This is Part II of a three-part series based on Louisville.com's recent conversation with Tom Jurich, Vice President and Director of Athletics for the University of Louisville. Columnist Ron Steiner conducted the interview, which covered a variety of topics including a look back at perhaps the best year ever for Cardinal athletics.
Q. Overall, this has been a year to remember for U of L athletics. What will be some of your best memories from these special seasons?
Mr. Jurich: Certainly, you have to treasure the Orange Bowl experience and being able to make a magical run through the Big East in football and to be ranked as high as No. 3 in the country. For our team to get knocked off at Rutgers but then bounce back and win its next three games made me as proud as anything. That's when a team could have gone in the tank and had all of its emotion drained. To come back and play great the next three weeks was quite an accomplishment. I'll remember that, and I'll remember the volleyball team's comeback to beat Notre Dame in the Big East Tournament finals after being down 2-0. That was a great memory. So was the way men's basketball finished the way it did, and the great things Coach Pitino was able to do with Derrick Caracter to set him up for the future he has now. And, of course, women's basketball set records on the way to another NCAA berth. Also it was great seeing the men's cross country and women's soccer teams make their first-ever NCAA appearances. Swimming had its best season ever. Then we watched both men's and women's golf win Big East titles and both coaches being named Coach of the Year in the league. Baseball has really overachieved, and Coach Dan McDonnell and his team could still have a 40-win season and make it to the NCAAs in this his first year as a head coach. What he's been able to do with the pitching staff has been phenomenal. Based on what Dan has done so far, I think we've got another grand slam coach. Most recently we saw what Coach Ron Mann's teams did with the men winning the Big East track and field title and the women finishing second. That was spectacular, and there are so many great things on the horizon. There were a lot of firsts this year, and we expect many more next year because we're still a very young athletic program. That's something I really like about our teams ' we're just getting started.
Q. The track team has come a million miles in three short seasons. What's the secret to the rise of the Cardinal track and field program?
Mr. Jurich: There's no secret - Ron Mann is a remarkable coach. Nothing he does shocks me. I've seen him do great things for nearly 30 years both at Northern Arizona and now here. He has built a strong and deep program already, but I think the best is yet to come. We're poised for big things on both the men's and women's sides. His staff knows how to recruit and they run the program like a true family. They have an unbelievable chemistry on that team. Certainly Ron has a keen eye for talent and he has a staff full of excellent teachers, but maybe the thing that separates him from others is the way he builds chemistry. After this year's Big East meet, the UConn coach (who hosted the event) commented that Louisville is 'the new 1,000-pound gorilla in the league.' Now our goal is to become a 10,000-pound gorilla.
Q. What are your thoughts and hopes for the coming year?
Mr. Jurich: Of course, we have goals and objectives, but as I've said many times, I think expectations are poisonous. If you rely on those, you're just setting yourself up for disappointments. There are so many alternative factors that come into how a season is going to go, whether it's injuries, whether it's the luck of the draw or scheduling or any number of unseen problems.
Q. When so many of your teams win big, not just football and basketball, it is received better than ever before in this community. How important a factor is that in your master plan?
Mr. Jurich: My number one goal when I got here, after we fixed up the image and got ourselves in great shape with Title IX, was to make sure we were a comprehensive athletic department that was strong across the board. I didn't want us to be known for just one or two sports, I wanted us to be known for 23 sports. We're closer to that goal right now. That's important because that's what gives you a well-rounded athletic department; that's what gives you the great feelings and good will when all the teams are out there competing for conference championships. That's why I still think our primary goals should be to win' conference titles, because if you win in the Big East, you're going to the NCAAs. After that, there's some luck involved in how far you're going to go. This is a terrific conference, and it's enabled us to do a lot of different things. For example, we've been able to develop a terrific rivalry with Notre Dame ' we're seeing them head-to-head in a lot of different championships. We're winning our share, and certainly they're always going to win their share.
Q. Any developments on the future non-conference football schedules?
Mr. Jurich: We're still working with a bunch of teams and we're in constant contact with ESPN. From now on, it looks like most of our games are going to be made for TV anyway. As I've said many times, in a lot of ways ESPN is our newest, best friend.
NOTE: Steiner is a sports columnist for Louisville.com who has covered U of L sports for the past 23 years He also appears on the statewide Red & Blue Review television show (weekly on Insight Ch. 2) with host Garry Gupton and guest Darrell Bird of the Cat's Pause. Steiner can be reached by e-mail at [email protected].