BOZICH | Vince Tyra Q & A on Mack, Petrino, facilities, scheduling
What has Chris Mack done to impress Vince Tyra in his first three months? What is Tyra's outlook for U of L football?
Monday, July 2nd 2018, 11:46 am EDT by
Monday, July 2nd 2018, 1:18 pm EDT
By Rick Bozich
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Vince Tyra believes that he has a men’s basketball coach who will schedule like Denny Crum -- and at the University of Louisville these days it never hurts to invoke a Crum comparison.
The football team? Like the pre-season magazines, Tyra is curious about the defense. But he’s bullish on the offense -- even without Lamar Jackson. Fun things are coming on the schedule there, too:
A baseball stadium experience that will add a beer garden. A women’s basketball team that will refuse to retreat against anybody.
Investment in improved facilities for the field hockey, softball, track and volleyball programs.
If the last nine months were about providing stability and support for the turmoil within University of Louisville athletic programs -- primarily basketball -- the next nine weeks, months, years and beyond will (mostly) be about what every athletic director’s job is about.
“Let’s not mistake that (fans) want to win,” said Tyra, who replaced Tom Jurich as the Cardinals’ AD last fall.
On Saturday, I wrote about Tyra and the last nine months. Today, I present my question-and-answer session with Tyra that focuses on his coaches as well as the future of the programs.
(Some answers and questions were edited for brevity and clarity.)
QUESTION: You kept women's basketball coach Jeff Walz and baseball coach Dan McDonnell and hired Chris Mack to coach the men's basketball team. How were you able to keep Walz and McDonnell, guys who were in demand nationally?
TYRA: "Just because I knew them both before I got here. We had kind of a working relationship. More of a fan/donor side of it. Dan, I met when he first got here, literally. Jeff, I met when he first got here. I supported both of those programs and still do from a donor standpoint and certainly as a fan, as I mentioned …
"I went to the Final Fours. I can remember taking my Mom and a niece to Jeff's Final Four when his first one in St. Louis with Angel (McCoughtry).
"I think they know how much I care about the programs and cared about their particular programs. Because it was evident. I didn't have to come in and tell them a story. They already knew the story.
"But I think also they see the support that I have with their teams, with their programs, the coaches, the players. I get involved with them. They know I give a damn. I think that means a lot to them ... if you're in sync with your AD, I can see how it can work really well.
"So that's what I want them to know, that I'm going to support them and provide them answers. They have a lot of answers in how to call plays, but you've got to remember that they'd still growing their careers. I've been through a lot in dealing with people. So when they have people issues or student athlete issues, I have been there. And I can help them."
QUESTION: Those are two lower revenue programs that have been prominent nationally for about a decade. Are they sustainable and why is it important to have those two programs successful?
TYRA: "I believe they're sustainable. Their recruiting efforts are going to continue that. Dan's got great recruiting classes coming in, commitments. Jeff does, too. He only lost one player from last year's team and was a whistle away or a play away from being in the (NCAA) championship game."
QUESTION: That's what I heard.
TYRA: "He'll let you know … They continue to do that. They built it. Look, maintaining it is no easy task. I have great respect for what they're accomplishing. They're getting it done. They have great staffs. I think it's important to us to be successful in every sport.
"I think that's what we built for, particularly as we did as Tom unfolded Title IX to get these other sports going. I'm as intrigued in rowing and getting lacrosse where it needs to be ...
"These coaches are highly competitive. And if they're not, they're in the wrong spot because I am and it would be a bad fit on how we are going to improve. I think that's what we see in Chris Mack as well."
QUESTION: "The two signature programs are men's basketball and football. Chris Mack has been here since late March or early April. What have you seen from him that has impressed you the most? What have you learned about him?
TYRA: "How easy he has made the transition. It's not always easy. He came into a program that had a stain on it. He's not let them hold him back. He's jumped in. Got a great staff, pulled together very quickly.
"They hit the road. He's a very hard, competitive recruiter as you can tell. Certainly was able to get some talent in the 2018 class here with grad transfers for sure. But the 2019 class, he's working extremely hard.
