CRAWFORD | 'Restructuring' or 'retaliation,' the latest flashpoint between Tom Jurich, U of L
Eric Crawford runs through recent events at the University of Louisville, and where the department stands after several departures and dismissals.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – This was not a Friday afternoon massacre. But it also wasn’t a mere rearranging of chess pieces.
The University of Louisville athletic department Friday cut loose three longtime administrators, most notably senior associate athletic director for development Mark Jurich, the son of longtime athletic director Tom Jurich. Also out are Kim Maffet, associate athletics director for human resources, and Julianne Waldron, associate athletics director for marketing.
The official explanation was that these three were let go to save money, and as part of a larger department reorganization and restructuring being put into place by interim athletics director Vince Tyra.
The department certainly has a different look today from its lineup last fall. Kevin Miller retired in December after 42 years of service, most recently as executive associate athletic director, tasked with overseeing the department operations and budget. Christine Simatacolos, senior associate athletics director for student life, has told Tyra that she’ll leave the department in June, when her husband takes a job in Dallas.
Simatacolos is one of two internal candidates who reportedly were offered the job of acting athletic director after Jurich’s dismissal. The other, senior woman administrator Christine Herring, is out on maternity leave.
And now come these three dismissals.
Because of the nature of human resources policy, the university isn’t going to say much about these personnel moves, just as it said very little about the dismissal of Jurich, until a letter informing him of his termination for cause was obtained by the media and published.
Tyra did speak with WDRB’s Chris Otts on Friday, and said that letting Mark Jurich go was difficult personally, because of their relationship, but ultimately, “I’m trying to do what I think is best for the athletics department.”
Bob Gunnell, a spokesman for Jurich, quickly responded to Friday’s moves in a statement which read: “In light of recent events, this is retaliation against Tom Jurich. It is very unfortunate for these individuals who exceeded expectations for the fans, players and coaches at the University of Louisville.”
Gunnell didn’t explain why, if this was retaliation against Jurich, it didn’t occur sooner. What precipitated the action now?
The fact of the matter is, Mark Jurich’s future with the department likely was a short-term proposition. While he and Tyra are close friends, his situation in the department had to have been difficult, more than most of us can imagine. He acknowledged as much in a Tweet after the university’s moves on Friday. A source had told WDRB News last week that many in the department expected him to move on after completing some graduate coursework in the spring.
There has been, given the turmoil in athletics and change in leadership in the athletic department, an expectation that strategic moves and proprietary information not find its way out. There’s also a perception from several close to the situation that Tom Jurich has continued to have “eyes and ears” within the department. That, for the good of the university, cannot happen, particularly with litigation ongoing.
When interim university president Dr. Greg Postel told reporters on Thursday “you can’t connect those dots” between the replacement of a local law firm in its negotiations with Jurich and news that a private detective firm had been retained to dig into the past of Jurich, it was ludicrous. Of course, we can connect those dots. Shoot, I’m not even quibbling with replacing the law firm in question. The offense isn’t having a private investigating firm – that happens often in high-profile contract fights. The offense was in hiring one so inept that it would approach the newspaper for information. That’s asking to be made public. It’s so incompetent that I come away thinking that the PI wanted news of his efforts to be made public, though that’s hard to fathom.
Whatever the case, it leaves an impression that the university is still fishing for information in its defense for firing the popular longtime athletic director. And that’s a bad look. If they didn’t have enough dirt internally to make the move, then they didn’t have it, period. At some point, the university will have to lay its cards on the table, or write a check. It's probably better off doing one of those sooner than later.
Can we connect dots in this personnel action and this wider fight between the university and Jurich? Probably not as confidently as we can in the case of the shuffling of law firms, but connecting the dots is what we media types do.
Regardless, Tyra and the current athletic association board have to do what they think is best for the department right now. It shouldn’t be forgotten, that’s the board that was viewed as a Jurich rubber-stamp for a long time. If it is signing off on these moves, one would assume it has sufficient grounds to do so (though, admittedly, that’s far from a safe assumption at U of L these days). If it isn't, that's another problem.
Tyra’s vision for the athletic department, as it is coming into focus several months into his time as interim director, is significantly different not just from the inner workings of Jurich’s organization, but potentially from many athletic departments in college sports. He hasn’t shared it publicly yet, but it has drawn some attention from ACC commissioner John Swofford and others as an intriguing approach.
He told Otts that his interim tag won’t stop him from making moves, that he’s not a custodian, but intends to carry out, “what’s best for the business.” He is a candidate for the permanent job, which has been targeted to be filled by March 30.
The bottom line for U of L is that the public has little confidence in its overall leadership at the moment, though Tyra, it would seem, has more support than either Postel or board of trustees chair David Grissom. And with some of the missteps that have dribbled out, how can you blame the public? Donations are down, both to the university and the athletic department.
If nothing else, the U of L fan base had confidence in Jurich. Even when he overreached, the default position was that he should be trusted, based on his track record. They said, “In Tom we trust,” and while a segment now feels that trust was misguided, many still hold to the motto.
With the current leadership, the default position is that their decisions will not be trusted, at least, not until they can establish a track record that is positive. In the absence of clear and bold communication, it’s hard to build momentum in that atmosphere.
For everyone involved at U of L, there’s still quite a bit of choppy water ahead before things smooth out. And at the moment, a large segment of the support base has little confidence in the captains.
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