’s dismissal means that the university’s commitment to its athletics department has been diminished, Tyra says there shouldn’t’ be.
“The universities that do extremely well have a great balance between their foundation, the university and athletics, and my goal is to get that more in sync than maybe it’s been,” he said. “If there was angst, there shouldn’t have been. If there’s greater controls, there needed to be, and I think I’ve played a role in that. We introduced 19 new policy procedures on the foundation to mitigate the (problems) that arose here, and I think about it in the same way being in the athletics role now, switching jerseys, that I’m doing the same risk-management analysis of how can we prevent what’s occurred here and what’s been announced the last week or so, shutting down all the airways of the bad guys to the U of L house of athletics.”
What exactly that means will become evident in the coming months. In the meantime, his early reviews are good, even from those coaches who lobbied for Jurich to get his job back.
“As tough as the situation is, and as bad as you feel for Tom, we all know we do have to move on,” McDonnell said. “I’m fortunate, I think we’re all fortunate as coaches, that we have someone like Vince Tyra, who was a college athlete, from this state, who loves this athletic program, has history in this athletic program, has given time and money to this athletic program. I think probably half the coaches knew who he was when he jumped on board, and I hope the other half feel as comfortable as the ones that knew him did, and were appreciative that he took a stop and went in another direction with his life to help us.”
Lolla said with the soccer season going on, he’s had only limited opportunities to speak to Tyra, but added, “What I’ve come away with is that he’s a very smart individual, and I believe he cares. And those are good starting points for sure.”
In mid-afternoon, Tyra headed to the basketball practice facility to speak with reporters after David Padgett announced his second assistant coaching hire, former Duke guard Greg Paulus, who most recently was a six-year assistant to Thad Matta at Ohio State.
“I was a student athlete here under Tom Jurich, I obviously was an assistant coach and a director of ops under Tom, and I’ve always had a great relationship with Tom,” Padgett said. “There’s no denying the accomplishments he had here. But you know, the way I look at it, I was hired by (interim president) Dr. (Greg) Postel and I work for Vince. We’re excited about everything that’s moving forward, so for better or worse or lack of a better term, it’s time for a new chapter in Louisville athletics. We’re very excited, we’ve got a lot of really good stuff going on.”
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