"But they are competitive. He has his own style, which I liked. And that was one of the reasons I talked to him. I felt like his style of basketball fits today's game.
"I think it fits today's recruiting. It appeals to them. I feel like that is where he's going to be successful here. But he's done a lot to endear himself with our fans, our donors, with the athletic departments and this week with campers."
QUESTION: How has he done that?
TYRA: "He doesn't have an ego. He's just kind of a humble (guy). When we ask for a meeting, he accommodates us. If we have something going on for practice, he's there. If there is an interview we need him to do, he does it.
"I almost feel bad that we ask a lot of him because he's new. There is a big request for his time. So if it's a reception with donors, he is there.
"There has hardly been a thing unless his schedule is just prohibitive. he's really accommodated us in many ways."
QUESTION: He's replacing a guy who was a great promoter of himself and the program. Have you talked to him about following a big personality like Rick Pitino?
TYRA: "They are just very different. Chris is one that is going to deflect as much as accept it. I think people know he's a fiery competitor. He's OK with people knowing that, including other coaches.
"I think the players take on that image. That's why I said he really does represent our Cardinal bird with the teeth and the logo because he is that way, he is competitive.
"But he's got a different approach. He's here this summer. He's not a golfer, so he is in the gym. He is committed to player development. Much like this week he's committed to community. He thinks the camps are very important to his program. He knows they are important to the community.
"I didn't even have to put those words out before he could tell me.
"I was at a meeting earlier today where there was a father of a camper who came up and said, 'My son has had the best time this week. He’ll be back next year.’
"That is what Chris wants to hear. Two days ago I went for the last hour of the camp just to see how families were reacting. How the campers were. How he handled it. He's running the camp.
"He's there running it. He finishes the day talking to them, running a drill. I think that's really been well received in the community."
QUESTION: What's your snapshot assessment of the status of the football program?
TYRA: "I'm excited about it because it's interesting. We had Lamar (Jackson) and I think that brings a lot of attention to Lamar and the Heisman race. But I think we're a really solid team.
"I'm not saying, I'm not going to speak for Bobby that we're going to shock the world or anything on the Alabama or the other games.
"I don't see any drop-off in where we're going to score points, where we're going to be competitive. We've got a lot of our skilled guys back. We're healthy at running back. I think Puma (Pass, the likely starting quarterback) is terrific. I think he brings back a lot of things in the offense that Bobby is used to having -- big backs and a great passing game to tight ends.
"And then on the defense, it's a little bit of an unknown in the sense that we're patching together transfers along with some really talented freshmen. The freshman class that came in along the defensive line, I hope they're able to really compete. They're big enough physically. But you've still got to be mentally tough to endure this league.
"But that's the unknown that everybody is waiting on. But I think we've got a terrific team."
QUESTION: Petrino also have several new staff members on defense, especially new defensive coordinator Brian Van Gorder. When he makes those moves, does he talk to you?
TYRA: "We're talking beforehand. This is my first live experience with Bobby in doing that. We certainly had a change in the defensive coordinator with Brian Van Gorder coming in. I knew what Bobby's short list was and where he was in the country meeting with them, then came down to making the decision on Brian.
"We did talk about that. Grady coming in as well. Grady Brown (a new defensive assistant and recruiting coordinator). Those are conversations that we had and why they fit.
"I think the biggest thing is we're trying to shape what kind of culture we want to have here and how they fit the culture of Louisville and how they are going to fit the culture of the football program."
QUESTION: What’s your vision for the future of Louisville athletics? There has. been so much growth and building over the last 10 or 12 years, how much more can there be?
TYRA: "I think the fan experience as I've talked about means quite a bit on how we use the assets. We have to enjoy them more and have a lot of fun around the program.
"We have the types of personalities in these head coaches positions to have fun while winning. Let the fans really get engaged with these programs and feel like they're a part of it.
"I think the student athlete experience, I've been clear on that's important to me. Having been in a family of four of them, you really cherish that time. I want them to leave here feeling they had a really terrific time. So I go through all those exit interviews when student athletes leave here and they do their exit interview.
"I go through how they answer questions. It's important to me to know where we need to improve with them.
"But not just them. We've changed our budget this year. We've put more money towards financial aid for managers and trainers, which they are as important … The coaches nearly gave a standing ovation to that. They understand it too. They put in a lot of hours.
"But summer school, completion degree funds. Shifting dollars around for the student athlete experience, I think is important. Staying competitive on the facilities won't change. It's always going to be that way …
"The more revenues grow in collegiate sports they are going to get plowed right back in. We're going to need our donor support to match those dollars to keep refining what we have and building new where we don't have it."
QUESTION: What might you need? Expanding baseball? New tennis facility?
TYRA: "I think those coaches would probably be beating me up if I didn't mention their sport in that answer. But I do think ... there is what I'll call like maintenance things we have to do like, replacing the field hockey turf and then we'll give a face lift to the stadium.
"I think softball needs a facelift over there as well. The track is missing some light posts. We need to take care of things like that, while we enhance the locker room.
"Volleyball. We've done nice things with Cardinal Arena (and) the locker room is next. We're on to that. Baseball, pro locker room. Then we would like to create some fun areas at the baseball stadium.
"I think Dan and I agree, more fun and more atmosphere is more important than more seats."
QUESTION: Family areas? Kids areas? Knothole gang?
TYRA: “Family areas (and) even not-so-family -- beer garden terrace kind of stuff. What can we do to make it fun, to get the students engaged but also have some unique areas that are fun?
"I take from my old days of playing (baseball for Kentucky at) Mississippi State and LSU. Tailgating around the fence was a lot of fun. How they modernized that and brought it to the college game, we can do the same."
QUESTION: Do you operate with one-year plans, five year plans?
TYRA: "I guess having been in private equity, you think about a five year but you really operate on three. I know what we just accomplished in our one because we just turned in a budget, but we're looking more multi-year in terms of facilities and where we would need to make investments in new and then where we need to make investments in repair and maintenance. I think we're thinking about the ACC Network and what that avails us.
"We certainly know that's a lift to revenue and how would that waterfall out to help these teams and help the department itself. I think that's important. As far as capital campaigns go, I'm thoughtful about when the right time to do those things are, but it would probably be a little bit less traditional more than just one asset, more of a multi-faceted approach to include aid toward summer school and completion degrees, things that I mentioned earlier.
"So I think as we go about going out there and asking our donors to participate and buy in on what we're trying to accomplish, they need to understand the kind of the multi-faceted approach in great detail to use the famous word around here -- transparency."
QUESTION: The ACC Network comes on line in 2019. I’ve read of range of projections about revenue for the first years but it seems uncertain.
TYRA: "Yes, I think to some degree that's true. I'd tell you more if I could, but I’d have to kill you. This would be your last interview.
"But I do think we have a good idea. I really do. I think there are proxies out there in other conferences, certainly the SEC network has been a terrific success. but they had a tough start.
"I think with ESPN recognizing that, they have taken some of that talent to kick off the ACC Network. They have moved some of those same people over to avoid repeating the same mistakes.
"I think in selling distribution, how you launch it, what the demands upon on each of the schools to have their broadcast studios in place at the right time and in sync. And that's happening. So I'm happy with the way the ACC is handling it with the ESPN and their other constituents. I feel like that gets us an earlier running start on when we could see some of them revenue."
QUESTION: Any exciting scheduling news?
TYRA: "Not yet. You can see that in football we've tried to schedule teams that will be interesting. We think that South Florida is really interesting. They're getting better. Charlie (Strong, the former U of L coach) is down there now and coaching them. We'd like to see that game played. We recruit heavy in that area.
"Central Florida, you know (AD) Danny White has done a terrific job promoting their 'national championship' and the request to have another Power Five team schedule them.
"Well, I heard it on the radio so I called them.
"We're happy to step up. We'll take that request. We honored it with signing a home and home with Central Florida. They've got something cool going on there and I think our fans would get excited for that non-conference game.
"Obviously with Alabama this year. We'll have more of that with Ole Miss. We've got Notre Dame next year to open up. I think football, we've looked at James Madison to come in here. They're big. If you looked when ESPN had their Game Day (there) I watched it. They had one of the best I've ever seen in their quad. They have a terrific fan base.
"I know bringing them over here, they're always competitive when they play the teams of our caliber. I think it would be a good atmosphere and they'll bring a lot of fan support.
"We're trying to be strategic and thoughtful about who we should schedule and when we can schedule.
"Basketball I think we're ... Chris has a little bit of the Denny Crum (in that) we'll play anybody attitude, which makes it fun …
"He loves ... maybe not this year exactly but he loves the schedule we have this year in the non-conference and who we're hosting here (in the ACC). I think you'll see more of that. He's 'Bring it on.'
"He loves to play the big teams and have a great non-conference schedule. I think our fans will be happy with what he likes to do there."
QUESTION: In basketball you have Michigan State here. Kentucky here. At Indiana. Anybody else?
TYRA: "Well I think just the homers (in the ACC) with Duke, North Carolina, Virginia, Notre Dame. Our fans always love Notre Dame when we play them. That home schedule. I think having Robert Morris in a weird way, since they beat Kentucky in the NIT will be fun to have them in here. I'm sure our fans will enjoy having some fun with that game.
"I like what we have going on with this year's schedule and we're starting to look ahead with Chris and try to get his input on what we want to do with future years."
QUESTION: Would there ever be one of those events like Kentucky plays in every year, the one with Duke, Michigan State and Kansas as well as the one with UCLA, North Carolina and Ohio State?
TYRA: "Well this coming year we'll be with Kansas, Marquette and (Tennessee in Brooklyn). That's another key event that I think will be a lot of fun."
QUESTION: But nothing else?
TYRA: "No. not on an annual basis. I think they idea is we'll kind of rotate around, look at some of those. We obviously get requests for some of those games.
"We're also getting requests to go back to Atlantis or look at Hawaii, look at all those types of tournaments. I think I'd like to leave that more for Chris to have a lot of input on what he thinks is valuable and how we fit that it."
QUESTION: What is your philosophy in working with coaches? Are you hands on or stand back and let them do their thing?
TYRA: "A little of both. I think that what I've learned in being a chairman of the board, a half dozen times of companies and having a variety of CEOs, I mean a variety. We have the same thing here.
"My tagline when I go into talk to them is that I want to be helpful without being intrusive. How I can guide them, how I can give them support, whether it's staff, whether it's recruiting? I'll sit in, I'll talk to parents, talk to kids, whatever the situation calls for. Budget wise, teach them where we are going to go.
"I'm clear on what we're trying to accomplish with their sport and how that fits in the athletic program. I am involved, probably more than they thought. But at the same time I'm clear that I do not want to get in the way of what they're doing from day-to-day or undermine their authority with their staff.
QUESTION: Less likely micromanage than to step back and let them do their thing?
TYRA: "Yes. they're .... all of them are paid quite well to run a good business and we're hopeful to make them successful. But I can't do it all. And they don't want me to do it all."
QUESTION: “It's been nine months. What do you do to get away or relax?
TYRA: "That's a good question. I haven't had that opportunity yet. I've got a vacation coming up.
"I'm actually trying to get one in a couple weeks to go play in a member/guest up in the Hamptons with one of my private equity partners to get away and then go get my butt kicked at Shinnecock before I come home on Sunday.
"That's fun. But family wise we need it. We're going to take a cruise for the first time. I've never been on a cruise. We're doing that. I guess it's the third week of July. The kids are really looking forward to it.
"I think we're starting out of San Juan and then we go through the Caribbean, down to Saint Kitts and Aruba and all that. I've never been on a cruise so I don't know what to expect but everyone if really excited about 1) getting away as a family but 2) going on a cruise.
QUESTION: Turning your cell phone off?
TYRA: "I don't think I'm going to have a choice. My guess is that my life, Lori, she probably didn't even purchase the WiFi on the boat for me."
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